Foodie Turned Forager: Roushanna Gray

IN

South Africa’s Cape coast in summer: a high sun, parched kelp on the rocks, but with numbingly cold waters launched upon it from Southern Ocean currents. A landscape of contradictions and fascinating diversity of plant and animal life is the result.

Many would baulk at being let loose in such a beautiful but unpredictable terrain, but local forager Roushanna Gray is in her element.

For so long an urbanite, she considers herself immersed in, even obsessed with, the possibilities offered by the outdoors, and credits her husband of Scottish descent for her particular frame of mind.

Roushanna said: ‘I grew up in a suburb of Cape Town, without any sort of plant background. I was a foodie though. I fell in love with my future husband Tom, and only then I began to really fall in love with the landscape.

‘When I moved to the house where he grew up, on a smallholding at Cape Point, I would look at the mountains in the distance and feel disconnection with the ingredients I was using in my cooking and baking. I began reading books on local flora, talking to people, studying plant names and their Latin names.

‘It has become a labour of love.’

Different varieties of Kelp seaweed

Along this coastline there are some 720 species of seaweed, an incredible number

Roushanna’s journeys often take her to the shore, on her own or as a guide; when there she has been amazed by its foraging potential.

She said: ‘Along this coastline there are some 720 species of seaweed, an incredible number.’

‘In 2012 I took a Japanese cyclist, who had travelled the length of Africa, on trips down to the coast. He stayed with us for three months and introduced me to the joys of eating seaweed.
‘He described them as “sea vegetables” and I was fascinated because we do not have such a strong culture of seaweed consumption in South Africa. Since then I began to explore how each has its own unique taste and flavour.

‘Better still, head out from the shallows and you find kelp forests; it is like swimming into another world. One species, Ecklonia maxima, or sea bamboo, can even be a pasta substitute.

‘Of course, when I am rock hopping and snack on the wild food as I go along, some people think I am crazy. But it is work and play for me, there is so much possibility.

‘Even on an urban forage, you will find lots of edible weeds, wild fennel, carrots, feral figs, and kei apples (Dovyalis caffra). There is jasmine everywhere in Spring.’

Roushanna (left) leading a coastal forage

I am not a botanist or a horticulturalist but in ten years I have not stopped learning.

Out of the city and away from the shoreline, Roushanna’s horticultural home is in fact more than that; it is the Good Hope Gardens Nursery, set up by her mother-in-law Gayle Gray almost thirty years ago, to showcase the mind-blowing array of flora and fauna on their doorstep.

Roushanna said: ‘I used to follow Tom and Gayle walking in the Fynbos, listening to them pointing out the Latin names of flowering or interesting plants, taking notes, smelling the fragrance of each plant while wondering if I could use them in the kitchen, and then researching each species back at home – in fact it still happens now!

‘I am not a botanist or a horticulturalist but in ten years I have not stopped learning.’

Roushanna also pointed out how comparisons could be drawn between the Cape Peninsula’s floral abundance and plant life on Islay.

She explained: ‘Fynbos – Afrikaans for “fine bush” – contains several species of the ericaceae group, sharing the same family as heather (Calluna vulgaris) found on Islay.

‘Species in this region have specially adapted to survive the salty, coastal winds and the hot climate. For example, fynbos have predominantly smaller leaves than plant groups in other floral kingdoms, which helps reduce water loss in our harsh summer climate.’

Roushanna has taken charge of several foraging trips on behalf of The Botanist, most recently passing on her skills in the field to a clutch of keen chefs and bartenders from around Cape Town, for a foraged dinner and cocktail evening in the city.

She said: ‘It is a lot of fun and also very rewarding to see what these professionals come up with. Some of their ideas you could never imagine with only the foraged ingredients to hand.

‘Being out in nature brings out your creative spark, it is empowering. For me it almost feels like a form of meditation when walking or gathering botanicals. It is empowering having the knowledge to be able to identify, sustainably forage and prepare wild edibles.

‘Among chefs and bartenders the foraged meal and foraged cocktail concept is becoming very popular, but it is also about understanding nature.

‘Another of my aims is to take more and more young people foraging, to help them understand what delicious flavours are available in our surrounding environment, and the importance of nature.

Visit Roushanna Gray’s Blog at Good Hope Nursery > or follow her on Instagram >

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