I would like to begin by acknowledging the Bunurong people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Custodians of the Country we will be learning about today. I recognise their continuing connection to the land and waters, and thank them for protecting this beautiful coastline and its ecosystems since time immemorial. I pay my respects to Elders past and present, and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded. This continent always was and always will be Aboriginal land.
Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Womin djeka Balnarring Ngargee (festival) in Balnarring on the Mornington Peninsula. I was delighted to discover this little gem, as it was one of the most lovely community festivals I've ever been to. It is presented by the Balnarring Preschool, and its mission is to honour and celebrate First Peoples cultures; involve the whole community in caring for and learning with Country; and demonstrate a commitment to reconciliation. What a beautiful mission statement!
I was particularly excited to get to go on a bush tucker walk with Sean Moyle from Living Culture. With permission from the elders of the Boon Wurrung/Bunurong people he took us on a walk around the Balnarring Campground Foreshore Reserve and shared with us the medicinal and edible uses of a wide variety of local plants. Sean was an impressive young man with an extraordinary amount of knowledge. I feel very privileged to have been able to learn from him and hope to connect again with Living Culture in the future.
I have generously been given permission to share what I learned on the walk, but please note that whilst I furiously took notes and photos to record the information, I cannot guarantee that I caught all the salient details, and I do not have confirmation of the latin binomials. I highly recommend contacting Living Culture about their many tours and events to learn more.
Cut leaf Geranium - Geranium solanderi?
A common medicine used for digestive complaints. The roots were traditionally, dug up, crushed and boiled to make gut medicine; particularly for diarrhoea & gastroenteritis.
Coastal Salt Bush - Atriplex cinerea?
The leaves are primarily used as a salt substitute when dried and powdered, and apparently it's delicious on chips! The leaves can also be used as a pot herb.
It is commonly used now in coastal rehabilitation and revegetation efforts to help stabilise soils & prevent erosion. There are approximately 60 different varieties of saltbush and I have tried a couple. I tried a round leafed variety last year that I purchased from my local farmers market; it have have been old man saltbush but unfortunately I found the flavour to be more bitter and metallic than salty. SBS has an interesting article that included a tidbit about how the over-pasture of pastoral lands had removed the “best types” of saltbush and what was left is often a very bitter-tasting plant - perhaps it was one of these that I tried.
Clearly I have much more experimenting to do and the following saltbush tempura pic certainly has piqued my interest!
Photo credit Lidia Nikonova : Good Food
Native Raspberry - rubus parvifolius?
The leaves are used to make an astringent tea for gut pain and diarrhoea, and the ripe fruits are eaten as is. In the summertime, my family and I regularly go camping down near Wilson's Prom and I delight in foraging for raspberries on my walks to and from the beach. The fruits are smaller and juicier than commercial raspberries and they're delicious! Foraging for wild berries always make me feel like I'm in the land of goodies on top of the Magic Faraway Tr
Image credits: The Magic Faraway Tree (This edition republished in 2001 by Hinkler Books Pty Ltd).
Sea Berry Salt Bush - Chenopodium candolleanum, Rhagodia candolleana?
Another saltbush that has been used extensively for revegetation, and is found all along the Merri Creek in Melbourne's inner north. One handful of the leaves apparently provides 20% of the recommended daily intake for Iron and Vitamin C. The leaves can be shallow fried or used to make pesto (I'm not sure if they always need to be cooked before eaten). The leaves can also be dried and again used as a salt substitute. Sean said the berries taste bad but they're good for you🤣. I have read that the outside of the berry can be sweet, but there is a bitter coating around the seed, so to avoid this, some people will suck on the berry then spit out the seed.
The berries stain readily so be careful when harvesting. They have been used traditionally to paint the face and body, and I have used it to dye twine for basket making.
Poa "Tussock Grass" - Poa labillardieri?
The first image is mine and a bit blurry. The second image is from the Australian National Botanic Gardens Plant Image Index
I'm afraid I didn't catch all that much about this plant other than that the seeds were dried and ground into flour and used to make bread. Bruce Pascoe, author of Dark Emu and founder of Black Duck Foods writes extensively about native grain crops and their traditional use in making breads and cakes, and the University of Sydney released a report in 2020 about the economic feasibility and cross cultural benefits of commercial native grain production.
Common Reed - Phragmites australis?
The young roots can be dug up before the first leaves form and eaten like bamboo shoots either raw or cooked. The root can also be pounded and cooked to make something similar to a potato cake/scallop, or dried and cooked to make a porridge style meal.
According to Edible Oz a licorice tasting sugar can be extracted from the stems.
The stems can be boiled in water and then the water boiled off in order to obtain the sugar.
A sugary gum that exudes from the stems can be rolled into balls and eaten as sweets.
A powder extracted from the dried stems can be moistened and roasted like marshmallow.
The reeds themselves can be also used for thatching, making walls and partitions, insulation material, basket weaving, matting and body ornaments. I believe they were also used for spears but as a lifelong vegetarian I tend to tune out when hunting uses are discussed.
Small Leaf Clematitis - Clematis mycrophylla?
This is a spreading vine that was widely found climbing over bushes and trees. The leaves and stems can be crushed and inhaled (but strangely didn't smell like anything) or wrapped around the head to relieve headaches and migraine. One of the women on our walk told me afterward that she had a headache and tried wrapping some around her head on the day. When I spoke to her about an hour later she said she felt much better.
The starchy root can also be used to make potato cakes. Interestingly, Greening Australia reports that:
(although the ) plant is apparently poisonous both internally and externally ....... the indigenous Boonerwrung (sic) people in Victoria ate the roots (peppery when raw), often cooking and kneading them into a dough . Roots were pounded for high amounts of starch . The taproot can be eaten roasted  and the root fibres used to make string. Fraser and McJannett (1993) wrote, that C. microphylla can relieve headaches by crushing the leaves and inhaling the pungent aroma [17, 19]. In some areas leaves were bruised and rubbed over skin sores and areas with rheumatism and the leaves were used in steam baths to treat arthritis .
Bower Spinach - Tetragonia implexicoma?
Another wide spread vine. In the same family as the more well known Warrigal Greens or New Zealand Spinach with smaller succulent leaves and a more salty flavour. Like Warrigal greens, it was used to cure scurvy among colonial sailors and settlers due to the high vitamin C content. It is also high in iron, and is recommended to blanch before eating to reduce oxalic acid. Oxalic acid when consumed excessively can contribute to the formation of Kidney stones, but can be mostly neutralised by cooking. Personally I find the mucilaginous texture of these succulent greens off-putting, but I have a perhaps child-like aversion to all slimy foods, and so would recommend only to those that enjoy okra.
Prickly Paperbark - Melaleuca styphelioides?
The leaves can be added to boiling water and used as a steam inhalation for respiratory issues. The bark can be soaked in water and used as steaming basket for foods. Apparently the bark imparts a particularly lovely smoky flavour when wrapped around foods and then grilled or baked. There are many recipes online, mostly meat and fish, but I was lucky enough to find a delicious sounding plant based one here.
The waterproof nature of the bark made it useful for bandaging, roofing, and when filled with moss was used by mothers to make perhaps the first truly biodegradable disposable nappies.
Coast Beard Heath or Native Currant - Leucopogon parviflorus?
The white flowers smell like honey when in full bloom and are a great source of food for pollinating insects. The flowers can be soaked in water for several hours to make a sweet tasting drink. Unripe green berries are edible but very sour and sweet when white and ripe. They are mostly used as a snack rather than a meal as the seed is large and the flesh is limited.
Rough Barked Manna Gum - Eucalyptus viminalis?
Most of us are familiar with the manna gum as the natural habitat and preferred food source of koalas; amongst the Bunurong people the Manna Gum represents community. The name manna references the magical sweet nectar that was said to have appeared to the Israelites in their 40 year journey through the desert, and here refers to the white sugary exudate that falls from the foliage. Similar to the Coast Beard Heath, the flowers are also soaked in water to create a sweet nectar drink.
Inhalation of the crushed leaves has a relaxing effect and has been used to relieve respiratory issues, stress and anxiety. Apparently there are studies that show a beneficial effect on abnormal blood pressure heart rates, but a quick cursory search has not yet yielded any results.
Manna gums are differentiated from other eucalypts by their rough bark at base of the trunk and smooth bark higher up. Their flower nodules also grow in clusters of 3.
Photo credit: I.G. Holliday, ©Australian National Botanical Gardens, 1997
Large burls were also cut off and carved out to make bowls and plates.
The second image is from the Victorian Collections © Copyright Will Cramer, purchased 1988 by Lindsay Roberts, Gippsland Art Gallery.
Black Wattle - Acacia mearnsii
Black wattle is a very strong wood that was commonly used for making tools after being fire hardened. The sap is edible and sweet, and the trees were cut in Autumn to facilitate sap flow. A jelly can be made by diluting the sap with water and then sweetening with honey or sugar - I don't know if it needs to be heated first, or put somewhere cool to set but I am very curious to try this and see what the texture is like! The seeds are ground and used as flour for making bread. The bark was used to stun fish due to its ability to deoxygenate water.
Drooping Sheoak - Allocasuarina verticillata
Sheoaks are such interesting looking trees with their almost pine needle looking leaves. When wind blows through the trees it creates a lovely whispering sound that was thought to be the voices of the ancestors. The Bunnurong people would gather and sleep underneath Sheoak trees as they were considered places of safety because snakes apparently don’t like the feel of the leaves.
The leaves were used as a sialogoue (saliva stimulant) during periods of water scarcity and extreme thirst. The leaves would be bundled up into a bunch and chewed and sucked upon to release the sour juice. The leaves were not eaten but spat out after this. The juice composition is very similar to that of citric acid, and the leaves can be wrapped around foods to impart that tart lemon flavour during cooking.
The first image is mine and the second is from Victorian Native Seed
The young cones were cracked open and pounded to make baked potato style cakes, and the seeds were ground to make flour.
Apologies for the blurry picture; unfortunately I have not been able to find a latin binomial or better picture online. The leaves of this flat sedge grass have a hard sharp edge and tip and are used when a temporary knife is required. The seeds are also edible, but I did not catch whether they need any preparation before eating.
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