Australia's sweet native nectar - Banksia
Orange and yellow banksias grow all over our continent. Not just for decorating your house or garden, these flowers also make a beautiful nectar drink when soaked in water. Traditionally, the flowers were sucked for a little sweet hit.
They must be picked and used when filled with nectar, always leaving many behind for regeneration and the wildlife, of course. You can use the flowers of silver banksias and swamp banksias for this, too.
The sweet nectar of Banksia flowers can be obtained by sucking the flower or by soaking the flowers in water to make a sweet drink. The sweet drink of the Banksia flowers is sometimes mixed with wattle gum.
Banksias are woody shrubs or trees with characteristically large, coarse and "bottle brush" blossoms. Flower colours may be yellow, green, brown, mauve, pink or purplish and after they wither a large cone remains with woody follicles containing the winged seeds. The diet of Aboriginal people was often bland and sugar yielding foods, such as the nectar from the Banksia flower were highly regarded. The sweet beads of nectar were either sucked from the blossom or dipped into water to make a flavoursome cordial. Nectar is best collected early in the morning before it is evaporated by the sun or diminished by the birds.
◎ Common Name: Banksia
◎ Scientific or Latin Name: Banksia spp.
◎ Comparison: Honey
◎ Seasonality: Spring
◎ Region: Widely grown
◎ Taste Profile: The nectar is sweet and sugary, similar to that of honey.
◎ Types: Banksia is a genus of around 170 species in the plant family Proteaceae. These Australian wildflowers and popular garden plants are easily recognised by their characteristic flower spikes and fruiting "cones" and heads.
- Heavy producers of nectar, banksias are a vital part of the food chain in the Australian bush. They are an important food source for all sorts of nectarivorous animals, including birds, bats, rats, possums, stingless bees and a host of invertebrates.
Aboriginal & Traditional
The Indigenous people of south-western Australia would suck on the flower spikes to obtain the nectar, they also soaked the flower spikes in water to make a sweet drink. The Noongar people of southwest Western Australia also used infusions of the flower spikes for to relieve coughs and sore throats. Banksia trees are a reliable source of insect larvae which are extracted as food.
The Aboriginal people also make a weak form of alcohol, which is called “Bull” or “Bool” from the Banksia, leaving the liquid to ferment.
Western & Modern
The young flower spikes can be roasted and eaten or the sweet nectar produced by the flowers can be consumed. The leaves can be steeped in water to make a tea. The white bases of the leaves are edible and the flowers and seeds can be eaten, taking care to avoid the spikes.
The Banksia plant was also traditionally used as a source of medicine. The bark (djanni) that was used for firewood was clean burning and did not spark. The ash was white and fine and when mixed with the resin of the marri tree was used as a medicine for curing stomach conditions, especially diarrhoea and the control of intestinal worms.
The young green buds on the smaller species of Banksia were chewed in early spring. It was a “chewing gum” to the Noongars and was used as a digestive and also a hunger and thirst suppressant.
Note: The term 'Bush Tucker' and 'Bush Food' are not Warndu's preferred terms for Australian Native Ingredients or Australian Botanicals.
Images: © Luisa Brimble