Edible Succulent Plants
While many Australian succulent plants have a range of uses, some have been lost over time, so the list of Aboriginal traditional food plants in literature underestimates the full range of plants that were used prior to European settlement.
In more recent years Australian food plants, also called bush foods or ‘bush tucker’, including some naturalised species, have gained popularity as people seek out alternative food sources, a few of which are already highly regarded in gourmet cooking. (Both native and introduced plants are covered here.) Also see the page on seeds for availability and further information about edible species.
Adansonia gregorii - Boab. The fresh young leaves, fruit, seeds and roots were traditionally eaten. The leaves have a delicate peppery taste and the crisp roots, which taste like radish or water chestnut, can also be cooked. Young Adansonia plants are being trialled by the Department of Agriculture in Western Australia as a new commercial
vegetable crop. The fruit is soft, white and chalky inside with the texture and appearance of meringue, with numerous large seeds, and is very high in vitamin C.
Bombax ceiba var. leiocarpum - The Kapok Tree is a traditional food. Young plants have very fleshy tap roots which can be roasted, with young leaves and fresh flowers used as a spice.
Brachychiton - There is a considerable body of literature that discusses the roots and seeds of Brachychiton populneus as traditional food. However, the species of Brachychiton that are most succulent receive very little attention, even though one would assume these species were also used as a food source. Brachychiton seeds were mostly roasted and ground to make a high energy food.
Brachystelma glabriflorum - Traditional food. New entry - Its tuberous stem has been recently identified as a potential new food crop. For more information contact the Australian New Crops website or the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation.
Bulbine bulbosa and B. glauca - The plant’s tubers and roots were a traditional food.
Calandrinia (Parakeelya) - An important food for Aboriginal people. The word Parakeelya was derived from the word ‘periculia’, which is an Aboriginal name for the bread-like seed meal that is made from the cooked seed of Calandrinia balonensis (and possibly C. polyandra). The leaves provide an excellent source of moisture in desert environments and were eaten as a green salad leaf. Over ten species are identified with clear pictures in the picture gallery, to help easily separate them all (including the two mentioned above).
Carpobrotus modestus and C. rossii - The fruit were traditionally eaten.
Dioscorea bulbifera - Round Yam or Cheeky Yam (pictured on page 217 of the book) is a popular and important traditional food. The plant’s tubers were shredded, roasted and soaked for several hours in water before being eaten. They have high water content and vitamin C, with a rather hot, spicy flavour.
They are poisonous if eaten raw, so should be soaked well.
Care must be taken with any plant that is recognised as a food as sometimes it is only the cooking or preparation that makes it edible.
Also many of the geophytic orchids have tasty sweet bulbs or tubers, but some are rare and all are protected by law.
Dioscorea transversa - Long Yam or Parsnip Yam. The tuber is considered a high energy food source that can be eaten raw.
Disphyma crassifolium subsp. clavellatum - The fresh leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and have a mild salty taste.
Doryanthes excelsa - The roasted roots were a traditional food and the young flower heads were eaten after steaming.
Enchylaena tomentosa - The berry-like fruits are a traditional food.
Anacampseros australiana - The tubers were traditionally eaten.
Mesembryanthemum crystallinum - The seeds and leaves are edible.
Opuntia - Some species have edible fruit and the new stem growth can be sliced and cooked like beans (see also page 222 of the book for more information and pictures of various edible parts of the plant).
Orchids - Most underground orchid tubers were traditionally eaten raw, tasting refreshingly sweet, or were roasted.
Portulaca bicolor - Tuberous roots were traditionally eaten.
Portulaca intraterranea - Traditionally the leaves, stems, roots and seeds were eaten raw or cooked.
Portulaca oleracea - Called Munyeroo, an Aboriginal word (see pages 85-87 of the book for all the different forms of this species), and this was an important staple food and water source, especially in the drier inland. All parts of the plant were either eaten raw or cooked. The tiny seeds were harvested and ground into paste and cooked. P. oleracea is internationally documented as a useful
medicinal and culinary herb with all parts of the plant being used.
It was the most widely eaten native vegetable by early European colonists and inland explorers.
Sarcocornia quinqueflora - This plant (Samphire) is eaten immediately after blanching small lengths of the new growth, or is pickled. It is described as delicious, crunchy and slightly peppery.
Sarcozona - Has sweet juicy fruit.
Suaeda australis - Austral Seablite is recorded as a salty salad vegetable. The leaves can be eaten raw and the young shoots pickled.
Tecticornia verrucosa - This produces large, edible black seeds in such abundance that they are still harvested by Aborigines.
Tetragonia implexicoma and Tetragonia decumbens - After rain, fresh new shoots and leaves can be eaten raw. The leaves are best cooked like spinach. A light boiling in fresh water will remove any excess salt. T. implexicoma also has salty, sweet fruit. Numerous pictures which can help identify or separate both these species, and the one below, are available in the book.
Tetragonia tetragonoides - This plant (Warrigal Greens) has leaves and fresh shoots that were commonly eaten by early settlers and explorers. It was mostly cooked like spinach and is tasty when eaten raw. It was introduced to England in 1772, where where for many years it was a popular summer vegetable known as Botany Bay Greens. It is the only Australian plant to be grown internationally as a vegetable.