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The Art of Foraging in South Africa

Foraging for your own dinner has a romance about it, a sense of adventure and the excitement of a treasure hunt. It’s a labour of love that’s well worth the time, effort, and talent you put into it. Envision yourself venturing out into the vast wilderness in search of delectable treats that may be tucked away among the trees and vegetation.

We need to learn the basics of foraging before we start randomly picking plants. At its essence, foraging is the act of gathering wild foods from their natural habitat. It’s a tradition that our forefathers used to ensure their survival, and now it’s a fantastic opportunity to learn about the natural world and hone your instincts for survival.

Remember the old adage, “Leave no trace,” whenever you go foraging. Take only what you need from nature and don’t damage ecosystems for future generations. You are a visitor to the natural world, treat it with respect.

Tips and Tricks for Successful Foraging

Just like any type of outdoor skill, there are tips and tricks to keep your yield delicious and plentiful. To maximise your foraging success, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • First things first: learn to recognise and identify the most common food plants. It is essential to positively identify the plants before consuming them to ensure they are safe and non-toxic.
  • The times when various plants bloom, bear fruit, and emerge from dormancy vary from one species to the next. Find the plants you’re looking by doing research on them.
  • Plant species rely on a variety of environmental factors to thrive. If you want to expand your foraging options, you should visit different areas, such as forests, marshes, grasslands and the shore.
  • Avoid foraging in areas that may have been contaminated by pollution or pesticides. The purer and unadulterated the wild food is, the better. Foraging also does not include raiding the vegetable plots of strangers.
  • If you are unsure as to whether or not a plant is edible, it is best to be caution and not eat it. Before acting, make it a point to get advice from knowledgeable people or reliable sources. “Better safe than sorry” should be your motto.

Edible plants and fruits

There are a number of edible plants and fruits that grow wild in South Africa. Mother Nature has generously bestowed upon us a variety of delicious treats. Remember, this is only a guide and you should first be able to identify the plant correctly. Learn the ropes before going on a foraging expedition. Here are some of South Africa’s tastiest forageable treats:

  • Morogo or moroho, is also known as African spinach, and refers to a group of at least three different dark green leafy vegetables found all over Southern Africa. It is harvested for human consumption and considered a traditional South African dish.
  • Num-Num Berries, also known as Carissa macrocarpa, are tiny, acidic berries that can be found on shrubs. They’re great in raw salads or cooked into sauces and jams.
  • South Africa is home to an abundance of wild garlic, or Tulbaghia species. Its long, narrow leaves, which taste somewhat like garlic, can be consumed raw or cooked.
  • The Cape Asparagus (Asparagus africanus) is one of numerous types of wild asparagus native to South Africa. Thin, fragile shoots can be found in the spring. They are as delicious cooked or uncooked.
  • While not really a wild edible, Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is a delicious South African herbal tea that is commonly brought along on camping trips. You can harvest the leaves, dry them, and then use them to make a delicious tea.
  • The leaves of Wild Sorrel (Oxalis species) are quite sour and can be consumed raw in salads or used to impart a sour flavour to other foods. Use caution, as oxalic acid, found in some species, can be harmful in high doses.
  • Cape Gooseberries are small, orange fruits covered in a papery shell, also known as Physalis or ground cherries.

Plants and fruits that should not be eaten

While many wild plants and fruits are delicious, there are certainly plants and fruits that you should avoid. The effects of eating these range from minor discomfort to serious sickness or even death. It’s safer to pass on a dubious find than to risk having a bad experience. Keep your own safety in mind at all times. Here follows is a short list of some of the dangerous plants:

  • Black Jack (Bidens pilosa) is a widespread weed throughout South Africa. Ingestion of its seeds or leaves can cause gastrointestinal distress and other symptoms, but is usually not lethal.
  • Some species of the genus Brunsvigia, commonly known as the Candelabra flower, are poisonous if the bulbs are consumed, resulting in severe vomiting, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain.
  • Several species of the genus Solanum, known collectively as Deadly Nightshades, can be found in South Africa. The berries of these plants are extremely poisonous.
  • There is a highly poisonous plant native to damp places called Water Hemlock (Cicuta species). Toxic and perhaps fatal poisoning results from ingesting any part of this plant, especially the roots.
  • Stink Bean, also known as Stinkblaar or Poison Leaf, is a member of the Petaurista genus that contains toxic chemicals that can cause severe gastrointestinal upset if ingested.
  • Some species of Crinum are known as Poison Bulbs due to the presence of deadly alkaloids in their bulbs. If the bulbs or leaves are ingested, the results can be unpleasant.

It’s vital to use caution when foraging and consuming wild plants. In the absence of absolute certainty of a plant’s identity, it is best to err on the side of caution and refrain from consuming it. Do not just eat random plants.


The thrill of finding food in the woods through foraging is only one part of the survival puzzle. Always respect the environment, emphasise safety, and continue increasing your knowledge whenever you can. Knowledge is power and, in this case, delicious. Each foraging trip will bring you closer to nature while simultaneously introducing you to new and exciting gastronomic experiences.

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