The Myrtacae family of plants is useful in that they have very useful Essential Oils in them. This is very good for rubbing on skin to prevent insect bites such as Midges, Mosquitoes etc.
The Millaa Millaa vine (Elaeagnus triflora) has the nicest berry and the Sunshine Coast is its southern most limit (in nature it occurs coastal NE Qld). The berries of this plant are really nice to eat, but the vine doesn’t have any berries on currently because the flowers are eaten by a tiny caterpillar (that you need a microscope to see) called an Indigo Flash (Rapala varuna simsoni) I actually thought there were male and female plants but the flowers are eaten by caterpillars, making it impossible for them to reproduce.
The Native Ginger (Alpinia caerula) berries are really nice – especially if you’re exhausted and you need a little bit of a pick-me-up – they taste of lemon but be warned - you take the dry outer coating off and chew/suck the seed and find it has a little hotness to it. Every part of the Native Ginger plant is edible – you can use the leaves in cooking to wrap food but very often you’ll find that cut-bees have taken a little circle out of a leaf. These cut-bees use the leaf portion to plug up the hole of their nest – which is a mud nest usually in the bank of a stream – there you’ll probably see some pretty serrated leaves.
The other favorite of mine is the Midyim (Austromytrus dulcis) It has lovely edible berries which can be made into jams but it takes an awful lot of picking, my mother has made Midyim jam, and it is delicious, The berries fall off quickly, but if you crush and smell the leaf, you will know that it’s in the Myrtacae family, which is related to the Eucalypt tree. The Midyim berries taste different depending on the area in which it grows. Moreton Island grows the most succulent big berries as big as your thumbnail but this only happens after rain.
The Black Bean (Castanospermum australe) was originally thought to be edible but obviously it isn’t. The Aboriginees used to soak the seedpods in running water for six weeks, then dry them then put them back into running water for another six weeks. They were then taken out and roasted, and then they were edible – they would be pounded and turned into a flour. You’ll see them listed in textbooks as poisonous, and if you eat 6 of these you’ll get stomach cramps - the leaves and bark smell of cucumber. If the leaves are up too high, get your car keys and scrape the bark to identify the cucumber smell.
One of them is the Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica) and in some of the books they say it is edible but they can really sting the mouth.
The lovely powder-puff Lilly-pilly (Syzygium wilsonii) has a white berry - it is edible but quite tasteless. Most of the Syzygium have lovely edible berries.
The Cabbage Tree Palm (Livistona australis) is edible – you can take the heart out and eat it as a vegetable but you actually kill the tree – you do it with lots of things like the Tree Ferns and the Piccabeen Palms (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana) and they have a cabbage flavour, but of course you kill the tree so I’d better not tell you about that!
The Walking Stick Palm (Linospadix monostachya) has beautiful berries – I was very gingerly not eating this one because I saw the movie about the Stinson Plane Wreck and a survivor came up with a berry in his mouth which he fed to another survivor. I thought this was a peculiar thing to do and blamed the eating of the berry for the act, but the fruit isn’t really poisonous, and really tastes quite nice to eat. Plant the seed after you’ve eaten it and grow a walking stick palm. The Weevil Plant (Mollinaria) is not a Palm.
There are several vines which have edible fruit – the climbing Pandanus (Freycinetia excelsa) is all through the forest here – it has a Pandanus like fruit – red and succulent and if you get them before the birds find them, you’re lucky as they’re always at the top of the canopy.
The Lomandras have little teeth on the ends of their leaves – if you pull them up you can eat the little white bit at the base - it tastes a little like coconut but sometimes people mis-identify them and they try and chew some sedges or grasses so it’s important to know what you’re eating. The Aboriginal people would collect the fruit called nuts and pound them up to make a flour – there’s male and female plants – these plants are used extensively in landscaping. You can eat the light green tips but as soon as it turns dark green, the chlorophyll makes it bitter. Anything light green is yummy and chewy when raw.
The Cocky Apple (Planchonia careya) grows from Bundaberg to North Qld. and quite often they have big round fruits which the cockatoos eat but quite often they have a big witchity grub in them that the Aboriginees ate.
The natives also ate the gall from the Bloodwoods (Corymbia) they were called Bloodwood Apples, and they would have a very nice witchery grub inside them.
There are several plants in the bush which are very good for getting rid of sandflies and mosquitoes. They have a remarkable smell – each one has a different lanolin type smell and this particular variety is the one which has the most oil in it – it’s called the Sandfly Bush – the best one is Zieria smithii –you rub a couple of leaves on your skin – don’t strip the tree – you only need a leaf or two. The oils will coat your skin and stop the insects from biting you. As you sweat the smell wears off so keep a sprig in your pocket to reapply when needed. Some of the chemical companies are using it in their repellants. It doesn’t keep mossies/sandflies away if you plant it in your garden – the leaves have to be crushed to release the oils. It also works on leeches. I tested it on my brother - I got him to rub it on one leg before he went down to Kondalilla Falls and when he came back up, he was riddled with leeches but only on one leg so I said to him "Doesn’t that prove something?" and he replied "It’s not very scientific!"
Another bush tucker plant are the Backhousias. B. myrtifolia is good for making tea – if you crush the leaves, it smells like juicy fruit – you can have a one leaf cup or a two leaf cup – just add boiling water to the crushed leaf. Young leaf is best! B.citriodoria is also good for tea and can also can be used to keep the moths and silverfish out of the linen cupboard and there is also B. anasata which smells like aniseed.
The Orange Thorn (Pittosporum multiflorum) (previously known as Citriobatus) has lovely berries which the birds eat but it’s prickly so it allows the birds to hide in it and it’s good to plant where you don’t want people. There’s a thornless one out around Cooroy.
The Brown Pine (Podocarpus elatus) has a plum-like fruit which fall from the tree and are quite delicious – used in jams and liqueurs – you can’t tell when they are a small plant if they are male or female – you can try the wedding ring over the top but I wouldn’t recommend it – I tried this when I was pregnant and I was suppose to have 2 boys and I had 2 girls!!
The Leichhardt tree (Nauclea orientalis) has pretty flowers and when the fruit fall they become soft and juicy and you’re suppose to be able to eat them but I’ve tried other people on them but they said it was just OK!
The really nice one is the Candle Nut (Aleurites moluccana v moluccana) - grows really fast and is very large – on the ground you will find little rocks which they produce as fruit – you can roast these they are quite a nice nut – like coconut – roasted is best because it has a lot of oils in it – roasting will take the oils away – the toxicity is in the oils. The fruit were threaded by our early pioneers and used as a candle and it use to burn for a long time because of the oils in the fruit. Candle Nut is a laxative! They crossed the Qld Nut (Macadamia integrifolia) with Maroochy Nut M. tetraphylla and found that the fruit were even better and called it "Home Beauty" and it has nice pink flowers.
We have to start thinking of keeping plants which are indigenous to our area – the more trees you bring in the more pests you may have in the future. The Davidsons Plum (Davidsonia pruriens) – some have fruit on the stem and others have fruit on an axil – you need to stew them or make a jam – they’re very tart if eaten on their own. It’s a very large tree so keep it pruned to the height you want and it will reshoot. You’d do this to get the fruit. There’s a Nth Qld variety and a Southern variety which is called Davidsonia pruriens v.jerseyiana which is the nicest one – very useful as an indoor plant – will even fruit inside! When it is flowering, take it outside as it smells like a mouse has been through the house.
The Monkey Nut (Hicksbeachia) have lovely looking fruit – I’ve never eaten it as I’ve needed the seed to grow.
The Burdekin Plum (Pleiogynium timorense) has male & female trees and the fruit is lovely when stewed.
Flax Lily (Dianella spp) – the possums love to eat my berries and although a lot of the different species are very tasty, you should only try one or two as they were not a part of the Aboriginal diet in the areas where records were kept so never use them as the major ingredient if you are cooking with them - different species have different colours.
The Swamp Hisbiscus (Hibiscus diversifolia) has an edible flower but suffers from beetle attack so spray them with lemon or garlic you won’t have any problem.
If ever you get bitten by anything from a spider to a jumping ant, rub the sap of the Spider Lily (Crinum pedunculatum) on it and it will cure it within 5 minutes – the aboriginees used it as a treatment for marine stingers – I used it for a jumping ant bite and it lasted for 4 hours – after that I couldn’t hold onto the steering wheel of my car but I also gave it to a fellow who had been bitten by a redback spider and I saw him sitting there in agony so I fixed him with the Crinum which fixed him – the doctor rang me up afterwards to find out what plant I had used on it. What I think happens is that the bite is acid and the plant was alkaline and it was neutralizing it. The Crinum which are growing around Floras Restaurant here can be used with any bite eg ants, spiders and Aboriginees use them if they get stung by marine stingers and bluebottles.
Cunjevoi (Alocasia brisbanensis) All parts are poisonous but if you are stung by the Gympie Stinger tree you can use the sap on your skin and after you peel off the dried sap it will then take the glass particles out of your skin – sticky tape also works.
Mistletoes don’t always kill the host tree. If the tree didn’t want it on, it would cut off the circulation from that branch and the branch would then drop off. This particular one specializes on Wattles Amyema congener ssp congener – beautiful flowers and lots more nectar than other flowers to ensure pollination. Each mistletoe species is host to a different tree and what I want to know is how the bird knows what tree to sit on. If a tree is unhealthy you’ll notice that the Mistletoe will attack the weakest tree. The bird carries the Mistletoe seed and expels it out which spreads the Mistletoe around. Pipturus argenteus – there are male and female in these trees has little white translucent fruit which you can eat and they’re lovely and sweet and the Mistletoe bird loves them so if you have one of these in your garden you’ll have the continual delight of the Mistletoe bird song which is cheery, happy and sweet. There’s about 8 other birds which share it with the Mistletoe bird.
Most grasses have fibrous roots and the sedges have rhizomes and somebody said that Blady grass (Imperata cylindrica) must be a sedge because it has nice white rhizomes but it also has fibrous roots – the white rhizome of the native Blady grass is very nice to eat – it tastes like coconut. Although it is an undesirable here, they sell it in Melbourne to put in their gardens. Cows can’t graze it as they have difficulty in digesting it and it has poor food value . It can also be used for thatching. The lovely plant Psychotria loniceroides has clear coloured berries and as they’re so small it takes a lot to have a feed but when you’re on a long bush walk they’re pretty good.
The Brown Pine (Podocarpus elatus) have male and female trees and of course only the female have fruit which is nice in jams.
The nicest part of the Scrambling Lily (Geitonoplesium cymosum) to eat is the new young growth but all parts of the plant are eaten – it’s like snow peas.
The native Quince (Guioa semiglauca) has male and female trees.
The Sandpaper Fig (Ficus coronata) is edible and it has a lovely way of getting pollinated – the fig has flowers in the centre of the fruit – the male and the female wasp pollinate the fig by going inside the fruit – the male is born blind and wingless and he mates with a female and doesn’t leave home so watch out when you’re eating a fig that you don’t bite into him!
The lovely Fern (Culcita dubia) was used in the old days to pack strawberries – it’s not bracken and quite often you read in books that the bracken’s fiddlehead (ie the new shoots) were eaten by the Aborigines but I think they mistook it for this particular plant because I know that tree ferns were used in such a way that they’d cut down the top to eat but that would kill the treefern as it did with palms also. It tasted a bit like cabbage but the cabbage tree is really good for tiny marsupial mice – Antichinus. This fern likes to grow in the shade whereas the Bracken (Pteridium esculentum) grows out in the sunlight. The Bracken fern is cancer producing (poisonous).
The Water Vine (Cissus) has lots of different qualities – it contains oxalic acid and the fruit has little crystals on its grapes and some people are sensitive to it. You can drink the water from the vine – I was given some juice from the vine and it tasted a little like sugar cane but it was a little hot. Cissus hypoglauca is another vine which can be very drying in the mouth – test it out on your partner first!! Another vine that is edible is Burny vine – it has male and female.
The Blue Quandong (Elaeocarpus grandis) children seem to like it more than adults as it has a lemony flavour.
The Cabbage Tree Palm (Livistona australis) – the heart of this tree is edible. The buttress roots of rainforest trees have a way of channelling the water so that the tree will get enough moisture – you’ll notice that when the tree is on a cliff they will be stopping the water from flowing down so they’re planning to have as much moisture as possible by having large buttressed roots. These buttressed roots on the rainforest trees aren’t very deep – they’re all on the top – that’s where most of the rainforest litter is held so that’s why they stay up on top.
The Candle Vine (Pothos longipes) is edible has a flat stem but resembles a candle and the leaf on the end looks like a flame – it has red berries but usually the birds get them before you do as it grows high in the canopy. The many vines are useful for food for the different birds because they’re at different layers in the canopy – the top layer has fruit, the middle layer has vines and the ground layer has the grasses and ferns.
The Corduroy Tamarind (Mischarytera lautereriana & Diploglottis cunninghamii) has a jelly-like fruit on it around Christmas just like the big tamarind and the pioneers use to use it to make cordial. You’d have to pick the fruit off the ground and you didn’t get dirty as it has a plastic membrane around it. The cordial has a lovely tingle as well and the reason it was called Corduroy tamarind was that it had stripes in the wood.
The Native Guava (Eupomatia laurina) has scented flowers – the Aboriginees called it Bolwarra. The fruit are taken when they’re soft and jelly like – it has a few seeds in it but save them to eat. Eupomatia bennetii has a tuberous bulb, which contains water so if you’re in the desert you can try this one.
The Native Raspberry (Rubus) is very prickly – best one is Rubus moluicanas and this one doesn’t get out of control. The old adage that if a bird eats a fruit, then its safe for you is not true – a pure fallacy e.g. a bird can eat a White Cedar berry but it’s toxic to humans so testing your partner is still the best way!!!
The Native Mulberry (Pipturis argentica) has male and female plants and the fruit are juicy and tender – it’s a marginal rainforest plant. You can’t tell if they are male or female when you buy the plant.
The little Kurrajong (Brachychiton bidwillii) seeds taste like almonds but there’s a lot of irritating hairs around the fruit so its best to roast them – just take the little yellow casing off them after cooking.
Any of the Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide) fruit are edible and quite often I’ve eaten them and I’ve been told that if one of the stinging hairs got stuck in my throat, my throat would have swelled. What the Aborigines did was put them in their dilly bag and put them in running water.
The Celery Wood (Polyscias elegans) berries are purple and are hard to set seed so I decided that the only way I was going to get some was for a bird to eat them and collect the droppings – only trouble was I chose the wrong bird - a cockatoo chews and grinds their seeds and I should have chosen a fruit pigeon!! These plants can be transplanted very easily.
Wattle (Acacia) seeds are nice to eat with the nicest being Acacia fimbriata – quite often I’ve collected a bagful but once they come out of the pod the air turns the seed hard so they are like very hard tiny rocks and I’ve discovered that if I leave them in the pod and let people take out the seed themselves from the pod that they are just right to eat. The Acacia tastes a little bit like almonds – they’re ground up and put into cakes. Just a bit of a botanical lesson – all wattles have nectar glands and the nectar gland exists because they don’t have any nectar in their flowers so that’s why you don’t get any Honeyeaters in your wattles but if you hold your stem upright and look along the edge, you can see a little pimple-like structure and that’s a gland and as they have any nectar in their flowers they exude it from their leaves so you’ll often see them being eaten by insects. If you can’t see it, just run your finger along the top. You might need a magnifying glass sometimes.
Ann has published some wonderful books. ‘Tree ID Made Easy’.
We had an article by her brother Tony Bean some years ago in our newsletter on Native Raspberries.
Article compiled by Sheryl Backhouse