top of page
Search

Food of our Forests

Updated: Jul 13

The knowers of the forests are those who survive its hardships and feast in its abundance.


My first monsoon on the land, now over a decade ago - Mami consistently concluded her work day holding a massive leaf wrapping some other leaves/stalks/tender shoots. Each dusk was something different. Shades of green I had never seen! Dinner, she said.


foraging wild foods indigenous knowledge


Here I was, engrossed with spinach, attempting to grow a substantial harvest. It would need us to prepare soil, sow seed, de-weed, irrigate… for a few spinach leaves. Au contraire, Mami walked home loaded with dinner, something different every day, collected as she moved, working across the land.


Tribals have lived harmoniously with the forests for ions. They know the land in a way one cannot learn. Just one such knowing is edibles, a memory of where they reside in the vast expanse of land and their cycle of emergence. Heck, I’ve eaten nourishing green sabzis in the summer! As a farmer I know how hard it is to grow greens in the hot months, and for those who succeed, there is likely little sustainable about it.


My curiosity is that of a cat. Mami adopted me as her student… kaodi, lundha, kadu kand, kurdu, lothEarly years were word play. This turned to match-the-plant-to-its-name. The next layer was seasonality, kaodi welcomes the monsoons. Followed by learning their inedible lookalikes, lundha has a neurotoxic twin. Over the years, my relation with the land turned into muscle memory.


My childhood friend recently lamented, There’s such crap available in the market these days babe. It’s the monsoon, I replied, the earth is abundant in food!  Wild animals birth now, to be nourished by this incredible giving of Mother Earth. Like me, most of us are unaware of the wonderous monsoon foods, which has inspired this piece.


I dream of mankind taking the energy away from creating improved technology to fell forests, till the earth, or grow cauliflower and tomatoes in the monsoon; instead pouring it into protecting the forests, even growing them (by which I mean, we could simply take a momentary step back). For within them, outside of the many other services they provide, is the most nourishing and flavourful food I have eaten.  


I digress. The intention of this piece is to share with you some of the incredible wild foods the tribals have so openly shared with me. But not without their pearls of the honourable harvests. Take some, leave some. And in the taking, remember grace, for we take from a vast and giving, yet common womb.


Here's a piece on some of the wildfoods of the Palghar forests. It's a growing piece, we'll populate it as and when the rain grounds us away from working with the earth. We'll add botanical names and common names over time too. I’ve learned the simplest preparations often best suite wild foods. My base is almost always homegrown peanut oil, onion and a clove or two of garlic. A couple minutes sautéing on high flame. A final steam to tenderize and nicely absorb the salt. While this works with most green leaves, some stalks, like that of elephant foot yam contain oxalate crystals, which cause an itch in the throat. These need to be blanched or cooked with acidity like sorrel leaves or tamarind. Tubers and stems have their own nuanced preparations. Where there are special instructions for preparation, we have mentioned it. Where we've said nothing, get creative cooking! And if you're into some more detail on the plants themselves, go here. 

 

Without much (more) ado.


vrindavan farm foraged forest wild foods

Kaodi (Chlorophytum tuberosum)


This green emerges with the first rain. It carries great significance within the tribal community for it binds two integral movements in their lives. The sowing of the seeds of rice and the beginning of the abundance of forest foods. The forest isn't turned to for food until all families within the respective village have sowed their seeds - rice being the staple that will feed for the year. Once sown, the village drunk is handed a bottle of booze and tasked with announcing to the village, 'tomorrow we eat kaodi'. With kaodi, begins the foraging.


Forest presence: Early to mid-monsoon


Hot Tip: Holds a slight bitter presence that can be blanched out. Add it to boiling water for 10 seconds, strain and rinse under cold water. Then add to a sauteed base of onion and garlic. Locally, kaodi is prepared by adding to toor dal.


Tastes like: Seaweed


Dina (Leea indica)


An annual that should be harvested leaving the stalk rooted to the earth. Slice the stalk close to the base.


Forest presence: Early to mid-monsoon


Hot Tip: Remove the thread strains that hold the stalk before cooking. Based on how tender the stalks are, they won't take more than 3-5 minutes to cook. We simply sauté into onion and two cloves garlic, salt and steam to finish it.


Tastes like: A thick asparagus







Pandra


Forest appearance: Early to mid monsoon.


Hot Tip: Both the buds and fruit of this plant are edible. We happened to harvest when the tree was budding. The fruit is preferred purely because there is more nourishment from a small quantity.



Lundha


Forest Presence: Early monsoon arrival, in dense forest understory


A beautiful fiddlehead-like sabzi expresses from the earth early monsoon. Lundha is a less prevalent wild vegetable. A quantity that could be held together by a napkin ring, is typically shared by a family of 8 members, each served chutney sized portions with bhakri. This delicacy of Lundha is almost always eaten for breakfast.







Takala (Cassia tora)


Takla grows in abundance. So eat away!


Forest Presence: Early monsoon through to winter


Hot Tip: The tender leaves are enjoyable to eat. Should you end up cooking the more mature leaves, remove the midrib, as they do not dissolve easily.







Kuda


Forest appearance: Late summer, monsoon's onset.


Edible flowers that cook easily, taste like fungi when cooked.



vrindavan farm wild foraged food

Tender bamboo shoots (Dendrocalamus strictus)


Forest presence: Late monsoon bamboo shoot sprouts are native to Indian forests and Asian diets.


Hot Tip: Blanche the shoots in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain out the water and rinse the shoots. This removes their bitter.


Recipe: Sautee ginger, garlic, a pinch of turmeric and toss in the shoots. They can also be served as a side with butter and soya sauce, or added to stews, curries, soups. If you’re a pickler, they make for a delicious and healthy pickled snack. Take the blanched shoots and add them to a half part mango vinegar half part water brine, add in chilis, let it simmer until the shoots are tender and bottle. The brine will store well in the fridge for months.


Khajra (Urtica dioica) /

Stinging Nettle


Forest presence: Mid to late monsoon.


Hot Tip: Use gloves when handling the fresh leaves. If you do brush against it, don’t fret it, the stinging will go away (in about a day!). Aloe will help it feel good.


Recipe: Our favourite recipe is BBC Good Food’s Nettle Soup. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add in onion, carrot, leek and potato, and cook for 10 mins until the vegetables start to soften. Add vegetable stock and cook for a further 10-15 mins until the potato is soft. Add in the nettle leaves, simmer for 1 min to wilt, then blend the soup. Season to taste, then stir in butter and cream. Serve the soup drizzled with extra oil and scattered with dead nettle flowers, if you have them.


A saag can also be prepared by blanching the leaves (about 40 seconds), then sauté with garlic and ginger.





















Ambadi / Sorrel

Tomatoes weren't natively a part of the tribal diet. In the monsoon, sorrel leaves provided a fantastic sour and in the dry months, it's dried flowers provide.


Forest Presence: Mid monsoon


Hot Tip: The leaves can be added to other dishes. The dried flowers (an even more potent delivery of sour) can be stored for use through the year.


Kantola


I'm beginning to see these reduce in the forest. They fetch a good value and I imagine there is some overharvesting.


Forest Presence: Mid monsoon






Segad / Moringa


The leaves are lush and plentiful during the monsoon.


Forest Presence: Annual except in the spring.







Suran / Elephant Foot Yam Leaves and Stalk


Forest Presence: Mid monsoon


Hot Tip: Contains oxalate crystals that can cause an itchy throat. Boil with acidity like sorrel leaves or tamarind. Strain and rinse in cold water. Then cook.


The stalk makes a faboulus serving like asparagus, dressed in oil and a vinaigrette and salted.






Taag (Crotalaria juncea)

/ Sunn hemp


Forest Presence: Mid monsoon


Taste like: Cucumbery spicy when raw and mushroomy when cooked.
















Kurdu (Celosia argentea)


Forest Presence: Mid monsoon


It's Nigerian name translates to "make husbands fat and happy". Probably because of it's abundance on our soils. You'll see this in urban settings are well, typically where water has a presence, stream beds, waterfall beds, etc.


Hot Tip: It cooks easily and makes a rather hearty serving. If you have a late season harvest, consider not including the stalks as they won't tenderize easily.






Banana Stem


Forest Presence: Year-round


Background: When a banana is harvested from the plant, the entire plant is chopped down. The stem makes for a nutritive meal.


Recipe: The recipe is from Saffron Trail.











Termitomyces

The gift of the Gods. When we may be so lucky, we wash, and immediately cook.


Hot Tip: The stipes and base are packed with flavour. Don't compost them! If you find them too rubbery, consider making a broth.

---

Ah, but our forests aren't so limited! There's much much more. We'll keep adding as and when a downpour freezes us from working on the land.


143 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page