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Native Herbs


Notes prepared by Karen Sutherland of Edible Eden Design, May 2024

Native Australian food plants have aroma and flavour profiles unlike most other food plants we are used to in our diet. There are edible native plants that can be grown in all climates in Australia, however here are some can be found growing in or around Melbourne and are suited to cool climates.

Coastal saltbushAtriplex cinerea

This plant is one of the most drought hardy you can grow, so is suited to a low-maintenance garden. It is native to coastal Victoria and is easily found on a trip to most beaches in Victoria. The silvery leaves are attractive in a garden setting, but make sure to position it where it is not over-watered, or you won’t be growing it for long! It grows to around 1.5 m high and 1.5 m wide, and is spreading and a little unruly, so benefits from regular pruning in a garden situation.

The somewhat tough leaves can be used shallow-fried as a salty garnish to many meals or used to top a pizza near the end of cooking, so the leaves crisp up.

Native Pepper, PepperberryTasmannia lanceolata

Although the name tells you this plant grows in Tasmania, it is also native to Victoria, in cool temperate rainforest areas surrounding Melbourne. Completely opposite to Coastal Saltbush in it’s needs, this plant does not like drying out at all, and even one such event can finish it off. It likes growing in dappled shade, in well-drained soil with good levels of organic matter. Too much sun is also bad for this plant.

Although you need a male and female plant to be able to produce the spicy berries, the leaves are also edible and similarly spicy, so use cautiously! The leaves can be used fresh or dried and ground, as you would use regular pepper.

Native Oregano/Native ThymeProstanthera rotundifolia

This plant can be found naturally in similar locations to the Native Pepper. This tells you that it also thrives in semi-shade, although this plant can tolerate full sun with regular watering. It does not like to dry out, although it can tolerate more of this than the Native Pepper plant can. Prostantheras are known as Mint Bushes in the gardening world and the common name of Native Oregano or Native Thyme is mainly used in the native food world. In the plant world they are loved for their mass of purple flowers in spring and their aromatic leaves, wonderful in a sensory garden or planted next to a path, where they can release their aromas when brushed against.

Most Prostantheras have very high levels of menthol, which usually means they are not suitable for eating. Prostanthera rotundifolia and P. incisa are the main two species that are able to be consumed. Although edible, the complex and strong flavours of this plant mean it needs a gentle introduction into your diet. One way to do this is to make herb butter, which works equally well with dairy or vegan butter. The fats in the butter work to moderate the flavours and the butter can be experimented with on crusty bread, melted over pasta, vegetables or steak, whatever your dietary preferences. This way you can get to know the flavour of this plant better, before trying it out in other meals.

Warrigal GreensTetragonia tetragonioides

This is an annual ground cover, native to coastal areas around Victoria, spreading easily to 1-2 m from spring to autumn. It can sometimes survive over winter in a sheltered position, but often dies back completely in cold weather, usually self-seeding again when the weather warms. If your plant does die off, make sure to either allow some of the woody ten-sided seeds to fall onto the ground, or save some for planting in spring.

To eat Warrigal Greens safely, either soak for half and hour in cold water if you plan to eat the  fresh in a salad or as a pesto or blanch the leaves in boiling water for thirty seconds, discarding the water, before baking into a spinach pie or adding to mixed cooked greens as Horta.

Native Mint, River MintMentha australis

Another Victorian native, this plant does survive in drier positions than the common name of River Mint suggests and is quite at home in an exposed and little watered nature strip garden. If given regular watering in a garden situation it can spread and become somewhat invasive, so less watering can be what you need to grow this plant with less maintenance. It prefers to grow in a sunny position. If grown in semi-shade it can become lanky and develop powdery mildew.

Use Native Mint fresh in cocktails, added to salads or fruit salads, or cooked into chocolate brownies. It also makes a refreshing herbal tea or cold infusion.

Native Violet – Viola hederacea

Native Violets are hardy ground covers, easy to grow in most situations as long as they have regular watering. As the plants put down roots as it spreads, it is not as suitable as some for growing underneath fruit trees as the roots compete for moisture and nutrients. They grow happily in shade but need some sun to produce flowers. The leaves and flowers can be eaten in salads, the flowers popped into cocktails and drinks or used to garnish cakes and desserts. Native Violets are widely available at retail nurseries as well as indigenous nurseries.

Hope you enjoy some of these plants in your garden and kitchen.