Changing South

Foraging: local and sustainable food for free

If Peter Langlands needed to, he could eat for free. The food he doesn’t grow, he finds - sprouting wild and free in public spaces.

Frank Film follows the forager, looking for lunch.

As the June sun rises over Lyttelton Harbour, Peter Langlands is well into his work.

The professional forager is scouring the shoreline at Allandale, his bucket brimming with edible plants which grow wild and free on public land.

“There’s a real spontaneity to it,” says Langlands. “That’s one of the exciting things about foraging, you never know what you’re going to find.”

Langlands says he “could live 100 percent on foraged foods”, and that he doesn’t buy many vegetables.

In the latest episode in Frank Film’s Changing South series, Peter Langlands shares his foraging expertise - the places to go and the plants to pick.

Wild pea tendrils, Italian parsley, red clover and hedge mustard flowers are just a few of his finds.

“Typically, we’d find 50 to 75 edible greens along the foreshore here,” says Langlands. “Banks Peninsula is a place in the heart for foraging … you probably couldn’t find richer foraging grounds in New Zealand.”

It’s an environment he’s used to full advantage to gain a reputation as one of New Zealand’s foremost foragers. Langlands take foraging tours, writes publications and sources wild plants for some of the country’s finest professional kitchens.

His interest in harvesting nature’s pantry, piqued during a four-year stay in the Catlins.

Langlands was monitoring godwits and, living and working in a remote location, he began to source food from the estuary.

He reckons foraging’s time has come, with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing humans to consider locally sourced and sustainable foods. Langlands says New Zealand’s pandemic lockdown coincided with mushroom season and foraging was one of the activities people were able to do on local walks.

From Lyttelton Harbour, Langlands travels along the Summit Road - with a quick stop to harvest horopito leaves - to Akaroa Harbour.

Horopito leaves. 

Donning waders, the forager dips his hand into the sea, emerging with prized greenlip mussels, a pie crust crab and several handfuls of wakame seaweed.

From there, Langlands beetles across the bay to Wainui where friend and chef Craig Martin is waiting to cook up the foraged haul.

Martin, executive chef at nearby luxury lodge, Annandale, has been learning from Langlands about locally sourced wild foods. He says, “guests love the paddock-to-plate style”.

Martin cooks the mussels in a pot of sea water infused with wild parsley, lemonwood leaf and a stalk of wild fennel. When the mussels are cooked, he uses the juices to steam the wakame seaweed, which through the cooking process changes colour to a brilliant green.

The chef agrees with his foraging friend that “since the lockdown people are going back to the old days where they grew everything and made their own bread. It’s a no-brainer to forage and you know where everything comes from.”

But is it a risky business? Langlands says he’s never been sick as a result of eating the wild plants he’s gathered but admits “there are species that for the inexperienced forager would be fatal”.

It’s why he recommends people garner as much knowledge as they can prior to foraging and consider taking a tour or joining the burgeoning online community of foragers.

It’s important, too, that foragers check for public health warnings before harvesting from the sea.

Watch the full episode here.

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