THE LITTLE RED FRUIT on the ground were the giveaway. Reddish and around a centimetre in diameter, they suggested something was happening above. Looking up, there it was. The tree was coming into fruit, the magenta of the fruit contrasting vividly with the dark green foliage of drip-tip leaves.
Come autumn and winter, the small red fruit on the ground are a sure sign of lillipilly above.
Autumn and winter are lillipilly time. That’s when the fruit of these Australian trees of the Syzygium genus, Myrtaceae family, come to ripeness.
Lillypilly is a common tree in the suburbs of Australia’s east coast towns and cities. In its natural occurrence the species prefers the moister environment of the gully or the edge of the rainforest. Lillipilly is also a favourite of landscapers, especially the small-leaf lillipilly, Syzygium leuhmannai, a narrower tree of moderate height attractive to landscapers because of its bronze-coloured new growth and small, pinkish fruits. Syzygium paniculatum is an evergreen to around seven metres in height and a similar spread. In municipal planting it is suited to parks and public places. It is also suited to the landscaping of commercial and industrial land.
Planted in public places such as on footpaths the tree offers summer shade that goes towards reducing the urban heat island effect whereby cities are hotter than their surrounding territory, encouraging energy consumption for air conditioning.
Uses in permaculture sites and community gardens
The species is suited only to the larger community gardens and permaculture properties. In smaller gardens might take space better planted to commonly-eaten fruits.
Perhaps the most useful location in the community garden or on a permaculture site would be as part of a mixed planting on the windward side. There, with other species, it would serve as a windbreak to shelter vegetable and fruit crops from strong hot or cold winds. It may also offer refuge to birds, adding to the wildlife conservation and biodiversity role already performed by these gardens.
Magenta lillipilly, Syzygium paniculatumn
As with all tree plantings on smaller permaculture properties and in community gardens, consider the mature height and width of the tree before planting and avoid planting other long-lived trees where the lillipilly will eventually shade them out. Instead, plant short-lived small trees, the fast fruits, in the area that will eventually be shaded by the lillipilly. Depending on climate these might include pawpaw, banana, tamarillo and babaco. They will go through several generations before the lillipilly shades the soil where they are growing.
For community gardens and permaculture properties that cultivate an area of native plants, the magenta lillipilly would be a fine specimen that knowledgable gardener-cooks can harvest for its fruit, turning them into tasty sauces and other foods. They are also edible raw. The shade cast by the growing tree would be a suitable place to make a small pond to attract insects and amphibians.
Magenta and other lillipilly planted as street or public place trees offer urban foragers the opportunity to glean free food. First, though, check whether the tree is maintained by a community group who plan to harvest the fruit themselves, so that you don’t deprive them of their hard work. The same goes for taking lillipilly from community gardens unless you are a member.
Magenta lillipilly — an edible presence in east coast towns and cities performing many roles including human forage, wildlife refuge, boosting biodiversity and urban cooling. Gardener-chefs: Do you have any lillipilly recipes to share? Just add them in the comments below…
A young Syzygium paniculatum, the magenta lillipilly, planted as a street tree. Consider the mature height and spread of any tree in deciding where to plant it: will it eventually shade-out other plants or take growing space better planted to commonly-used crops?
Magenta lillipilly with the flower characteristic of the Myrtaceae genus.
It was nice to be asked to do a talk at the first Community Expo which happened Sat 2nd Sept 2017 at the public park in Stanthorpe next to the swimming pool. Its focus was health and wellbeing, so I decided to talk about the health benefits of growing your own food, as well as some more general healthy eating info. Here is a summary of my talk:
Why grow your own food in order to be more healthy?
Number 1: Know what is in your food.
After checking that your soil is free of contaminants with a soil test, you control how your food is grown and therefore what is in it. You therefore know there are no poisons – herbicides, pesticides, fungicides in it and that there are no GMOs because you do not buy those seeds. Genetic engineering technology used in food is untested and the foreign proteins are likely to be irritating to the digestive tract.
Number 2: Ensure the best nutrition in the food.
You can ensure your soil is alive with biology and therefore that the plants can access minerals and trace elements they need. Food can be eaten soon after being harvested and when things are properly ripe and not green. You can also grow health giving foods that are not available in markets and supermarkets (yacon is one of our favourites). This includes many common weeds – sheep’s sorrel, chickweed, dandelion, dock, lambs quarters, nettle, and so on, as well as thousands of heirloom varieties that have superior taste and therefore nutrients. In the US 20 plants produce 90% of the diet, 9 of these equal 75% of the total diet and rice, corn, and wheat equals 50% of the total. Where is the biodiversity?? (there are 30-80,000+ edibles available)
Number 3: Exercise outdoors.
Bending over, turning compost, and forking the soil all give the body muscles some work to do. Get some sunshine so that your body gets important Vitamin D. No sunscreen. Cover up before burning.
Number 4: Reduce fossil fuel use (or eco-footprint)
Reduce fossil fuel use of the food you eat so that pollution decreases. If you grow some of your own food, less artificial fertilizers are used, less transport needed (typically hundreds or thousands of kms), less storage, less packaging – this benefits the environment we all share – cleaner air and water for everyone!
Number 5: Make new friends
Make friends who also grow their own food. Share seeds, plants, knowledge, successes and failures. Exchange produce with them. Learn from each other and learn together. This is satisfying and beneficial to your soul.
What if you cannot grow some of your own food because you have nowhere to grow?
Basil in a pot loves a window sill as do many other plants. Grow micro-greens (the green sprouts of seeds) inside with a grow light.
Go to a Community Garden and grow food there.
Ask a neighbour or friend if you can grow in their back yard or on their farm.
Happy Pig Farm has offered land to use for reasonable exchange.
Plant in pots or moveable containers if you rent.
Start with something…
What if you cannot grow (and exchange) all your food, but want quality purchased food to make up the difference?
Get to know a local farmer or two. Find out how they grow food – do they grow ecologically or with artificial chemicals and poisons? Buy from them if eco-friendly. Another option is to buy from a food aggregator (eg Symara Farm) who sources from organic farmers
Buy local honey from a beekeeper who uses no poisons
Buy foods certified Organic – Woolworths, Aldi, even IGA has some organic dairy, GoVita has some organic
Join a bulk buying group who buys Organic and supports Australian farmers – this makes Organic much more affordable.
Buy from cafes and restaurants who use organic and local ingredients. Encourage them to use more and more of both.
Buy local at market or shops or farm gate if no other option.
Buy from supermarket, but avoid imported foods/ingredients.
Organic whole grains – must be soaked overnight, sprouted, or fermented to reduce phytic acid that blocks Ca, Mg, Cu, Zn being absorbed in the gut. Grains need fresh milling.
high quality dairy
animal foods raised naturally without unnecessary poisons or medicines
lard for cooking with (pork, beef, poultry)
cold pressed extra virgin olive oil – ok for moderate heat cooking, best raw
coconut oil – ok for moderate heat cooking, best raw
organic superfoods in small amounts:
cod liver oil
high vitamin butter oil
borage or blackcurrant oil
acerola powder (berry)
wheat germ oil – vit E
azomite mineral powder
nutritional yeast processed at low temp
amalaki powder (indian fruit)
canned whole coconut milk (not lite)
flax seed oil
low fat anything
pasteurised milk, unless you add lacto bacteria to ferment it
aspartame – artificial sweetener
packaged breakfast cereals – high pressure and heat extruded grains with high sugar content
MSG – neurotoxic
HFC – high fructose corn syrup – highly processed
alcohol – esp spirits, unpasteurised natural beer ok, organic wine without preservatives ok
soft drinks – esp diet
flour in all processed foods
deep fried anything in veggie oil
If you don’t think margarine or some other processed food is bad, put an amount on a saucer and leave outside. How long until eaten by insects, animals, mold, fungi? Compare with a natural food eg butter
These ideas mostly come from 3 books I have read lately: “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”, “Nourishing Traditions”, and “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” as well as watching the recent docu-series on “The Truth about Cancer” and the start of “GMOs Revealed”.
Discover the culinary potential of Bushfoods, an essential component for all Australian permaculture gardens and lovers of good food.
Meeting Peter Hardwick, leading researcher into sub-tropical bushfoods and Bundjalung etho-botany, ten years ago revolutionised the way I saw bushfoods and their potential to be an integral part of the garden and everyday cuisine. This article provides a brief glimpse into some of my discoveries from working with Peter and fellow pioneers inventing a whole new Australian cuisine and exploration of rainforest-foods in the landscape and permaculture design.
“Good food is at the heart of bushfood permaculture.
“Local native species conservation takes on a new and more immediate meaning. Some bushfoods are amazingly productive, with the added advantage of being packed with intense, wild flavours.
“It’s just the beginning of a rediscovery process”
I love cooking and using fresh herbs and spices from the garden – spices are the soul of fine food. The fruits and aromatic leaves of the tropical and subtropic rainforests where I live in Eastern Australia provide a whole new palette of spices, fragrances and flavours for the adventurous cook. These uniquely Australian flavours, merged with the creativity of a multicultural society, give rise to an endless array of culinary innovations. Breakfast: Wattle seed pancakes with Atherton Raspberries, a generous serve of Macadamia cream and scattering of Midyen-berries, a cup of fresh brewed Wattle coffee Lunch: Bunya nut gnocchi with Warrigal Green and Macadamia Pesto, – ‘pass the Dorrigo Pepper please’ – garden salad tossed in a vinaigrette of Macadamia oil and Davidson Plum vinegar, and a cup of refreshing Lemon Myrtle tea Dinner: Steamed Australian bass wrapped in Palm Lily leaves and Lemon Myrtle, served with Avocado and Finger lime salad and baked Dum-dum yam, accompanied with a glass of Small-leaf Tamarind wine. For desert: Macadamia icecream topped with Davidson Plum sauce and a nip of Anise Myrtle liqueur to round off the evening
The best news is that a lot of the culinary delights of the sub-tropic rainforests can be easily grown in the backyard – and you don’t have to live in the sub-tropics to grow many of them if you have a mild microclimate. A little thoughtful planting and you could forage the backyard to lay a sumptuous meal for a tropical bushfoods dinner party…
The potential for integrating bushfood plants in your garden landscape can be most rewarding – and not only for the taste buds. A bushfoods garden will naturally attract native birds, butterflies and many beneficial insects. The diversity of trees, shrubs and herbacious plants provide endless possibilities for creating visual interest in the garden landscape with their unique foliage, form and colour.
Here are some of my favourite bushfoods for the home garden and some tips for using them in the kitchen.
Small-leaf Tamarind Diploglottis cambellii
This endangered species from Northern NSW is an attractive hardy small-medium sized tree producing 3-lobed pods containing a bright red fruit. The clean tangy juice is perfect with seafoods, Indian and Asian dishes and makes a delicious salad dressing.
Lemon Myrtle Backhousia citriodora
A small rainforest tree, Lemon Myrtle can be pruned to shrub size. The leaves contain aromatic oils, similar to lemon grass but richer. Great in Asian dishes and as a herb tea it’s aromatic flavour is unsurpassed. Lemon Myrtle has become my favourite herb for fish. It makes a zesty herb vinegar for salad dressings and can be used to flavour deserts.
Anise Myrtle Backhousia anisata Keep pruned as a medium to large shrub. The rounded aniseed aroma of the leaves makes a delicious herb tea, hot or iced. Peter Hardwick makes an exquisite liqueur by seeping the leaves in spirits with a little sugar.
Riberry Syzygium luehmannii
A small rainforest tree, it bears prolifically in full sun. Riberries are ripe around Christmas and can be frozen fresh for future use. The small red fruits have a unique aromatic flavour with undertones of cinnamon and clove. They make great conserves; jam, jelly, chutney and relish. I like using the fruit in poultry and other savory dishes.
Macadamia Macadamia spp. Needs no introduction as a superb nut but I recommend grafted varieties for the home garden. To make Macadamia cream simply blend the nuts with some water in a vitimiser as a luscious topping for a whole range of sweet and savoury dishes.
Davidson Plum Davidsonia pruriens var. jerseyana
This slender rainforest plant will grow and bear in the tiniest garden space. It prefers a shady location. The fruit grows on the stem early summer. The flavour is intense and too tart to eat as a fresh fruit. A little Davidson plum goes a long way to colour and flavour icecream and sweet sauces. It gives kangaroo goulash a rich fruity tang and can be steeped in brandy and sugar as a liqueur.
Fingerlime Microcitrus australasica
A small thorny shrub well-loved by finches as a nesting site, the small oblong fruit contains caviar-sized round globules of exquisite lime juice – perfect with avocado and seafood. A versatile plant it can handle full sun or shade and even some frost.
Broad-leaf Palm Lily Cordyline petiolaris An essential plant for that real rainforest feel, the leaves are traditionally used for wrapping food – similar to Asian use of banana leaves. Soften the leaves in hot water for a few minutes before wrapping your fish parcels, a Lemon Myrtle leaf on each side of the fish, and tie with string or secure with toothpicks then simply steam, bake or pop onto the B-B-Q.
Native Ginger (Dargahn) Alpinia caerulea An attractive understory plant, the seed pods provide an interesting spice to experiment with. Try chewing a pod as a breath freshener.
Atherton Raspberry Rubus fraxinifolius This variety of native raspberry is a delicious table fruit. Suitable for the larger garden, it needs management so it won’t take over or grow it in a large tub. The fresh fruit freezes well and makes a great garnish and sauce.
Midyen-berry Austomyrtus dulcis
An attractive shrubby ground cover, popluar in native landscapes. The pale fruit is small and lightly freckled with a subtle hint of vanilla and cinnamon. Delicious fresh and makes a superb bushfood muffin.
Warrigal Greens Tetragonia teragoniodes
Known to many gardeners as New Zealand Spinach, it makes an attractive ground cover and bears best in partial shade. Once established it will readily self-sow year in and out. Use the same as silverbeet and spinach. Blanched and chilled it makes a delectable salad or cold side-dish, especially with a serve of Macadamia cream.
Scrambling Lily Geitonoplesium cymosum This delicate rainforest vine has attractive leaves and dainty white flowers. The young tender shoots are delicious, somewhere between asparagus and French beans in flavour and texture, making a tasty garnish and a delight to simply munch on fresh in the garden.
Robyn Francis is known internationally for her permaculture work in education, design and consulting, as writer, presenter and founder of Permaculture International. The designer of Jarlanbah, NSW first eco-village, she continues breaking new ground in eco-village and community development. Robyn ‘walks her talk’ at Djanbung Gardens, a 2ha permaculture cornucopia and training centre in Nimbin where bushfoods permeate the gardens, course menus and cottage craft selection. She has worked extensively with Peter Hardwick developing Bushfood courses, workshops, landscapes and culinary creations over the past 15 years. Bushfoods Cookbook for the Gourmet Gardener – Robyn Francis 24p booklet with lots of tips and fantastic recipes – available mail order:
…a great addition to your permaculture recipe book
2 medium banana blossoms
bowl of cold water and vinegar (say 3 tablespoons)
1 red onion /shallot
¼ cup lime/lemon juice
1 cup mint
1 cup thai basil
½ cup roasted peanuts
3 med-large cloves garlic
3 tablespoons palm sugar
2 birds eye chilli
Peel off the first 2 to 3 layers of banana blossom and discard. Continue to peel the layers, placing the “leaves” on top of each other, to make a stack of 5-10 leaves. Finely shred with a sharp knife, and place immediately into cold water and vinegar to soak. Continue this process until you reach the “heart” – the tender middle. Slice off stalk and cut the heart lengthways through the middle. Place it flat side down and shred finely, adding this to the soaking bowl. Discard baby bananas.
Finely slice red onion/shallot, chop basil and mint and crush roasted nuts.
Roughly chop garlic and chilli. In a mortar and pestle, grind garlic, chilli and palm sugar to a paste. Combine with lime/lemon juice.
Heat 1 cup of water in a large fry pan or wok, strain banana blossoms and cook until wilted. Drain.
Add all other ingredients and stir through well.
(Variation on recipe for non-vegetarians – toss through some poached chicken and 2 tablespoons of fish sauce.)