Yesterday, I attended a workshop on growing native plant foods in the home garden. These foods are high in essential nutrients, well suited to growing in our climate, part of our biodiversity and a food source for native animals. They are easy to grow, requiring no fertilisers and a very low input of energy and resources. The workshop presenter, Steven Hoepfner, is one of the urban farmers running Wagtail Urban Farm, based in suburban Adelaide.
Since 2006, Steven has been researching ways to live more sustainably. His research has led him to the knowledge and traditional practices of indigenous people who take only what they need while ‘treading softly’. Is it possible to recreate a system of sustainable land management? Steven is optimistic this can be achieved and says we can all make a difference.
Here he is explaining how we can grow and cook with native fruits such as Quandong, Muntries, Davidson’s plum and finger lime. He cooked Warrigal Greens, a popular native leafy vegetable, for us to taste. Other SA native plants discussed in the workshop were saltbush, karkalla (pigface), bower spinach, muntries, desert raisin, sea celery, yam daisies, bunya and macadamia nuts.
If you would like to find out more about Australian native foods, the South Australian Native Food Association is a good source of information and events. Here is also a few Australian native plant foods, which can easily be grown in our suburban backyards, with recipes.
Warrigal Greens – Pesto recipe from Simon Bryan
Blanch the Warrigal Greens in a large saucepan of boiling water for 1 minute, then rinse in cold water. Drain well and squeeze out excess liquid. Place in a food processor with parsley, lemon juice and a little olive oil. Blend until the greens are roughly pureed. Add macadamias, lime and garlic and continue blending slowly while drizzling in the remaining olive oil until you have a coarse pesto, then add parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Ruby Salt Bush
Ruby Salt Bush berries can be collected and boiled in water to produce a sweet drink, added to a favourite apple crumble recipe, used to garnish a tart or eaten fresh. The young leaves can be boiled or steamed, and used as a vegetable substitute.
Quandong – Jam recipe from the CWA
Chop up 1kg fresh Quandongs and combine with 1kg sugar and 100ml water in a large saucepan. Place over medium heat, stirring constantly as it comes to the boil. Lower the heat so it simmers for about 45 minutes or until it reaches setting point. Test by dropping a teaspoonful onto a cold saucer. Let it cool, and when you push it with your finger, it should wrinkle. Once it is ready, pour into sterilized jars and seal.
Source: Country Cooking Recipes Traditional Aboriginal Food
In Australia, Aboriginal people have eaten native animal and plant foods for an estimated 60,000 years while caring for and preserving Country. Inspired by Steven’s knowledge and enthusiasm, I came home from the workshop with native celery, mint, karkalla, ruby salt bush, warrigal greens, and an eagerness to grow, propagate, share and cook with these beautiful native plants.
‘We cultivated our land, but in a way different from the white man. We endeavour to live with the land; they seemed to live off it.’
Tom Dystra – Aboriginal elder