Children who grew up in the 80s or 90s knew the joy of foraging, even though the term foraging did not exist in their vocabulary yet. Picking up black-colored berries from the bushes on the sides of the road and trying to reach a little higher to get that juicy jungle jalebi(Madras thorn) from its perch was just a part of the games that they played. Amrul(Oxalis) growing on the curbs and Shahtut(Mulberry) and Kamrakh(Starfruit) growing high on wild trees gave them the sweet, sour, and tangy taste of life.
Though forgotten for a little while, the concept of foraging has made a comeback in urban life. People who want to feel their connection with nature usually go foraging when they are out on a nature trek in the wild or on a visit to a farm.
Foraging essentially means eating unfarmed, uncultivated naturally grown food. It involves identifying and gathering edible berries, weeds, fruits, and flowers that grow in the wild and incorporating them into your diet.
Foraging requires a keen sense of observation, a good knowledge of plants and weeds, and a reasonable amount of caution to differentiate between a toxic and a non-toxic species.
The basic rules of urban foraging are:
Moringa(drumstick) and tamarind trees are commonly foraged trees for their fruit and leaves that are used in many Indian cuisines. Jackfruit, mulberry, and starfruit are wild trees growing freely on the sidewalks and gift the foragers with sweet seasonal fruits. Bathua, gongura, and wild spinach are common weeds that have entered the modern kitchen as staples.
Foraging is a great means of connecting with the land and soil. It brings you close to your immediate ecosystem and you learn to see the world around you with a different lens altogether. You become more conscious of your environment and observe things that were right in front of you but were not visible to you earlier. Your senses become sharper as you learn to identify the plants by keen observation of their leaves, fruits, and flowers and also find out how variedly they can be used in your food.
Foraging helps you eat locally and reduce your carbon footprint. It also introduces you to various exotic fruits and edible weeds that are not available in local markets as they are not a part of the commercial food chain. It widens the scope and variety of nutrition in your food.
Foraging together with family and friends is a great bonding experience. It instils in us a sense of adventure along with a sense of being close to nature. It improves awareness both individually as well as in a group. Singling out a plant, learning its properties, identifying its edible parts, gathering and sharing it in a group is a great exercise in communication and life values. Successfully spotting and tasting the fruit of their endeavour is a great confidence builder for the youngest of the brood.
Children should be introduced to the joy of foraging at an early age. This seals their bond with nature tapping their basic instinct of being empathetic with the environment. Growing up learning about different plants brings children closer to nature. These children will take up various roles in life when they grow up and it is they whose decisions will eventually influence the environment. Through foraging they will have a better connection with the ecosystem and their empathy towards the environment will reflect in their future actions.
Foraging comes with practice; it has to be a part of your daily life. Imagine living in a community that has acres of natural biodiverse forest as a part of your front yard. This will help you experience the joy of foraging daily with your family as a part of your evenings or morning walks. Communities are being developed with a sustainable future at their soul. Natural biodiversity and foraging are one of the goals that they are aspiring to offer to their residents. This will help them to experience life close to the earth, soil, and plants and enrich their lives and minds with a plethora of benefits that being close to nature have to offer.
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