EDIBLE AND MEDICINAL PLANTS

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If you’ve got a keen eye, you might have noticed that the garden bed just across from the Discovery Centre has a lot of plants that don’t seem to grow anywhere else around the Lake.

So why are they there? What are they doing?Who do they work for?

Maybe not that last one…

These plants are all WA natives that have been used by the Noongar people for thousands of years for food and medicine. By bringing them together, we can all learn about the benefits of understanding our environment, its history, and its people.

Acacia

The genus Acacia is spread all across Australia, and far beyond. Many of them get the name “Wattle” but not all, so don’t be fooled! Noongar people have all kinds of unique and interesting uses for them.

The wood from lots of acacia species is especially good for making tools like kitjs (spears) and wannas (digging sticks). It was also used to build small shelters called mia mias.

Acacia’s English name ‘Wattle’, also came from how it was used to make shelters, have you ever heard of “wattle and daub”? No, me neither.

The seeds from Panjang (Dune Moses or Acacia lasiocarpa) and other Acacia, can even be ground up into a flour and used in baking damper. We’ve got some Panjang here in the garden, should we start up a Herdsman Lake Bakery?

Wilyawa (Red-Eyed Wattle or Acacia cyclops) can even have their seeds squeezed and the sap turned into sunscreen, insect repellent, eczema treatment and soap. That’s bush luxury!

All these things barely even scratch the surface of the uses for Acacia across Australia.

 

Native Nectar

Feel like a sweet treat? Well, here’s got just the thing. Noongar people realised a long time ago, that you can soak the flowers of many different native plant species in water to produce a sweet nectar drink.

Aside from being refreshing and delicious, the nectar rich drink may also help alleviate colds and sore throats. Who needs a Strepsil?

In our Noongar Medicinal Plant garden the Bulgalla (Banksia nivea or Couch Honeypot), Pulgart (Banksia sessilis or Parrot Bush) and the Silky-Leaved Blood Flow (Calothamnus sanguineus) are all perfect for making this sweet concoction, and around Herdsman Lake there are even more flowering trees like Bibool (Swamp Paperbark or Melaleuca rhaphiophylla) and Koolert (Flooded-Gum or Eucalyptus rudis) that can be used.

With the plants around Herdsman Lake you can make a native nectar Noongar cocktail!

 

Djerp

Like many Australian natives, when it came to giving this plant an English name, settlers simply took it from something familiar to them.  While it’s English name might be a little dull, Djerp (Native Lemongrass or Cymbopogon ambiguous) is anything but.

Aside from being a tasty addition to a meal with its lemon-sherbet flavour, Noongar people have also used it to treat a whole variety of ailments.

Fevers can be cooled by washing the skin after the plant is boiled and left to cool, and diarrhoea could be cured by drinking it raw. Flu symptoms, chest infections and skin sores can all be treated by this wonderful plant!

The name “Lemongrass” doesn’t seem to do it justice.

 

Emu Bush

Whether you call it Emu Bush, Kalbarri Carpet or Eremophila glabra, this plant is dead useful.

It was used in Noongar ceremonies, but is also thought to be effective for relieving headaches and fevers, and helping to give people a restful sleep. Washing cuts and sores with this plant may even be as effective as hospital antibiotics in preventing infections.

Maybe most important for Noongar people, inhaling the steamy smoke from putting Emu Bush on hot coals may help stimulate milk let-down (allowing milk to flow for breast-feeding women), a serious issue for women all over the world.

As an added bonus, the resin that come from this plant is perfect as a glue for toolmaking, or as a sealant for making water containers or roofing.

 

Koolert

There’s no need to have Koolert (Flooded Gum or Eucalyptus rudis) in our Noongar Medicine Garden because it grows plentifully around Herdsman Lake. Like many other Eucalypts, the leaves of this gum are just what’s needed to loosen up a stuffy nose. Just crush or boil it, then inhale the pleasant smell.

The antibacterial qualities of the leaves and gum also make them great in a poultice that Noongar people would put on cuts and sores. They were even me eaten to help relieve dysentery (if you don’t already know what that is DO NOT look it up).

 

Berrung

Berrung (Honey Bush or Hakea lissocarpha) has a something tasty in store for anyone willing to lick a random plant (which you shouldn’t do… unless it looks really good*). Noongar people eat this plants gum directly from the tree, but it’s also easy to store, transport or bake into cakes.

A Herdsman Lake bakery is sounding pretty good with these sweet Berrung cakes.

 

*This is a joke; please do not lick plants you are unfamiliar with.

 

Kudjidi

Kudjidi (White Myrtle or Hypocalymma angustifolium) is in the myrtle family, and like other Myrtaceae members, it is great for a stuffed up snoz or a headache. By inhaling the steam of Kudjidi crushed in boiling water you can enjoy some sweet relief, and a lovely smell at the same time.

If you’ve given yourself a cut, Noongar people would crush this into a paste and put it on the wound to prevent infection.

 

Kitja Boorn

Kitja Boorn (Kunzea glabrescens) is not predominantly a medicinal plant for Noongar people. As the English name Spearwood suggests, this plant was mainly used to create hunting spears, an essential tool in Noongar life.

But, as with most plants, Noongar people have multiple uses for it. The leaves of this plant can be boiled into a refreshing herbal tea that is thought to help fight cold and flu.

 

Waakal Ngarnak

In the Dreaming, where the hairs fell from the beard of Waakal the rainbow serpent, sedges grew. That is why you will now find Waakal Ngarnak (Lepidosperma pubisquameum), meaning Waakal’s beard, along the banks of rivers and waterways.

In this story, Noongar people thank Waakal and his hairy beard for Waakal Ngarnak. The root tubers of these sedges can be dug up and eaten roasted, and their leaves can be woven into baskets. Maybe more people should shave down by the river to see what grows?

 

Slender Myoporum

When someone says “berries”, most of us think of blueberries, blackberries, rasberries, strawberries, or some other kind of introduced fruit, but Australia is full of native edible berries that Noongar people have been munching on for thousands of years.

One such berry is the Slender Myoporum (Myoporum caprarioides) that we have planted at Herdsman Lake in our Noongar Food and Medicine Garden. These tasty natives can be plucked straight of the bush and into your mouth.

(Make sure not to pluck any you find in the bush though. This is a protected species and that would be illegal!)

 

Komma

You’ve probably seen Komma (Purple Flag or Patersonia occidentalis) in many places around Perth. Its stunning purple bloom inspires many home gardeners to plant them, but for Noongar people it was more important than just a pretty flower.

The flowering of Komma is one of the signs that Makaru is on the way, the coldest and wettest of the six Noongar seasons. By paying attention to these signals in nature, Noongar people would know to move inland, away from cold ocean winds and rains. The flowering of Komma also meant a change in hunting. Noongar people would begin to hunt more Yongar (Kangaroo) for their meat and warm Bookas (animal skin pelts).

Who knew a simple flower could mean so much?

 

Tussock Grass

Noongar people might not have eaten Tussock Grass (Poa poiformis), but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a food source. At Herdsman Lake they’re used by all kinds of lizards, frogs, caterpillars and other critters as a place to hide out from hungry predators or foul weather.

Noongar people have known about this hiding place for a long time, and by sifting through these grasses they could often find themselves a lizard snack.

Like many other grasses, rushes and sedges, Tussock grass was also used to weave string, nets, bags, baskets, and mats.

Wolgol

Wolgol (Santalum acuminatum) is probably one of the best known Noongar foods here in WA, but you might know it better as Quandong. While Quandong is an Aboriginal name, it comes from an eastern Australian language. For Noongar people it has always been Wolgol.

Once it’s red-ripe on the tree Wolgol fruit is delicious to eat, though you should mind the hard pitted stone inside. Noongar people would also dry the flesh once separated from the seed and store it to be eaten later.

In modern times, it can be made into jams and other food stuffs that you can try making at home!

 

Yandjip (pictured)

Known as Yandjip or Yanchet to the Noongar people, you might know it as Bulrush (Typha orientalis). You don’t need to look in the garden at Herdsman Lake for this one, as it grows around the entire Lake. Yandjip is one of the most abundant sources of food in the area for Noongar people (not to mention the local birdlife).

Roast the roots, eat the stems fresh, steam the flowers, or grind the seeds into a protein rich flour then bake them into bread. Every part of this plant can be eaten and is delicious.

Yandjip has a cultural significance in WA as well. For starters, it has leant its name to the town of Yanchep, where it grows in abundance.

It may also have been the first carbohydrate plant that was ever cultivated by human-beings, but unfortunately time and colonisation by Europeans has erased any evidence that may have let us know for sure.