Go wild: Call for research to harness Tasmania's native flora

Go wild: Call for research to harness Tasmania's native plants, trees and fruits to secure future food security


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A selection of clippings from native Tasmanian plants that can be used in various forms of cooking, on display in Beaconsfield last weekend. Picture: Adam Holmes

A selection of clippings from native Tasmanian plants that can be used in various forms of cooking, on display in Beaconsfield last weekend. Picture: Adam Holmes

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Rees Campbell knows 130 edible Tasmanian native plants - and she wants more research.

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FOR THOUSANDS of years, the yam daisy provided basic carbohydrates for Aboriginal people in Tasmania.

Women would use pointed sticks to farm the native plant, harvesting the tubers by breaking them off before replenishing them.

But within 30 years of white settlement, the Aboriginal population had been starved of a staple as introduced species crowded out the yam daisy, and horticulturalists now struggle to distinguish it from dandelions.

It was, effectively, the last time native Tasmanian plants were horticulturally developed. Like most of Australia, the state relies on introduced and imported plants, fruits and vegetables for food.

Microseris lanceolata, also known as the yam daisy. Picture: Rees Campbell

Microseris lanceolata, also known as the yam daisy. Picture: Rees Campbell

But with the threat of ongoing environmental degradation in the future, author Rees Campbell said the need for greater research into the potential of Tasmania's native flora for food had never been greater.

Ms Campbell travels the state teaching people about the food sources that have been under their noses the whole time - native trees, plants, flowers and weeds.

**Scroll down for a gallery of images of Rees Campbell's edible natives**

"We're probably looking at superfoods among some of our natives, they've never been fully analysed," she said.

"At the moment I'm just eating them because they're edible, rather than eating them because we know what's in them."

Eat Wild Tasmanian author Rees Campbell gave an interactive talk as a guest of Permaculture Tasmania. Picture: Adam Holmes

Eat Wild Tasmanian author Rees Campbell gave an interactive talk as a guest of Permaculture Tasmania. Picture: Adam Holmes

Ms Campbell cites the carrot as an example. Four hundred years ago, carrots were purple tubers the size of a little finger. Horticultural development allowed it to become one of the world's most consumed vegetables.

It was the same story with apples, which started as tiny bitter crab apples several centuries ago before they developed into the staple of today.

The first step, however, was getting the public accustomed to trying something new.

"We need to normalise them. If we normalise these native plants, they'll be kept alive via commerce and we won't lose them," Ms Campbell said.

"We're losing so much of our bush as it is."

Stepping out into the wild to find edible native flora

The first thing to know is that, mushrooms aside, very few things that grow in the Tasmanian bush are poisonous. To find out, break it in half and rub it on your elbow to test for a reaction. After a few hours, try it on your gums.

Through this type of trial and error, Ms Campbell found more than 130 native plants that were ready to eat and she has spent years experimenting with them in cooking.

Perhaps her greatest success had come through wild forest berries.

"They are everywhere in the mountains, you'll see the little pink to purply berries. If you eat them, they're a bit astringent, but they'll actually mix up really well," Ms Campbell said.

"I tend to use them in preserves, straining them out. The pip is hard and quite big in relation to the fruit.

"Don't dismiss them just because they're a bit astringent - they're a worthwhile fruit to try."

Her collection of preserves - on display after her talk in Beaconsfield on the weekend - was testament to the tastes that can be achieved by trusting natives.

CHECK OUT REES CAMPBELL'S PICTURES OF EDIBLE NATIVE PLANTS:

Some of the best berries come from the most unlikely of sources, such as dodder - or snotty gobble - that is often seen constricting trees.

"The green fruit, when it's just ripe but not too ripe, you pick it and you can actually stretch the mucus out as far as you can reach," Ms Campbell said.

"When you cook it up with some sweetening honey and sugar, you can then use that glugginess as a glue for things. I make muesli bars using the glue from the snotty gobble."

Her lightly oiled and baked salt bush was a popular replacement for chips.

Leptomeria, a tree that often looks like a collection of sticks, can be covered in small green fruit that she bakes into cakes or dehydrates like currants.

Floating in dams or on river beds across Tasmania is cycnogeton with hair roots under the water. The bulb can be cooked and ground with water to make the original "baby food" - a technique used by Aboriginal Tasmanians to feed babies.

Cycnogeton often appears in this form in dams or on river banks, and was used to produce baby food by Tasmanian Aboriginals. Picture: Rees Campbell

Cycnogeton often appears in this form in dams or on river banks, and was used to produce baby food by Tasmanian Aboriginals. Picture: Rees Campbell

The Aboriginals did not have a need for herbs or seasonings, but that does not mean there aren't any out there. Tasmania has the river mentha mint, along with native parsley, rosemary, bull peppers and ghania, not to mention the uses for wattle and banksia seeds.

Ms Campbell said with modern cooking techniques, almost all edible native Tasmanian plants could have a use that was equal to or better than anything in a supermarket.

"It's not only reclaiming history. We can make new culinary history," she said.

"The way that the First Tasmanians used some of these plants is not the way we can use them now. We've got different cooking methods, we've got different tastes.

"We're actually able to use more plants probably than the First Tasmanians did."

Her book that details cooking and harvesting techniques, Eat Wild Tasmanian, was published in 2017.

The Examiner

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