In a land where natural resources are scarce, foraging is actually possible. I first came across the concept — besides the times my grandfather goes fruit picking from mango trees in the estate — in Singapore last year, at a dance music party where I was given a glass and told to pick the herbs I wanted in my vodka-based drink. “Any herbs?” I asked curiously.
“Anything,” the person manning the Edible Gardens booth said, extending his arm to the pots of mint, basil, chilli, thyme, and more. Keeping it safe, I selected some mint leaves, and added a basil leaf for some kicks. You bring your cup to a mixologist, and he makes you a light and delightfully refreshing alcoholic beverage. Of course, that was a micro and controlled form of foraging — picking leaves from a bunch of potted herbs for your own use.
But foraging is becoming bigger here in Singapore. Just this year, local singer-songwriter Inch Chua served up cocktails made from foraged ingredients at the launch of her album Letters To Ubin, an anthology of songs about the island she lived in for a while. Perhaps apropos, the ingredients were foraged from Pulau Ubin itself, from a special leaf one of the residents would brew into a tea, to the native blue pea flower.
And then there’s The Botanical Plate, “a planthead tribe based in Singapore.” Started by Ruth Schooling, The Botanical Plate is a local brand creating and curating lovely products for the body and soul according to a plant-based lifestyle. According to Ruth, who is very inspired by jamu, a traditional form of herbal medication originating from Indonesia, The Botanical Plate is thoughtfully handcrafted by medicine women and men from around the world, including our very own here in Singapore. The products, besides being mostly plant-based, are also made from foraged ingredients.
But what is foraging?
Foraging is the act of looking or searching for food or provisions, just like how our ancestors did in the olden days. And it is all the rage now, especially in land-strapped Singapore where ‘urban gardening’ or urban foraging is seen as a great alternative to mass consumerism which we practice ourselves. It takes a lot of time and effort, that’s for sure, but doesn’t everything good take time?
The Little Shop of Curiosities
The Botanical Plate offers a mix of body care and lifestyle products via its online store, including a variety of curious-looking things like non-aerosol deodorant — which looks like a bar of soap and which we imagine must smell most exotic (cocoa + orange) — and roll-on body oils of all sorts of unique blends. These come in clear tubes with petals floating inside, complete with tempting names like ‘Goddess’, ‘Earth Child’ and ‘Moontime Relief’. Being an online store, our only gripe is that we can’t smell the products in real life before dropping cash on them.
The shop also stocks ‘moon cups’ — a reusable menstrual cup that isn’t as wasteful as sanitary pads and tampons. Other labels like Wild Earth Botanicals, Theseeke, and Plantfolk Apothecary are also found in the catalog, and are run by women who use plant-based ingredients in their products. Like The Botanical Plate, these products look elegant and almost minimalist — there is a sort of charm receiving your dark bottled purchases wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.
The best way to check out and smell the products is to catch The Botanical Plate at a pop-up/community flea market — of which they are regulars of.
The concept of The Botanical Plate is also partly a spiritual one. It’s about being conscious of our surroundings, our bodies, and how we choose to live life. Ruth says, “We’re all about encouraging locals to think more creatively about caring for their bodies, to understand the versatility of conscious living and in turn live a life that can restore ourselves back to an ultimate state of wellbeing, without the use of harmful resources — something we feel is much needed in today’s society.”
We can’t help but be sold on the positive vibes we get from The Botanical Plate. There’s a belief that what nourishes beauty on the outside is a reflection of how good we feel on the inside, and in turn we share the kindness and goodness with our surroundings — a desirable goal of many who adopt the lifestyle. And it looks like putting a little bit of the natural world into the products of The Botanical Plate might just be the best idea Ruth could have had.