The trees are dripping in cool shade, a natural atrium opens up like a cathedral under the trees. It's been a hot summer and this 5 acre bushland site is a welcome gathering spot to learn from two dedicated Landcare volunteers that have created something special on the edge of the Lake.
Garry Stewart welcomes us in, cradling a coolamon made from a Northern Territory redgum. A versatile wooden curved tray, they are made up to six meters in length to carry tools, babies, food and for drinking from. The soft downy seeds of the bullrush, and the clean spongy bark of the paperbark, both endemic to the area, and found in this very garden, are used to line the vessel as a soft bed for a baby. Like a bowerbird in the bush, Garry picks up his gems of aboriginal culture around him. There are rocks used as tools for seed grinding, such as the local prolific Lomandra seeding at present, which can be ground into a fine flour for damper.
Established in 2006 in Osmond reserve at the sparkling Swansea, the mouth to Lake Macquarie, there is now a dedicated team of six volunteers that help to manage this site. The team put in over 90 hours per week and have established 75 varieties of bush food plants, with an effort of over 2000 plants raised by Garry alone.
There is a little trial and error that goes into trying bush foods. To test try rubbing a little on your lips. If that's ok, rub a little on your tongue, then progress to taking a very small bite. Continue over a few days. Some foods can cause loose bowels and upset tummies, so progress carefully!
It's always best to only eat from plants you can clearly identify, and that you are familiar with the preparation required to render the food safe. Some can be eaten fresh, others require carefully cooking, fermenting and other processes.
Clearly a passion for the team that give their time to maintain and welcome others on tours of this garden, it reflects a warm passion for the simple pleasures of our indigenous and native plants.
Many thanks to Garry and his team for sharing with the Hunter Organic Growers Society, providing tastings and beautiful day out. Click here for more info on Lakeside Landcare.
Photos by Laura Dowling & Michelle Teear
A selection of the bushfoods on site:
Pigweed: all edible including roots
Black apple: start with small amounts or upset tummy, fruits at 7yrs only a few meters tall.
Paperbark: leaves chewed for colds
Kangaroo vine (native grape): medicine... suck pulp of fruit... or infuse... gargle and spit...
Mistletoe: changes leaf pattern to suit host plant
Pigweed: for diahreahoa or eat flowers
Snake vine: poisonus used to kill fish or as a soap.. don't ingest
Samphire: cook like spinach or eat raw... saved first fleet treats diareha
Kidney bean or postman:.. sub sarsparilla... make tea
Native ginger: use rhizomes
Midygim berry: eat fruit
Eucalyptus strawberry gum: put in muffins... rare
Cinnamon myrtle: leaves as tea
Capegoose berry: weed... good jam (not native)
Lily pilly: edible berry for jams
Black bean: treat in water 1 week or deadly poisonious.. sap skin damaging
Kangaroo grass: seed for flour damper
Peanut tree: fruit 7yrs to fruit
Cottonwood: striped bark for rope... speers and fire starting wood... leaf tea.. flowers eat
False sarsparilla: tea
Gymea lily: bites and stings cuts... use fibre in cut and make paperbark bandage... juice on sunburn... aussie aloe vera... rooting hormone
Bull Rush: Ripe to eat base of stems when spongy. 4inches is equivalent to a slice of bread starch, raft making, leech deterrent seeds in water, used as practice speers
Native Quince: fruit edible
Native Passionfurit: Purple tongue... from flower
Curry Myrtle: leaves for tea