Foraging Patagonia

Foraging is a skill of the past. Forgotten with time, globalization and mass consumerism has led us to the grocery store instead of the forests, mountains, fields and beaches. For centuries, cultures from the Arctic to the far reaches of Patagonia have sustained themselves off the land. Hunting has always remained widely practiced, but the passed down knowledge of gathering has fallen largely on deaf ears. The earth holds a wealth of knowledge and I was curious what Foraging Patagonia might unveil.

Foraging Patagonia
The bounty of Cerro Castillo

Every region of this world has a diverse selection of wild foods, but without professional guidance, foraging can be dangerous. I can not claim that I am a professional on the subject, but more of a passionate hobbyist. Like hunting, there is something primal about gathering wild food. This, for me, helps develop that visceral connection with food and an area.

I found myself consistently looking at the ground while hiking, regardless of where in the world I was. I was always on the hunt for anything recognizable, leading me to find wild strawberries on three continents or juniper in the Himalayas. Foraging Patagonia will provide a unique experience to the region, but new edibles will also deliver a local taste of the cuisine rarely found on menus.

Foraging Patagonia

This is a reliable source for the seven wild and edible foods found in Chilean Patagonia. While so much more exists within these mountains, this is a basic start and easily identifiable selection.

Wild Strawberries

Picking strawberries in spring gives me a sense of nostalgia. Like picking apples in autumn, it always brings a giddy joy to my face. I’ve been finding wild strawberries in the countryside for longer than I can remember. Definitely longer than I have known I was foraging.

Easily identifiable, I have found these throughout Canada, the Himalayas and now Patagonia. They are simply a miniature version of what everyone knows them to be. The leaves are rounded with soft serrated edges and will always grow close to the ground. Sweeter than their larger counterparts, it takes quite a few to do anything significant with not to mention animals often get first dibs. That said, the odd handful is always a welcomed treat while hiking.

Foraging Patagonia - Wild Strawberries
Wild Strawberries

Raspberries

This is another one I’ve found nearly everywhere I go. I know in much of Canada, these are common in many backyards. I’ve noticed them lining the roadsides of Ireland and England and now while foraging Patagonia.

Nalca

Known also as Chilean Giant Rhubarb, there is actually no relation to garden rhubarb. I noticed this Jurassic looking plant, as it’s hard to miss growing rampant throughout the warmer temperate climates of Patagonia and the island of Chiloé. Its leaves have a rough texture spanning up to a couple meters. The stems have a vine like quality, tough and fibrous with conical spike inflorescences.

While unrelated, the culinary uses are similar to that of garden rhubarb. Like much foraging, quite often it is the young shoots of a plant that we consume and Nalca is no different. The young stems are peeled and quite often made into a sweet preserve, while the leaves are used in Curanto, the dish of Chiloé.

Foraging Patagonia - Nalca with a view on Chiloé
Nalca with a view on Chiloé.

Click the link for more on Curanto.

Digüeñe

This is a mushroom native to south-central Chile. Mushrooms tend to be the one thing I steer away from when foraging in a new area as it can be quite dangerous. These were found on a campsite in Villa O’Higgins at the end of the Carretara Austral and verified by the owner of the property. Unlike any mushroom I’ve ever seen, it flourishes on the Patagonian oak in spring and early summer. Found in clusters of white-orange bulbous growths, it looks like a tumor. Often eaten in salads, chef Rodolfo Guzmán of Boragó has found uses for these in desserts as well.

Chaura Berry

Wild apples, prickly heath and most commonly known in Chile as the chaura. This berry was an incredible new discovery for me and easily my favourite find while foraging Patagonia. No prior knowledge of these, they appeared in abundance along the hiking trails of southern Patagonia. Their leaves are small pointed ovals with a sharp serrated edge. The prickly heath is a low lying shrub with a life time combating the brutal winds of Patagonia.

The edible fruit actually looks like a miniature apple and surprisingly had the texture of a ripe red delicious apple as well. The flavour even resembled that of an apple mixed with a hint of strawberry. There are a few varietals of this berry. The red (pictured here) is the most common, but as they range into pink and white they become more floral with melon characteristics.
I only wish I could find these elsewhere in the world, but I made sure to pick my fair share while the opportunity presented itself.

Foraging Patagonia - Chaura Berry or Wild Apple
Chaura Berry or Wild Apple. My favourite find in Patagonia.

Maqui Berry

This little power punch of a berry deceived me. I thought I found it, but turns out it was what I now believe to be a black chaura. Maqui berries are the newest ‘super-berry’, similar to acai. Within these nutrient dense berries is a uniquely high concentration of antioxidants as well as multiple other health benefits. Never before cultivated, it is found abundantly in the Valdivian rain forest of Chilean Patagonia.

I’ll be keeping a closer eye next time!!

Foraging Patagonia - Black Chaura (I think)
Black Chaura (I think)

El Calafate Berry

The El Calafate Berry is the famed berry of Patagonia. So much so, a ‘legend’ has developed surrounding it.

~For those that consume the El Calafate Berry, it is foretold they will one day return to Patagonia~

To be honest, I feel it is just human tendency to eat berries they find (not recommended) and one look at Patagonia will assure your return.

Foraging Patagonia - El Calafate Berry
El Calafate Berry

Nevertheless, this berry will be found throughout much of Patagonia on medium sized bushes. The branches have inch long thorns and the leaves are a smooth and glossy pointed oval. With the colour of a blueberry, it will be easily distinguishable between other berries. The berry itself can be sweet, but the majority that I tasted were unpleasantly tart along with the multiple large seeds in contains.

While it definitely wasn’t a favourite directly off the bush, the preserves it produces are perfect on toast in the morning.

Foraging Patagonia - El Calafate/Nalca Preserves
El Calafate/Nalca Preserves

If you’re planning a trip to the southern reaches of the world, there is no doubt hiking will be a part of the itinerary. While exploring the awe inspiring landscapes of the Andes mountains, keep your eyes peeled. Foraging Patagonia will not only provide locally unique edibles there for the taking, but will leave you with a closer connection to the region that will no doubt capture your heart.


2 thoughts on “Foraging Patagonia

  1. Love this article about going wild in Patagonia. There is something so primal about getting your food from the wild. The strawberries look incredibly sweet. The Nalca leaves are kind of creepy 🙂 what did the preserve taste like?
    When we were in Patagonia, we certainly enjoyed the calafate berries. Great read!

    1. Thanks, I absolutely love foraging! Wild strawberries are really sweet, all the flavour packed into less than half the size!! The nalca preserve had some nice floral notes to it and was made super sweet. It was also quite fibrous. Did you get the chance to try Curanto while there?

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