Foraging in Kōanga

Our Kaiārahi Training and Nutrition Lead, Haylee Koroi, has recently moved to Hokitika and is getting to know her new surroundings. Read on to hear about her observations and how she has recently picked up the foraging bug! 

The kōwhai flowers are blooming bright yellow in our garden just as the sun makes its warm face known again. We can hear the tui song and the whooshing sound of kereru wings as they make their way to the nectar filled kōwhai branches. It’s a sign that kōanga is here and that the fruits of Te Wao Nui a Tāne are emerging. We’ve had a beautiful entrance into spring here in Hokitika, Te Wai Pounamu, despite the recent lockdown. We’re lucky enough to be living at lake Kaniere surrounded by mountains and forest, and the opportunity to be in regular whanaungatanga with a myriad of kai Māori. 

We are still only in the early days of our foraging adventures, but it really all started when we were walking through the bush one day and saw some wood ear mushrooms growing on some fallen trees after four or five successive days of rain. We went home and did some research on wood ear mushrooms, whose Māori name we found was hakeke. We researched where and when they grow, some easy to spot characteristics, and how to prepare them. We returned later that day with a bucket, harvesting a couple of handfuls. You might recognise these mushrooms in some Chinese dishes you’ve eaten before. They have an interesting rubbery texture and not much flavour, but lend themselves well to flavourful stir-fry or casserole sauces. They also have medicinal properties. We cleaned the hakeke with water and a tea towel sliced them and mixed them with a prawn and vegetable noodle stir-fry.

Since then we’ve harvested, prepared, and added hakeke, horopito, pikopiko and puha to some of our favourite dishes. We’ve picked up the foraging bug and it’s stuck! Not only because of the joy of gathering koha in the form of kai Māori, or being in whanaungatanga with atua Haumie-tiketike and Tāne, but also because all of these kai Māori have made easy additions or substitutes to some of our favourite dishes. We’ve made puha pesto – adding it to pasta, and bread; horopito salt added to poached eggs and a leek tart; we’ve made pickled pikopiko with cheese and crackers, and have used pikopiko to substitute courgettes in a laksa. There are so many possibilities and we’re really only just at the beginning.

If you’re thinking of gathering some kai Māori, here are some easy tips:

  • Find yourself a foraging book that you like. We have found ones that include photographs are extremely helpful. We would recommend: A field guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand by Andrew Crowe, Tahua-roa: Food for visitors by Nick Roskruge or Foragers Treasury by Johanna Knox.
  • Make sure to gather kai Māori from places that aren’t exposed to sprays or toxins from road run-off.
  • Think of some creative ways that you can incorporate the kai Māori you have access to to some of your favourite dishes.  If you need some inspiration you can just check up on google or check out some of our recommended pukapuka: Foragers Treasury by Johanna Knox, Hiakai by Monique Fiso or Cooking with Charles Royal by Charles Royal. 

To minimise the impact of our gathering on the taiao, we frequently vary the places that we gather from. We try to pick when the kai is at its optimum gathering stage, not too young or too old. We also follow the tikanga left by Monique Fiso in her pukapuka ‘Hiakai,’ that is to ‘pick or harvest only what you need – ‘take a third, leave a third for next time and leave the other third to regenerate’. As we spend more time with the ngāhere and get to know what and how it communicates with us, we are learning the small and consistent ways that we can return mana to the spaces we gather from. First and foremost we know that to whakarongo, to listen and to observe, is the first and best way that we can give mana. This allows us to see how things are in relation, and to discern what balance might look like. We still have so much to learn but some small things we have learnt to do is to pick up rubbish whenever we see it, relieve trees or shrubs which have fallen branches or debris on them, and where appropriate pull away or remove old and rotting leaves. Heoi anō, kei te mihi nui ki ngā tūākana kua kohangia te mana o ngā atua hei kai mā tātou.

If you would like to check out some of our foraging adventures and how we’ve prepared some of our kai Māori go to this link!

Haylee Koroi forages for pikopiko
Haylee Koroi

He mokopuna tēnei nō Tarutaru, nō Te Ruapounamu, nō Tauratumaru. Ka hora tōna whenua taurikura ki Pukepoto, ki Utakura anō hoki. Ko te Tai Tokerau tēnei e ngunguru nei.

Haylee is the Kaiārahi Training and Nutrition Lead for Toi Tangata.