Get your (Warrigal) Greens
Also known as Native Spinach, New Zealand Spinach or Botany Bay Greens, this is one of the most common edible native plants. The leaves must be blanched before eating, as they contain oxalates which in high quantities can have adverse effects. I’m not going to lie, I do munch on them raw (just not too many). Simply blanch in boiling water for about 10–15 seconds, remove and refresh under cold water. They are naturally very high in antioxidants and as good for you as spinach.
Tetragonia is an attractive succulent (think thick leaves). It is becoming increasingly popular with chefs as a bush food (although it’s now mostly commercially sourced), and can be found on the menu of many top-end restaurants.
One of the first native plants eaten by Captain Cook's crew to ward off scurvy, warrigal greens can be found along Australia's coastline where it grows best in saline soil. An incredibly versatile, easy-to-grow vegetable, warrigal greens have a fresh, grassy flavour with a slightly bitter finish. This plant is native to both Australia and New Zealand, as well as Chile, Argentina and Japan.
◎ Common Name: Warrigal Greens, Native Spinach, New Zealand Spinach, Botany Bay Greens
◎ Scientific or Latin Name: Tetragonia tetragonioides
◎ Comparison: Spinach
◎ Seasonality: All year fresh
◎ Region: Widely Grown
◎ Taste Profile: The leaves of Warrigal greens have a mild flavour, similar to spinach, and it can substitute for this vegetable in most recipes.
◎ Types: Tetragonia tetragonoides is a flowering plant in the fig-marigold family (Aizoaceae). It is often cultivated as a leafy vegetable. It is a widespread species, native to eastern Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
- They are a water-wise native Australian plant which grows here so much easier than spinach: they self-seed, so no matter how much love you don't give them, they will grow right back.
- Warrigal Greens are high in fibre, vitamin C and healthy antioxidants.
- The leaves can be used in herbal medicine remedies to treat gastrointestinal diseases, as an anti-inflammatory.
- They can also aid in weight loss and management as part of a healthy balanced diet.
Aboriginal & Traditional
Warrigal Greens are Australia’s answer to English spinach. These bush tucker greens have been used as a spinach substitute since early European colonisation in Australia. Interestingly, records don’t show them featuring as widely in Aboriginal cooking, though they are known to have been part of Maori cuisine.
The final meal taken on board the Endeavour after leaving Botany Bay was skate and warrigal greens, according to the diary of ship's botanist Joseph Banks. Banks also took some seeds back with him to Kew Gardens in 1771, making them the first Australian food plant to be cultivated abroad.
Western & Modern
You can use Warrigal Greens the way you’d use spinach, chard, silverbeet and bok choy. Like with spinach, the leaves are rich in oxalates, so the larger leaves should typically be blanched or steamed before eating, but smaller young leaves are great eaten raw. It can be substituted in any recipe that uses spinach, chard or Asian greens – the sturdy, fleshy leaves handle heat well, making warrigal greens ideal for stir-fries.
Small yellowish flowers will appear in Spring and Summer; these may be eaten too. As well as sautéing or stir-frying, try warrigal greens with feta in a pie or quiche, or blanch then use as you would regular spinach for an antioxidant-packed green smoothie.
Research has shown it is high in fibre, vitamin C and healthy antioxidants, but also in oxalates. In high concentrations oxalates can cause calcium oxalate to accumulate in your body, which can develop into kidney stones.
The leaves of Tetragonia have also been used in herbal medicine remedies to treat gastrointestinal diseases, as an anti-inflammatory, and more recently, it was shown to have an anti-obesity effect when fed to mice on a high fat diet.
Note: The term 'Bush Tucker' and 'Bush Food' are not Warndu's preferred terms for Australian Native Ingredients or Australian Botanicals.
Images: © Luisa Brimble