Foraging for food in the African bush

Most of us are accustomed to buying our food in shops or at the most picking your own homegrown veggies and fruit.  It doesn’t even occur to most of us to look for food in any other way. There is food all around us. Foraging and gleaning is so much more fun than shopping, you never know what tasty and unusual treats you might find around the corner, and you’re reducing the amount of food going to waste too.

Some folk in frugal circles in urban environments go dumpster diving and find the most amazing things and tons and tons of still edible foods thrown out by supermarkets and other stores. There are many blogs and stories about these people in the US and Europe who never need to buy anything.  In South Africa however, most of the food rejected by stores is given to the poor. Dumpster diving is like shopping in a crazy sale with hundreds of other people trying to get in first. There are very many hungry people here.  For this reason I find that I have shunned dumpster diving, leaving the pickings to people in more desperate circumstances than myself.

I do however want to make good use of the free food around me growing in the wild.  In Europe and the USA there are many books and manuals on how to do this and what you can pick and eat.  Africa has not been explored that well by foragers who write books.  Most foraging is done by the indigenous population and the knowledge is passed down the generations verbally so it is quite hard to find validated information with regards to food safety etc. I am slowly learning about some of the plants from various sources.

One of the most productive plants in our area is the marula tree.  I wrote about it some time back so if you want to learn more about the tree click here.  It is currently marula season.  We have about 6 of these trees in the immediate vicinity of our cottages, with two hanging their boughs right over the swimming pool.  The fruit drop out of the trees just before they are ripe and ripen on the ground.  Currently amidst the beautiful sounds of birds chirping and crickets cricking you hear the plop………….plop………….plop of marulas falling to the ground.  An occasional loud GLUG as one falls directly into the pool, and quite a few  thunk……drrrr……plooop of  fruit falling onto the patio and rolling into the pool.  At night we jump awake when they hit something hard when they fall (like our water tank for instance.)  I have read that each tree can produce more than a ton of fruit per season!  Thank goodness ours seem to have much less fruit than that.  I would be drowning in 6 tons of marula fruit by now. As it is, we struggle to keep up with collecting all the fruit that fall.

The Bean and I are taking turns to fish out the fruit that fall into the swimming pool.  We collect about 20-30 a day from the pool.

What makes the marula fruit such a brilliant free-food is that it is very healthy and can be used for so many different purposes.

Nutritional Information: Vitamin C: 180 mg, per 100 g of fruit (4 times that of an orange).
The kernel (nut) is calorie dense: 700 calories per 100 grams. The nut is considered very nutritious, being high in healthy oil (57-61%) as well as protein (30%), and a collection of trace minerals and b vitamins.

The fruit itself can be used in many ways:-

  • Fresh fruit
  • Jams and jelly
  • Beer and wine
  • Fruit juice
  • Seed oil for cooking (very similar to olive oil properties), preserving and cosmetic use.
  • Seed kernels for eating and cooking. – High protein and healthy oils. (African substitute for pine nuts)
  • Kernels can even be used as a light source. They burn like candles.

Last year we had just moved onto the property at the end of marula season and all of the fallen fruit went to the animals and compost.  This year I have been determined to make use of this valuable and free resource, so this weekend I made marula jelly. (I will post the recipe as a separate post) and I will be making marula juice and will attempt to brew some experimental beer. I will also be trying to get the kernels out of the seeds to use in salads and if I can will try to produce some of my own marula oil.

Although you may not live in the countryside or have a marula tree in your neighbourhood, keep your eyes open for wild fruit trees or even ones planted in parks, find out about plants in public areas that can be foraged for free and lastly look around your own garden – you’ll be surprised at what you can find. There are many flowers, weeds and plants that you can eat.


14 thoughts on “Foraging for food in the African bush

  1. Thanks for the tip! Now, when I get a pool, I will have an excuse for me to go jump into it every day, telling the family that I am fishing the Marula’s out of the water….. cool! 🙂


  2. I love picking wild fruit and especially berries. As a child growing up in the country, we would go out picking blackberries or huckleberries (a very small, tart blueberry) for eating and making into jellies and jams. Interestingly, so friends of mine, having grown up in urban areas, are suspicious of wild fruits and often consider them dangerous.


  3. The liqueur is devine – called Amarula for those of you who would like to buy it and taste – available in many countries in the world by now – It’s made in Phalaborwa – just up the raod from us


  4. While we don’t seem to have any marula trees, I have found some “wild” banana, grapefruit, and oranges around here, though. Usually the bananas are plants that someone had in their patio or something and threw away and are now growing at the edge of the nearby swamp. The orange and grapefruit trees, too, are at the edge of the swamp and probably started from birds or squirrels leaving the seeds about.


    • I was thinking about planting orange and grapefruit but they are so abundant here and sold by local farmers (and I get them for free from my work) I thought that to fight off the baboons would be more work than the trees would be worth. I am going to plant some bananas and paw-pawa though although if I ever get to the fruit befor the animals do I’ll be surprised. Do you forage from the wild trees?


  5. I am desperatly looking for recipies for Marulas, your jelly was fantastic but what else can I do with this wonderfull fruit?

    Where can I find the needed recipies I have bags of food waiting

    Thank you


    • There is definitely a shortage of recipes Martie. We just eat them as a fruit, make tons of jelly to last the year and then most of them go into my marula beer which I make more as a cold drink like ginger beer – than too beery. My recipe for the beer is on my blog – just search for marula beer in the search bbox.


  6. Pingback: 2013 Trends: Greenery and FoodElle Decoration South Africa

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