Tasmanian plants to tickle your tastebuds
Do I need to convince you that Tasmanian native plants not only look good, but many of them taste great as well? Well do not just take my word: Trust the Feisty Tasmanian!
We took a little road trip not too long ago to Tasmania's northern coast to visit Murnong, the garden of Rees and Col Campbell in Wynyard. This is not just any suburban garden. It is chockful of edible native plants from Tasmania. Rees is also known as 'The Feisty Tasmanian' and she shares a passion for edible native plants with her husband, Col. Rees and Col want to show people that Tasmanian plants look good, taste great and increase biodiversity. And Rees and Col do just that in their home garden and in Rees' book, Eat Wild Tasmanian.
We were lucky enough to have a personal tour of Murnong with Rees and Col followed by a delicious lunch. Ludovic and I were both very taken with this garden. Ludovic made a list of the plants that caught his eye from this garden that he wants to grow, so I have shared them with you below. You will have to read a little longer to get to those plants that I am itching to grow (and eat!).
Ludovic's list of favourite native edible plants
(Creeping Sea-Celery or Sea Parsley)
Ludovic loves parsley, so it is not surprising that he was attracted to this plant given it is a member of the same family, Apiaceae. This prostrate coastal plant spreads to 1m with finely divided leaves and small pink-white flowers. It prefers dry-well-drained conditions. Give it too much water and the roots will rot. Enjoy Sea Parsley as a garnish on stews, in salads or deep-fried. Consider it as a substitute for parsley when making your next batch of garlic bread.
Rees prepared us some Saltbush Tempura for lunch using this plant. This dish was very more-ish, made even more so served with some of her homemade preserves featuring ingredients such as Solanum laciniatum (Kangaroo Apple). This bushy shrub grows to 1-2 metres, possessing silvery-grey, fire retardant succulent foliage. You will find it growing on well drained sites among rocks or in grassy places on the sea shore. Grey Saltbush is high in salt, hence its common name, so consume in small quantities unless cooked by boiling. Great fried!
(Alpine Heathmyrtle or Mountain Baeckea)
Ludovic was very taken by scent of the following plants in this list, including this Mountain Baeckea. The tiny grey-brown, heath-like leaves of this spreading alpine shrub (~ 0.3m x 1m) have a pleasant tea-tree smell when crushed. Small white flowers bloom in summer. Mountain Baeckea prefers a cool, moist, well drained, sunny position and it makes a good rockery plant. Its leaves can be used in all sorts of sweet and savoury dishes. Dried or fresh leaves can be used to make tea.
The leaves of this low growing alpine shrub are strongly lemon-scented when crushed. Rees says this grows well in gardens at all elevations, although it requires some protection at sea level. It will grow to around 50cm high. Pink flowers in spring. Lemon-scented Citriodora prefers a cool, moist but sunny position, and it is another good rockery plant. Its leaves can be used in flavouring or as garnish.
I love anything lemon-scented, so I can't wait to see how Ludovic will use this in the kitchen. Although first I will have to get my hands on a seedling to plant in the garden.
A real stunner in the garden! The flowers of this tall shrub are strongly honey-scented. There are several forms available in nurseries including the following. Both prefer a well-drained sunny position and will tolerate coastal exposure, producing small, scented white flowers in Spring:
Sweet Scented Kunzea
This shrub can grow to 3m high, forming a good screen.
Spreading Sweet Scented Kunzea
This low growing shrub spreads to around 2m and makes a good groundcover plant.
Use the dried or fresh leaves of either to make tea, flavour roasts or stews. Their flowers are also edible.
Olearia axillaris is a erect native coastal shrub from the north-east which grows to about 1.5 m high. The Coast Daisybush has silvery-grey foliage and white daisy flowers in Spring. The flower heads can be found in the axils of the leaves, hence its specific epithet 'axillaris'. The leaves can be used to replace rosemary. This plant is suited to drier or coastal gardens. So, while Ludovic was taken with its scent, we will not be growing it any time soon here in Liffey!
This compact, dense shrub to 1m high is now considered extinct from Tasmania, although it remains on the mainland where it is in cultivation. This floriferous plant makes it a stunning specimen and I highly recommend it in your garden for its aesthetic values alone.
If you are after a mint bush that still grows naturally here in Tasmania, consider Prostanthera rotundifolia (Round Leaved Mint Bush). This is an aromatic, fast growing shrub (~2m x 2m). The Round Leaved Mint Bush produces masses of mauve flowers in Spring, so it looks and smells great. It prefers a well-drained, sunny position and is an excellent shrubbery and screening plant. Use the fresh, young leaves in place of introduced mint for flavouring, e.g. tea, cooking or garnishes.
(Riverbed Wintercress or Austral Wintercress)
I love my green leafy vegetables and this brassica (member of the Mustard family) is no exception! According to Rees, this is a rare and endangered brassica endemic to Tasmania that grows along the banks of only a few rivers. This dwarf herb grows to about 45cm high x 30cm wide, preferring a moist, sunny location in the garden or container. Its tasty, pungent leaves can be eaten raw in salads, or steamed, stir-fried or treated as you would any other brassica.
(Purple Appleberry or Climbing Blueberry)
I was delighted to recently find the Purple Appleberry growing on the bush block where we live, although it was growing just a little too high for me to reach its edible fruit without help. This woody, twining climber can reach 3-4m high. Its bird-attracting tubular, creamy-green flowers appear in spring, followed by bright purple berries. The Purple Appleberry prefers a semi-shaded well drained position. It is a great plant in shrubberies and on structures. I recently specified this plant to screen a fence in the Westbury Hemp House garden. Its edible fruit can be eaten raw or cooked in jams and preserves
I also specified the Native Raspberry for use in the Westbury Hemp House Garden, against a fence facing almost due North. It is a rambling, prickly shrub to 1-1.5 m high. It has the most beautiful small pink flowers appearing in Spring followed by edible red fruits. However, its small, hooked thorns can make collecting its fruit a little difficult. This raspberry needs moist, well-drained soil and ample sunlight. The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked, and its leaves can be used in tea.
Other native edible plants
The plants listed above are only a few of the many Tasmanian native plants that have edible parts. If you would like to learn about other edible native plants in this state, check out the following resources.
An updated version of Rees' book Eat Wild Tasmanian will be available for sale in early 2022. Rees' book includes many edible native plants, including cultural, landscape and usage information, as well as some inspiring recipes. Come along and see Rees at the Tasmanian Garlic & Tomato Festival on Sunday 20 March 2022.
While you are waiting to get your hands on a copy of Rees' book, download yourself a copy of the Edible Native Plants of Tasmania PDF, produced by NRM North. This guide includes a list of over 50 edible plants native to this state, and shares details on which parts of the plant can be used, and how to prepare and use them. An excellent resource!
Where to buy your native plants?
To get you started, here are a couple of Tasmania's most well-known and respected native plant nurseries. This is not an exhaustive list. However, I have selected these nurseries to include as they provide credible advice and two of them are retailers so they are used to dealing with the 'general public', i.e. do not expect you to be experts already.
Another great native plant nursery located in Ridgeway on the outskirts of hilly Hobart.
If you like to grow your plants from seed, check out Wildseed Tasmania's extensive range.
Run by Sally and Herbert Staubmann, Habitat Plants is one of Tasmania's best native plants nursery (and they just happen to be our neighbours, lucky us!) I spoke with Sally some time ago asking for her recommendations for easy to grow edible native plants.
Sally's top three easy to grow edible native plants are Barbarea australis, Tasmannia lanceolata and Mentha australis. Well, you already know about Barbarea australis, Austral Wintercress. Now let me tell you a little more about the other two.
The Mountain Pepper is perhaps one of the better-known Tasmanian native plants. You can find this dense, understorey shrub growing to around 3 m in wet forests (and on the bush block where we live). Therefore is is not surprising that it needs a moist, well drained, semi-shaded position in your garden. This pepper has striking, dark-green leaves, red stems and creamy yellow flowers appearing in Spring. The Mountain Pepper is dioecious, meaning it the female and male flowers occur on separate plants. You therefore need to have both a female and a male plant to produce its edible, black fruit. Recommended as a good specimen shrub, it can be touchy. Both the fruit and leaves can be used in flavouring. Rees claims that its pepper flavour is several times the heat of 'normal' pepper, and that it has even been sent to Japan to flavour wasabi!
The River Mint is a perennial herb with aromatic leaves that grows naturally only along a few rivers in Tasmania. It prefers moist conditions, in which it spreads rapidly, but can be grown as a more restrained plant in drier conditions. River Mint has small white to lilac flowers in spring/summer.
Rees and Col gave us a small River Mint plant to take home. Its highly aromatic leaves make a great substitute for introduced mint.
I have planted this mint in a pot outdoors protected from the local wildlife. Like any mint, you really don't want it escaping.
I am guessing that this is only the first of many native plants that we will be planting in the near future. Ludovic has his list as you have already seen, so I better get stuck into sourcing those first. Stay tuned for more details.
In the meantime, get out there and get gardening!
Campbell, Rees 2017, Eat Wild Tasmanian, Fullers Publishing, Hobart
Habitat Plants 2021, Catalogue, January 2021, viewed 30 November 2021, https://habitatplants.com.au/hpwp/wp-content/uploads/Catalogue21-4.pdf
NRM North n.d., Edible Native Plants of Tasmania, viewed 30 November 2021, https://www.habitatplants.com.au/hpwp/wp-content/uploads/Tas-Edible-Native-Plants.pdf
University of Tasmania 2019, Key to Tasmanian Vascular Plants, viewed 30 November 2021, https://www.utas.edu.au/dicotkey/dicotkey/key.htm
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