For a bush food you can plant then harvest in only a few weeks, give warrigal greens a go. This was another plant I thought I didn’t have room for at my place, so I used to pick them from my parents’ property. Then I discovered that they can be grown in a pot, as long as you don’t mind them sprawling out over the paving. They are not the neatest plants, but if you pick a tall pot you can make a feature of their rambling habit. They are hardy but if you want lush and tender leaves, you’ll need to keep your plant well watered and provide fertile soil. They are a great little plant to start you on your bush foods adventure.
Also called New Zealand Spinach or Botany Bay spinach, Warrigal Greens are native to both Australia and New Zealand. They have a sprawling habit around 50cm high, and trailing around 1-2 meters long. Growing along the waterways and in the sand near beaches, they have triangular, fleshy leaves and small insignificant pale yellow flowers from September to February.
Plant your seeds in spring and summer, and in autumn in warm frost-free areas. Soil temperatures of 18-35 degrees celsius are best. Soak seeds for 1-2 hours before sowing, and then plant in seed trays around two and a half times the diameter of the seed.
Once established, plant around 60cm apart in the ground, or in a medium to large pot. Your leaves will be ready to harvest in around 8 to 10 weeks. Plants will self-sow and this is a great opportunity to pot up some seedlings and give them away to friends. You can also grow plants from cuttings but I’ve always found them so easy to grow from seed that I’ve never needed to try this approach.
Warrigal greens are long-lived in temperate areas and enjoy full sun and well-drained soil. In arid areas you will need to provide shade. They will survive sea-spray in coastal gardens and are rarely affected by disease or pest issues.
You can harvest your Warrigal Greens all year round by picking young leaves and growing tips. Remember that it is illegal to take plants from National Parks, State Forests or Nature Reserves. Leaves will last in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Like silverbeet, leaves contain oxalic acidic and this can cause kidney stones and affect the absorption of calcium so it’s important to blanch leaves (not just steam) to remove most of the oxalic acid before eating. Don’t drink the water you blanch them in because the oxalic acid will dissolve into the water. Use in a quiche, frittata, omelette or stir-fry.
Warrigal greens contain high levels of vitamin C and they were used by early European explorers and settlers to fight scurvy. Indigenous Australians also ate them, although the extent to which is unknown. It is used by many Australian chefs as a regular ingredient in their dishes, including Kylie Kwong’s dumplings.
Where can you buy seeds?
Online seed stores are a great place to purchase your seeds or ask around your friends to see if anyone has some you could do a swap for. You could also join a local savers group or your local community garden.
Enjoy munching on your native spinach and please share any recipes you experiment with.