Nowadays schools and university activities are still off, work from home is more common, and people can’t take a vacation.  For those who like traveling regularly, now is really boring time.  While we already have time to leave, but for safety reason, we must be able to restrain our self.  Pandemic requires all of us to stay at home or only do activities near our home.  For peoples who live in Indonesia, it is time to improve the competency of urban foraging. Time to enhance practical botany skills and explore the city where we live.

Food foraging is an ancient skill of our ancestors.  They meet their need by collecting plants or mushrooms around their shelter, far before agriculture was known.  The basic concept of urban foraging is to find and collect free food from nature in the urban area.  Urban forest, gardens, green areas, park lots, paddy fields, and other places.

Urban foraging is an outdoor activity that is good for our health (body, brain, and soul).  The activity is walking and exploring.  What we will get? of course free and fresh food.  Another benefit of urban foraging is to increase the variation of daily diet and nutrition intake.  After identification, we can collect edible leaves, pods, seeds, roots, flowers, fruits from plants or mushrooms. 

What we should do?

Find information about local plants

Many edible plants in Indonesia.  You can easily find the information by googling, ask the expert, join with the forager group activities, or ask the local peoples because they are the best teacher in recognizing edible plants.  The other way we can do this is also using apps for plant identification. The accuracy among apps is varied because they develop with different algorithms and databases. 

food foraging in Indonesia
sharing with other food forager will enhance our skill

When the information is ready, just start to explore and pick the food.  For beginners or when we find new things, a good suggestion is to take the picture and do the identification.  Then finally we can also use it as a personal database.

Types of edible plants we can found in Indonesia:

  1. Cultivated crops
  2. Common cultivated crops but grown wild
  3. Closely wild relatives species
  4. Plants that were used in the past but become not common because they stayed wild
  5. Wild edible species plants

Learn on edibility and how to test it

At the beginning of exploration, usually, we only eat what we believe is safe.  But by time, when we practice often, we will know more and we can eat also more without worry.  As known, there is a universal edibility test method, to test the edibility.  In the previous article, I wrote more detail about this test. 

But in general, we can do steps as follow:

  1. Separate plant part based on its organs. Young shoots, leaves, fruit, stems, flowers, roots.  And start with a young shoot or ripe fruit to do the test.
  2. Split/slice these selected these plant,  rub it part onto the back of the hand, wrist, or inner elbow, leave it for a few minutes to determine the impact.
  3. If it does not cause itching, burning, numbness, then try small portions by eating them.
  4. Before biting, apply the plant part to your lips to test the taste. When you feel no reaction after 5 minutes, take a small bite, chew, and hold it in the mouth for 15 minutes.
  5. If there is no impact, swallow the bite and wait a few hours. If there is no effect on the stomach, then the plant part can be eaten.
  6. Repeat tester for other parts of the plant; some plants have an edible part, but others an inedible part.

Choose a location for urban foraging

Top issue if we do urban foraging is pollution. Don’t choose a spot with high pollution, like in the busy street/highway or factories.  Especially for mushrooms, even if we find delicious edible mushrooms grown in a polluted spot, just leave it.  Mushroom is known to become an absorber for pollutant gases.

How to choose places to find the foods?. 

First, almost all cities in Indonesia always have some green areas, such as city gardens in some places. We can explore its area to find leaves or stems, flowers, or fruits, and also mushrooms. 

Second, we can find the food in the empty or unused land, river, or beach, which usually become a habitat for many species of plants. Parking and housing area also become a good place choice to do urban foraging.

Third, occasionally we can still found paddy fields in the suburban area.  As we knew, the paddy field is full of edible plants.

Genjer/Velvetleaf (Limnocharis flava) delicious edible plants easily found in the paddy field

Try another location to broadening the knowledge and find more species during urban foraging activity

When we make plans to do food foraging, will be better if we make a schedule to try different locations. We can make a list of places which possible and potential to do food foraging. 

It will make the activity become more interesting, and also can increase our knowledge of plant and mushroom identification.  The different locations also mean we possibly can find other species.

Just start with the interesting spot which you put in the top list to make you more enthusiastic and followed by the spot which already put on the list.  The key food foraging is collecting food from nature, so we should avoid foraging the food from private property.

Respect the nature

We have to do food foraging activity without doing anything that could potentially threaten nature.  Some of the rules we should remember:

  • If we meet with the single edible monocot, don’t pick all of the plants or parts including shoot tips, because the monocot only has a single growing point, just choose other parts.  But when we meet with the monocot in the cluster, we can still pick one of them.
  • When we meet with the small plants, better we leave it or if we would like to pick, just pick a small part to keep them alive
  • Take only what you need and leave the rest.  Pick only the parts which we will eat; leaves, flowers, fruits, or others.  Don’t take it all.

Wear the appropriate outfit

Hot and humid is typical of Indonesia. Sometimes we can found animals, thorny plants, stinging nettle plants, or other plants which able to irritate sensitive skin.  Make sure that you wear the right outfit.  Cotton long sleeve shirt, long trousers, comfortable shoes, socks, sunglasses, and sun hat.  Safety is always the priority.

Bring the tools during urban foraging activity

The tools we should bring is depending on the food we will collect.  But better if then we bring the tools which ready for every food we will find in the spot.  A large fabric goody-bag or bamboo basket is perfect for greens.  While berries, pods, and grains should be put on plastic containers or jars. Who knows we also will find the mushroom, just bring the paper bag, to prolong the mushroom to get rotten.  Don’t forget to bring mineral drinking water.

A pocket knife is often needed to cut the stem, foliage, or digging the roots.  If you willing to documenting the species you found, please also bring a pen and sticker paper to put identity or make a remark.  And don’t forget to bring your mobile phone. 

You can take the picture and store it to make the journal.  Or also possible to track and mark your location for your next exploration.  Who knows we found special food (delicious mushrooms such as Termitomyces) which only grow in the same location.

Other tools we should bring are a whistle, several meters of prusik ropes, and simple medical kits.  Just in case if something happens, we already prepared.

Good food forager is about consistency. To be a good food forager, it needs practice, continuous and consistent.  Edibility tests will gradually be used less and less, as more food is recognized.  You will then understand that some plants or mushroom has high abundancy everywhere.  And finally, you will realize that food is everywhere. 

Categories: Edible

Muryanto Paiman

always love to learn from nature.  Passionate on studying plants in some aspects: the DNA, Identification, propagation, and their uses


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