by Steven Hoepfner (www.earthright.com.au)
Having never presented a workshop on Bushfoods before (a subject dear to my heart), I decided it was best to put native foods into context. Inspired by Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark Emu, Black Seeds I explained to the audience which was in excess of 30 people (not bad for a stormy afternoon), that Australia at the time of our early European explorers was “not a land peopled by wanderers, but a landscape created by the enormous labour of a people intent on creating the best possible conditions for food production.” This point is ever more powerful when one realises that after 40,000 plus years of habitation, the only evidence of Aboriginal occupation on this land is some large piles of seashells along the coast and some intricate, enduring culturally significant art. A stunning example of ‘sustainability’ if you ask me.
During my talk, I mentioned my favourite bushtucker plants that are best suited to the Adelaide area, those being:-
- Old Man Saltbush (Atriplex nummularia)
- Pig face (Carpobrotus rossii)
- Bower Spinach (Tetragonia implexicoma) New Zealand Spinach/Warrigal greens
- Muntries (Kunzea pomiferra)
- Desert Raisin (Solanum centrale)
- Sea Celery (Apium prostratum)
- Yam Daisies (Microseris lanceolata)
- Quandongs (Santalum acuminatum) which has a semi-parasitic nature (hosts include native grasses, groundcovers, Acacia victoriae)
All of these beside the Desert Raisin are naturally found occurring within 50km of the Adelaide CBD, and are well suited to growing here. These are the sort of plants that, once established, would do well in a unkempt corner of the garden, the verge or even a park down the road. As they have been growing here for millennia, they are well suited to our dry summers and out perform many introduced plants that aren’t edible.
I wont go into detail for all of the plants listed, but two of note are Muntries and Yam Daisies. Muntries love a sunny, dry position and thrive in a sandy soil. Trellis them to keep some of the fruit away from Lizards and you’ll be eating these pea-sized Apple/Cinnamon flavoured fruits in 3-5 years. Much quicker than an actual Apple tree.
The Yam Daisy, well, I could talk about this wondrous little daisy relative for hours on end. From it’s nodding habit as it sets its seeds, to the way it single handedly sustained families for generations and generations all across the south west corner of this beautiful continent. Most importantly though, the flavour. Raw, it taste a little like a cross between a carrot and a Coconut but once baked, the sweet Coconut flavour is undeniable! The best thing is, if you plant it in your veggie garden, it will thrive as it seems to have encountered cultivation somewhere in it’s history! Explorers recount seeing literally piles of the tubers of this plant around indigenous cooking areas upon first contact. There are anecdotes that refer to women being able to collect enough of these tubers to feed their entire family for the whole day, within an hour and a half! Sure beats my 9-5 workday! Sadly, with the introduction of hard hooved animals and widespread and soil depleting farming practices, this extremely beneficial plant has all but disappeared. All the more reason to set up a population in your own garden!
Bush foods is an addictive subject once you scratch the surface. I have focused on our local plants but there are many others from all of this vast and complex country. The fact that many are under extreme pressure from our expanding population is reason enough to try to preserve them in our backyards, let alone the tastiness of including them in a meal. I’m always thrilled when I offer a new flavour to a guest and watch them as they try to guess what it is.
With much gratitude to the organizers of the event, I closed my presentation by reading a simple, yet extremely poignant quote by poet and environmental activist, Gary Snyder. It reads, “Nature is not a place to visit, it is home.”