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Bunurong Environment Centre

Bush Pantry Field Notes

Wattle seed icecream, anyone? Bracken ointment? A cumbungi bag? Terri Allen describes some local plants that were used by Indigenous people for food, fibre and medicine.


Austral Bracken, Pteridium esculentum
The rhizomes are edible late summer to autumn - pound to extract the starch and cook as cakes on the coals.
Tips of the fronds are nutty - eat raw.
Eat uncurled fronds (fiddle heads) - heat and eat. High in protein and zinc.
Leaves and stalks were made into a drink
Brown skin from the rhizomes (underground stems) was peeled, boiled and the decoction drunk as an antidote for pain.
Rhizome stem used to treat diarrhoea and intestinal inflammation.
Rhizome can be boiled in lard or oil to make an ointment for wounds.
Used to prepare leather.
Juice from young stems used to relieve insect bites.
Juice used in Underwood’s snake antidote.
Poisonous to introduced domestic animals.
Initiates the regeneration of degraded land - holds the soil from eroding, fronds cool the soil and maintain humidity to allow plant germination.
Important coloniser.
Reproduces vegetatively so makes viruses ineffective.
Five poisonous principles in bracken - heat in cooking destroys these poisons.


Spreading Flax-lily, Dianella revoluta
Indigenous people ate the fruits (but some poisonous), seeds (sweet nutty flavour), roots after pounding and roasting.
Used the berries for a permanent blue dye.
Leaves made a strong fibre for string and plaited in baskets.

Knobby Club-sedga, eFicinia nodosa

Used for weaving.

Pale Rush, Juncus pallidus

Used for weaving.

Spiny-headed Mat-rush, Lomandra longifolia

Indigenous people soaked the flowers to make a sweet drink, ate the tiny creamy flowers and seeds.
Important plant for string manufacture and weaving e.g. baskets, eel traps.
Leaves picked, split into two, dried for 3+ days and dampened 24 hours to make pliable.
Used for tying up limbs, for bandages.

Common Rush, Phragmites australis
Indigenous people ate the tuber as a medicine - for arthritis, jaundice, food poisoning.
Underground shoots are like bamboo shoots - edible.
Sharpened ends of the stems were used to skin animals and to cut the umbilical cord.
Stems were used as hafts for spears, cut into segments for necklaces and nose ornaments, used as snorkels when catching water birds.
Stems were woven into rope for bags and baskets.
Early settlers used the plant for thatch and explorer Eyre made a thatched hut.
Today used in wetlands to purify water.

Common Tussock, Poa labillardierei
Woven into string for nets, baskets, mats.

Water Ribbons, Triglochin procerum
Edible tubers.

Cumbungi, Typha species
Indigenous people baked the underground stem, chewed it to extract the starch and the stringy leftovers were rolled into twine.
The stem tasted of leek, the young shoots like artichoke, the pollen nutty.
New shoots were eaten raw, roots and stem baked. Pollen could be baked into a cake.
The starchy tuber was used for dysentery.
Indigenous people used Cumbungi string to make large nets, the flower head for torches.
Cumbungi pollen has been used as an absorbent in surgery and a dressing for wounds.
Soft down was a bandage for wounds, pillow stuffing and used for flotation in life rafts.


Black Wattle, Acacia mearnsii
Indigenous people chewed the gum or mixed it with water to make a jelly.
Wattle barkers from Van Dieman’s Land pre-1835 used bark in tanning.
Indigenous people used bark and twigs as a poison to stun fish.
Timber used for boat building as could be easily steam-bent.

Blackwood, Acacia melanoxylon
Indigenous people infused bark in water and bathed arthritic joints.
The gum was edible.
Inner bark fibres were used for string, to make fishing lines.
Bark and twigs used as a poison to stun fish.
Timber was used for spears, woomeras, boomerangs, shields, coolamons.
Was used to make walking sticks, gun stocks, racquets, sounding boards of pianos, beer barrels, casks for whale oil, cabinet timber.

Coast Wattle, Acacia sophorae
Indigenous people steamed the young pods over a fire, eating the cooked seeds.
Liquid from the bark used to tan skins, fishing nets and sails.
Blossoms cooked in fritters and pikelets.
Wattle seed in biscuits, cakes, icecream (dried seed twice roasted and ground).
Stabilises coastal dunes, provides shelter.

Drooping Sheoak, Allocasuarina verticillata
Named after the cassowary as the leaves resemble the bird’s plumage.
Indigenous people ate the young shoots and emerging cones.
Wood was suitable for boomerangs, spears and woomeras.
Needles could be used for tinder, bedding, although ghostly wind through the leaves kept people from camping in the groves.
Easily split, it was used by settlers for shingles and firewood.
Sapwood to make a gargle for toothache.

Coast Banksia, Banksia integrifolia
Indigenous people soaked the flower cones to make a sweet drink
Flower syrup was used for sore throats and colds.
Dry flower cones were used as strainers or as fire carriers.
Early settlers filled the dried cones with dripping and used them as night lights.
Timber was used for bullock yokes, boat knees and for wood turning.
Honey producers put the hives into groves of banksias.

Sweet Bursaria, Bursaria spinosa
Contains aesculin, a product in sunburn creams and UV filters and prescribed in medicines.
Soaked leaves turn the water blue, absorbing ultraviolet light; add vinegar or lemon juice and water turns red; add caustic soda, back to blue. Acts like litmus paper.
Useful in gardens, farm corridors.
Flowers attract native wasps which lay their eggs in Christmas Beetle larvae and thus stop defoliation.

Messmate, Eucalyptus obliqua
Indigenous people made coarse string for bags and nets from the inner bark.
Bark was used for fishing torches, tinder, canoes.
Leaves can be used for dyeing: yellow, green, grey.
Timber for Wonthaggi mines, sleepers, shingles, joinery, furniture, wine casks, fence palings.
Used in paper pulp.

Coast Manna, Eucalyptus pryoriana
Koala habitat; old trees have hollows for birds, animals, bees.
Indigenous people moistened the bark and leaves and applied to sore eyes; leaves were chewed to cure diarrhoea; the smoke from burning leaves reduced fever.
Indigenous people ate lerp (manna) and the sugary pellets of dried sap caused by insect borers.
Timber used for shields, coolamons, water containers.

Coast Tea-tree, Leptospermum laevigatum
Cook and early explorers used the tips to make a tea to prevent scurvy.
A passable lemony tea can be made from the tips.
Leucopogon parviflorus, Coast Beard-heath
Ripe berries were nutritious and thirst-quenching in summer.

Swamp Paperbark, Melaleuca ericifolia
When in flower, the snapper are on the bite.
Indicator of swampland - soaks up excess moisture.
Indigenous people used the flowers for a sweet drink, the soft papery bark to swaddle babies.
Bark was used to make fishing floats.
Wood was suitable for spears, clubs, digging sticks.

Scented Paperbark, Melaleuca squarrosa
Nectar and crushed leaves were made into a drink.
Planted to subdue malarial vapours in swamps.

Common Boobialla, Myoporum insulare
Edible but bitter fruit.
Infuse the branchlets in boiling/hot water - with the liquid scrub the head to treat general ailments.
Use as a windbreak or quick-growing shelter belt.
Fire retardant.

Seaberry Saltbush, Rhagodia candolleana
Indigenous people ate the leaves and berries (which are bitter).
Squashed berries gave a dye, used by the settlers as red ink.
Rubus parviflorus, Native Raspberry
Ripe berries were an Indigenous delicacy.
Raspberry leaf tea was used as a gargle for sore throats, for diarrhoea and to ease pain.

White Elderberry, Sambucus gaudichaudiana
Edible berries.

Kangaroo Apple, Solanum aviculare
Berries when soft are edible but not tasty - some say too poisonous to eat.
Rub-on treatment for sunspots and skin cancers (Curaderm cream, produced Brisbane).
Steroidal saponins in leaves, stems, fruit (solasodin).
Major source of steroids; contraception pill, treat asthma and arthritis, sex hormones used for menopausal disorder, infertility and impotence.
Huge plantations are grown in Russia and Hungary to source the contraceptive pill.

Austral Bracken, Pteridium esculentum, the great coloniser. Rhizome stems are used to treat diarrhoea and intestinal inflammation. Tips of the fronds have a pleasant nutty taste.

Coast Banksia, Banksia integrifolia. Indigenous people soaked the flower cones to make a sweet drink. Flower syrup was used for sore throats and colds.

Coast Tea-tree, Leptospermum laevigatum. Cook and early explorers used the tips to make a tea to prevent scurvy.

coast wattle
Coast Wattle, Acacia sophorae. Indigenous people steamed the young pods over a fire, eating the cooked seeds.