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From Plant to Plate

Knocking about in the bush the other day as I instructed a new resident in the fine art of weeding she turned to me, pointed at some chickweed I’d been pulling up and said “You can eat that you know? Very high in .…" (something or other, I can’t remember).

Above: Our regular nemesis - chickweed.

To be honest, although I’m interested in learning about our flora and I do my best, against an aging brain to remember their names, I have absolutely zero desire to consume any of them, no matter how rich in antioxidants, high in Vitamin X or full of fibre they might be. I’m a Woolies man me and I harbor a quiet suspicion of people whose interest in the bush revolves around how much of it they can eat! It seems so What can nature do for me?

I think my attitude was informed by my time in Thailand seeing Westerners lining up at the snake restaurants to sample the strange and exotic, like the orientalist voyeurs they were.

Above: Garden Dandelion ("lion's teeth"), Taraxacum officinale spp. agg. Dandelions can form a dense mat of leaves that can crowd out native species and reduces their reproduction through competition for pollination.

So what has thrown me out of my dismissive comfort zone?

The excellent book Flora of Melbourne has. All the plant species (that aren’t weeds) that grow here are described in this weighty tome. There’s a description, a photo or illustration, distribution, requirements, form and a comments section. It’s here that you find interesting tidbits that don’t fit the other categories and more often than not they include something like: “The taproot/leaves/berries/flowers etc were eaten by the Aborigines”.

With a garden the size of Australia, and around 60 thousand years to learn its ingredients it’s hardly surprising that Indigenous Australians know just about everything that grows here and what it’s good, or bad for. The breadth and variety of their diet must have been extraordinary.

Above: Murnong (Yam Daisy), Microseris lanceolata - the main staple food for the Wurundjeri Aboriginal people until the mid-1840s.

Of course, we don’t need to forage but there’s no denying its lineage and importance in understanding the place where we live and perhaps there’s something to be commended in people learning about our bush through an interest in bush tucker.

With weeds though, you can pull them and eat them, or pull them and bin them, it doesn’t matter. As long as you pull them.

Richard Laurie


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