NATIVE FOODS

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Tangglun Piltengi Yunti farm is at Murray Bridge on the lower reaches of the Murray River in South Australia. The Murray Bridge area is a prominent producer of market garden vegetables for the Adelaide and interstate markets. The TPY farm site has a diverse potential, with glass houses and production areas set aside for the bush foods project.

TPY started growing bush foods with the help of Mike and Gayle Quarmby in 2001. The garden includes Muntries, Desert Raisins and Wattleseed production as well as a supply of tomatoes and chillies into the Outback Pride manufacturing kitchen.

This is Narrindjeri country, and the community is also fortunate to have the “Old Pump House” on the river bank in the Murray Bridge township. The facility is called “Pomberuk” and includes a bush tucker cafĂ© overlooking the river, a gift shop and an Art Gallery/Interpretive centre.

Old Man Saltbush – Atriplex nummularia
Old Man Saltbush is a familiar sight over large areas of the dry inland of Australia. It is a sprawling grey-blue shrub, up to 3 meters high and sometimes spreading to 5 meters wide. It is a long living plant, growing strongly after periods of summer rain, when it grows long tassels of flowering seed heads. In old times indigenous Australians mostly collected the minute Saltbush seeds to grind and roast for damper.

A special selection of Old Man Saltbush has been developed by Mike Quarmby for the gourmet food industry. Mike was involved in providing millions of saltbush seedlings to the re-vegetation and pastoral industry in order to rehabilitate degraded land. He soon realized that overgrazing had removed the best types of saltbush from rangelands, and only the bitter leafed plants were left. Mike undertook a lengthy journey to find natural stands of Saltbush that had been protected from overgrazing.

Mike established selection trial plots, with the end result being a much improved saltbush form, which is quite different in flavour to the hard grown wild plant. When grown in hot house conditions, it provides a large leafed vegetable, with a natural range of mineral salts, antioxidants, calcium and 27% crude protein.

The large fresh or blanched Saltbush leaves can be used as a wrap around meat or fish, in salads or as a leafy bed for grilled meat or vegetables. The dried Saltbush flakes are a wonderful addition to bread, grills, pasta and as a pot herb.

Native Thyme- Prostranthera rotundafolia
This strongly aromatic bush is a native to south east New South Wales, eastern Victoria and Tasmania. Native Thyme was used by indigenous Australians for it’s medicinal properties. The bush grows up to 2 meters high, with a showy display of lilac flowers on the tips in spring. It has very small round leaves, in pairs, attached to a multitude of stemletts. This plant is related to the Westringia and naturally occurs in cool moist gullies, particularly along river banks. It is now a very popular garden plant and can even be used as a low hedge.

Native Thyme is a strong growing plant when well watered, in a sheltered, well drained position and in acid to neutral soil conditions. As a pot plant, it provides a continuous supply of ready herb and is easy to maintain with regular pruning. Commercially, the Native Thyme is grown in shade house conditions with well drained raised beds.

When used in dishes featuring chicken, turkey, pork or lamb, a small amount makes a big difference.

 

Native Basil – Plectranthus graveolens
This attractive aromatic plant naturally occurs on rocky ledges and ridges in Queensland and the Northern Territory. With it’s velvety crinkled leaves and stunning spikes of violet flowers, it is a welcome sight for bush walkers in the national parks, where even brushing against the leaves releases the pleasant Basil/Sage aroma.

The Native Basil is a hardy and useful decorative plant now found in gardens throughout the coastal regions of Australia. Indigenous Australians used this plant for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Early European settlers often called it the “Five Spice Plant” because of it’s delightful fragrant mix of Basil, Mint and Sage.

Despite it’s distinctive aroma it is not an over powering herb and can be used liberally in dishes where sweet Basil would be used. It complements any tomato, garlic or Mediterranean style cuisine.

Muntries – Kunzea pomifera
The Muntries, or Muntharis, are a ground hugging native plant of south eastern South Australia. It has radial branches spreading over sandy ground for up to 3 metres in all directions. It’s small round leaves are about 3 to 4 mm in diameter and the plant displays profuse cream feathery flowers in spring. The fruit form in clusters and ripen in February to March.

Muntries hold a significant place in the historical diet of the Narrindjeri people of the Coorong in the south-east of South Australia. These fruit played a major part in the diet, not only when fresh, but also after being dried and stored for the winter months. They were often traded with other tribes, usually after being pounded into a paste which was then dried – the original fruit bar.

The fruit, which tastes like apple with a juniper essence, are now cultivated extensively on low trellises. There are many clones which have been selected for heavy fruit production, colour and flavour. The harvested fruit are sold fresh, frozen or dried and make a wonderful addition to sweet or savoury dishes, jams, chutney or simply as a dessert with ice cream.

Lemon Myrtle Leaf – Backhousia citriodora
A beautiful Australian shrub naturally occurring in the wetter coastal areas of northern NSW and southern Queensland. It grows up to 3 meters high, with graceful hanging branches of soft green leaves. The clusters of cream feathery flowers occur in Autumn, creating a spectacular fragrant display. A great complement to any home garden in the wetter areas of Australia, it thrives in a rich well drained position.

Most cultivation of this herb occurs near Lismore in NSW, although it is rapidly expanding into all of the temperate growing areas of Australia. Used fresh, the Lemon Myrtle leaf is a most versatile and refreshing herb. For storage, the leaves are cool dried (to prevent loss of essential oils) and then ground and stored in a cool, dry manner for later use.

Lemon Myrtle is without a doubt the most popular of Australia’s native herbs, with it’s fresh fragrance of creamy lemon and lime. It complements so many culinary delights, from fish and chicken to ice cream or sorbet.

Bush Cucumber

This annual vine occurs in isolated areas of western Queensland and South-East Northern Territory. Bush Cucumber would once have been common through most of the central arid zone. However, like Passion Berries, they have been the victim of introduced grazing animals which find the aroma and taste of the cucumbers irresistible. Unlike emus, who also love this fruit, the introduced stock and feral animals fully digest the seed, thereby removing it permanently from the area.

Like it’s cousins in the melon family, Bush Cucumbers enthusiastically climb up and along rocks, logs and low shrubs, sometimes spreading up to 3 meters with long trailing runners. The pale green leaves are roughly triangular, about 50mm across and have a similar feel to sandpaper. The tiny yellow flowers are born at each leaf node and prolifically form fruit which look a bit like green spotted pigeons eggs.

Bush Cucumbers were a favourite fruit of indigenous people of the desert. This was due not only to the great flavour, but the fruit also keeps well in a cool dry environment for many months.

Kutjera (Desert Raisin) – Solanum centrale
Kutjera (Kampurarpa – Pitjantjatjara language) is a small desert plant approximately 30cm in height, with grey to bronze leaves and attractive mauve/blue flowers. It grows naturally through the central deserts from Tennant Creek, NT to Marla, SA. Part of the tomato family (which includes potatoes and capsicums), there are over 100 species of Solanums (Wild Tomatoes) in Australia. However, only six are known to be edible, and Kutjera – Desert Raisins – are the most well known and certainly the most consumed species of the “bush tomatoes”.

In the red, sandy desert, the plants grow quickly after summer rains, mainly from dormant root stock which can last for many years between favorable seasons. The plant also responds and grows rapidly after soil disturbance (along roadsides) or after bushfires.

This arid lands fruit has been a staple food of the indigenous desert dwellers of Central Australia for many thousands of years. A rich source of minerals, particularly potassium, they are also high in vitamin C. The traditional harvesting method is to collect the sun dried fruits of the small bush in the autumn and winter months. In the dried form, the Desert Raisins can be stored for several years.

Desert Raisins are now being cultivated in commercial plots on indigenous communities in the desert regions of Australia. With the use of water-wise irrigation systems, the fruiting cycle has been expanded to eight months instead of just two months (as in the wild).

Desert Lime- Eremocitrus Glauca
This small, slender and spiny tree grows naturally over the inland dry areas of south western Queensland and western NSW, with a small pocket of habitat in the southern flinders Ranges in SA. It is a true citrus with slender upward facing leaves, 5-8 mm across, and white flowers produced in spring. The fruit are like tiny lemons with a porous rind and juicy but sour centre. The trees often appear in groups formed by suckering, particularly where heavy grazing has occurred.

Desert Limes are normally slow growing, like most of the Australian native Citrus species. However when grown in cultivation they are usually grafted, which makes them faster maturing, more productive and less likely to sucker.

Desert Limes were eaten raw by indigenous people, however most Europeans found them a bit sour, and tended to use them for summer drinks or marmalade jam. Increasingly, gourmet chefs have discovered their unique wild lime flavour a welcome addition to fish sauces, salad dressings, flavoured butter, and a multitude of desserts. One favourite use is in Desert Lime Sorbet.

 

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