Posted by Phytopath on Mar 4, 2010
The Australian continent is vast and because of this, the climate is also vast.
The northern regions of Australia experience tropical conditions, then heading south you pass through desert until finally at the southern portion of the continent (the island of Tasmania) you will find cool temperate conditions.
Because of this vastness, there is a huge variety of plants that Australians call ‘Bush Tucker’.
From tropical fruit and tubers, to desert seeds and temperate greens. Today I will cover a plant from each region.
Syzygium spp. and Acmena spp. known collectively as Lilly Pillies. There are over 50 species of Lilly Pilly in Australia and all of them have edible fruit. They range in height from 30 m in their rainforest habitat, to about 50 cm for a miniature garden variety. They are found growing along watercourses so if you wish to grow one in your garden, make sure it has plenty of water in the growing season. The tree is covered with white fluffy flowers over the summer months and then followed by berries that are purple, red, pink or white, depending on variety. These berries can be eaten fresh, made into cordial, jam or jellies. Yummy. A word of warning – do not park your clean white car beneath a Lilly Pilly when it is in fruit. You will be hard pressed to get the stains out.
Lilly Pilly Jelly
Lilly Pilly fruit
Wash the fruit and remove stalks. Place in saucepan and just cover with water and bring to the boil. Cook until the fruit is tender then strain through a jelly bag overnight. Next day measure the liquid and add one cup of sugar for every cup of liquid and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly until setting point is reached (test this by placing some liquid on a cold saucer).Tartaric acid will help the liquid to set. Add one teaspoon per six cups of liquid. Bottle in sterilized jars and enjoy.
Portulaca oleracea, some of its common names are pigweed, purslane and munyeroo. Pigweed can be found worldwide, mostly as a garden or farm weed. Early European explorers to Australia ate it almost daily commenting that it was a substitute for spinach and uncooked, taste like lettuce (I am sure they had serious problems with their taste buds – or perhaps spinach and lettuce have improved in taste since then). Aborigines used the seed, which is 18-20% protein, to make ‘cakes’ which were then traded among the clans. The seeds were collected by placing the uprooted plant, upside down on a piece of kangaroo skin or bark. The seed was then ground between flat stones into a type of flour, then made into a paste and cooked. The thick root was also eaten, apparently having a taste similar to potato.
Tasmannia lanceolata or Mountain Pepper is a cool temperate tree found in moist gullies. All parts of this plant have a hot and spicy flavour but it is the berries that are mainly used as a condiment. The berries are dried then ground and sprinkled over food much the same way as white or black pepper (Piper nigrum) is used, but apparently the heat of Mountain Pepper is stronger and more aromatic. The tree is quite small, only three metres high with a spread of about two metres. The leaves can be harvested all year and the berries harvested in autumn from female trees. Add whole leaves to casseroles or stews but only near the end of the cooking time and remove before serving. The leaves can also be dried and stored in an airtight container. Now I would love to place a photo of Mountain Pepper here for you but I have tried to grow it several times in my garden but as soon as the hot weather of summer arrives, they turn their toes up and die. I have tried three plants over three years but have now decided to give up. I will buy the leaves or berries from the specialty shop instead.