Favourite foraging spots, in cities and the country, are often closely guarded secrets, and eating wild foods can be risky: many poisonous plants resemble edible ones, and some sites may be contaminated by industrial or agricultural chemicals. On private land the owner’s permission must be obtained. Rules about foraging on government-owned land vary between states and fines for foraging illegally can amount to thousands of dollars.
Keen home cooks and culinary tourists can now sign up for seasonal tours – some city-based, some in the country – where experienced guides show where to find food growing wild and how to identify plants that are both safe and delicious to eat.
Many wild foods are strictly seasonal and the timing of tours is dependent on this: if your heart is set on hunting mushrooms, for example, advance inquiries are recommended.
Josh Whiteland runs the award-winning Koomal Dreaming tours in Australia’s far south-west, near the wineries and restaurants of Margaret River. During his guided bushwalks, Whiteland – whose guests have included Rene Redzepi – explains the Noongar people’s six seasons and the wild foods that flourish in each of them. Seasonal food-tasting around a campfire might include quandong, emu plum and saltbush.
In far north Queensland, near Port Douglas, brothers Linc and Brandon Walker guide visitors through mangroves and over mudflats and a sandy beach to find shoreline plants used for food and medicine, and to hunt for crabs, mussels and other seafoods. This is Kuku Yalanji Bama territory: after demonstrating the skills of their ancestors, the brothers host a casual seafood lunch at their family home.
In the Northern Territory, several operators offer native food tastings as part of Indigenous cultural tours. SEIT Outback Australia is among them, offering a range of tours near Uluṟu, including a specialist “bush tucker” walk where visitors can taste bush foods and grind native seeds.
In South Australia, chef Kirby Shearing of Soul Projects hosts “foraged and found” tours by appointment for between four and 12 people. Tours begin in Mount Gambier, before travelling through the Limestone Coast to a beach to collect seaweeds and herbs. The morning concludes with a three-course lunch including local seafood, and raw and cooked native greens.