Edible Wilds: A Guide To Urban Foraging In Sydney’s Inner City And Inner West

June 2nd, 2023 - by Brad Gillespie

What do mulberries, dandelions, loquats and lilly pillies have in common?

They’re all edible plants that can be foraged in Sydney’s inner city and inner west. Urban foraging is a great way to connect with the food you eat as well as your local environment. We find out about the growing trend to harvest your own wild edible plants in the inner city and inner west.

Why forage for edible plants?

As we become more mindful of the food we eat and the impact our food choices have, urban foraging has taken on a new lease of life. Gathering your own plant food from your local area is the perfect way to get your food miles down, and it eliminates food waste, too. But there’s also the pull of relearning a forgotten art. As Diego Bonetto, author of Eat Weeds, says, foraging is a way of “honouring the ancient, ongoing practices of indigenous people from all over the world while paying respect to the gifts of nature.” It can also be an inexpensive way to boost your fruit and veg intake.

Which plants can be foraged?

Edible wild plants in Australia include native species, as well as weeds and feral plants. Aboriginal people have gathered Australian native plants, including wattle, quandongs, lilly pillies, lemon myrtle, scurvy weed, macadamias, bunya nuts and golden kelp, for tens of thousands of years while caring for Country. Many of these plants can still be foraged today. There are also many species of introduced edible weeds and feral plants that can be gathered and eaten, including dandelions, mulberries, blackberries, African olives, certain types of mushrooms, nettles and Scotch thistles.

What edible plants can you forage for in Sydney's inner city and inner west?

Just because we live in a central urban area, it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of wild edible plants to be found. Foraging experts say that even in city neighbourhoods like ours, you can find wild edible plants within 3 metres or a minute’s walk from your front door.

Here in the inner west and inner city, you can find warrigal greens, wood sorrel, nasturtiums, dandelion, lemon myrtle and dianella berries, to name a few. As we head into winter, keep your eye out for chickweed, Madeira vine, and rambling dock. All three are tenacious weeds plentiful across the inner west and inner city that thrive in the cooler weather, and all can be eaten. Chickweed is great in salads and sandwiches, and rambling dock leaves have a sharp, lemony flavour that makes them an ideal cocktail garnish, while the leaves of the Madeira vine are delicious stir-fried and served with chilli paste.

What about dumpster diving?

When you think about foraging for edible wild plants and eating weeds as a way of reducing food waste and saving money, you might also think about dumpster diving. With the cost of living on the rise, news outlets are reporting that more Sydneysiders are sifting through supermarket bins for food to save money. Some people dumpster dive to divert food from landfill, while for others, the adventure of the dive and the thrill of a good find is what keeps them coming back for more. While social media is full of stories of dumpster divers’ incredible food hauls, like foraging, it’s an activity worth approaching with caution. As well as the obvious health and safety risks that come with dumpster diving, it may not be legal. Depending on the situation, dumpster diving could breach trespassing and stealing laws or cause damage to private property.

How to forage safely and responsibly in Sydney’s inner city and inner west

Foraging for edible plants needs to be done ethically, legally, safely, and respectfully.

  • Health. Foraging for wild plants comes with possible health risks. Some plants in urban areas are poisonous, including natives like many gum trees, and introduced species, like the castor oil plant. Plants in urban areas can also be contaminated by sprays, as well as air, water and soil pollution. You can learn about possible environmental contaminants using Map My Environment or submit soil samples for analysis at VegeSafe. Do your research – was the land once industrially zoned, or is it a former petrol station? Are the plants you’re picking urinated on by dogs? It’s important to always wash foraged food thoroughly.
  • Legality. Plants are the property of whoever owns the land on which they’re growing. That means it’s legal to forage for food on private land, provided you either own the land or you have the owner’s permission. It’s also legal to forage for food accessible on public land. Harvesting protected plant species, or any plants found in national parks or nature reserves, is illegal and can incur heavy penalties.
  • Respect. While you’re allowed, by law, to harvest food accessible on public land, it’s a good idea, where possible, to talk to local residents about the plants growing on or around their property before you pick. For example, while a fruit tree or herb garden grown on a council-owned nature strip might technically be free pickings, chances are those plants have been planted and tended by a local gardener who might not appreciate their crop being harvested by others. Having a conversation about what’s growing in your neighbourhood can strengthen your connection with your community around your shared interest in the local environment.
  • Ethics. There are also environmental ethics to consider. As foraging grows in popularity, it’s more important than ever that foragers take only what they need and leave enough for others. This applies to the fruit on a lemon tree or the dandelions on a nature strip. After all, even weed ecosystems are fragile – if you take all the dandelions, there won’t be any when you return.

How do you forage safely in the inner city and inner west?

The best way to learn the art of foraging is from knowledgeable foragers. They can guide you to suitable spots where the history of the soil is known and advise you on what to pick and what to leave.

A great place to start is the foraging workshops at Centennial Parklands and Foodie’s Forages in the inner west run by ‘The Weedy One’ Diego Bonetto. Or check out the Scrumper’s Delight participatory map, which records edible plants growing in public spaces. You can upload your finds too. Or, if you’d like to harvest your own food but aren’t too sure about foraging, you could start your own veggie garden or visit one of the many fantastic community gardens here in the inner city or inner west.

Want to find out more about why Sydney’s inner city and inner west is a great place to live and invest in property? Get in touch with our team today.