Bartender's Guide to Foraging: Australian Edition

Words by Gabriel Gutnik from Ziggy's Wildfoods

Photography by Ziggy's Wildfoods

Bartender's Guide to Foraging: Australian Edition image 1

Australia is quite unlike any other country when it comes to foraging, for not only does it have an abundance of its own native flora, but also most of the common European plants. This cornucopia of flavours is right on our doorstep, in our backyards and across our parks and suburbs - so we spoke to Gabriel from Ziggy’s Wildfoods about how and where to forage in Australia.

After stumbling into the niche of cultural food preparation and preservation techniques in his early 20s, Gabriel became fascinated by the world of wild ingredients that surround us. Spending a combined seven years travelling and working on farms and within widespread communities (this journey saw him visit 55 countries) Gabriel acquired the old knowledge of food preservation – identifying, preserving and fermenting, as well as understanding the natural world around us.

In Sydney, Gabriel has set up Ziggy’s Wildfoods which provides specialist fermented, concentrated and preserved items, as well as fresh ingredients for the Australian bartending community, utilising wild and Native plants. These include the likes of Native flower nectar and fruit shrubs, Native nut orgeats, wild grass gruit beers, invasive weed vermouths, and many more. Paired with this are edible items ranging from wild food inspired bar snacks, and premium wild charcuterie.

Here we ask Gabriel the basics of foraging in Australia.

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Are there any laws new foragers should be aware of when searching the suburbs and parks?
Foraging for food on private land is legal across the nation as long as you either own the land or have the owner’s permission. Roadside, verges and some municipal parks are great spots to start looking for common edibles.

Street trees and overhanging branches are usually pickable after a friendly knock on the door.

Laws on removing plants and fungus from public land change from state to state and between municipalities, and national parks, reserves and state forests are all regulated differently – contact your local environmental agency.

Fines vary from state to state, but in New South Wales, anyone removing plants from a national park could incur a fine of up to $110,000. If it’s a protected coastal plant, such as samphire, the fine could be as much as $220,000. National parks are an absolute no-no, from flowers to plants and anything in between! An easy way to think of it is this - imagine everyone went and picked a beautiful flower from a national park - after a few people there wouldn't be any left. So when observing - enjoy, but with your eyes!

How do foragers ensure they’re respectfully foraging on Indigenous land and where is it necessary to get permission from First Nation people?

Respect comes in many forms, but begins with an acknowledgement of the land upon which one stands, and recognising the concept that without the traditional knowledge of what is edible, its significance, and how it needs to be prepared for use - we would not know what we were even looking at.

Contact your local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group representative to find out local customs and traditions. Pursue food as a complete experience - nourish the mind, connect with the land, and then consider how it can be eaten. Share what you find - and if profiting off of the pickings - sharing economic profit with local First Nations organisations.

What are the most common Native ingredients you can find in the city and suburbs?

Across Sydney, the most commonly-found Native ingredients include lilly pilly fruit, lemon myrtle leaves, Illawarra plums, riberries, grevillea and bottlebrush flowers, Native mint, Native thyme, correa, warrigal greens, eucalyptus, fingerlimes, macadamia nuts, tea tree, saltbush, blue flax lily and so much more!

What are the most common non-native ingredients you can find in the city and suburbs?

As we live in such disturbed natural environments, where we have planted out lawns and plants from all over the world - the most common plants to find begin with invasive edible weeds. You don't typically need to look further a few metres from your front door: Dandelion flowering through the concrete, flatweed underneath the bus shelter, Chickweed through bricks, Amaranth on footpaths, Wild brassica on the verges of the road, Wild fennel in parks, Wood sorrel throughout the lawn.

All we need to do is tune our eyes to recognise familiar shapes and shades of green - and at this point, we can never stop seeing the food and medicine that is around us.

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Ziggy's Wildfoods' cordials and shrubs

How can foragers ensure they’re not taking so much they’re depleting from the food chain / only taking what’s plentiful?

When we forage we pick seasonally, at the prime of each food - and it takes a great deal of maturity to place ourselves within the natural environment. If we pick all of the fruits, we don't share with the birds and insects. Without them, we won't have pollination and seed spreading to create more food going forwards. So as a general rule - take only what you'll enjoy that day, and return if you'd like another bite - but grab it fresh when needed!

What are the best resources for foragers in Aus to check what they’ve found and ensure it’s edible?

There are many brilliant resources for local edible plants across the country, from Tim Low's Wild Food Plants of Australia, The Weed Forager's Handbook by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser Rowland, as well as their Eat That Weed website with foraging walks in Melbourne, Wild Mushrooming: A Guide for Foragers by Alison Pouliot & Tom May, and local tours run by knowledgeable Sydney forager Diego Bonetto in Sydney.

Outside of that, there are countless Facebook groups to join where you can post images for identification, find out and learn more about plants that you recognise, and learn skills on how to incorporate them into your diet, or prepare correctly.

What are the benefits to sourcing our ingredients from our local area?

Sourcing from our local environment at a high level is most often attached to the concept of food km’s – but in reality it is so much more. Doing so encourages us to eat seasonally, and to become stewards of our local areas – maintaining and protecting what is around us, educating about what is local and the traditional connections that surround us, meeting as community over what we share, and encouraging and promoting conservation through care.

When we depend on a disconnected food system from far away – we no longer value what lives on the fringes, and accountability for how food is farmed and grown is lost due to lack of transparency. We have done this as there is a perceived lower cost – but more often than not, the hidden cost is at the expense of the land – its health, and our connection to it.

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