The sweet and salty Ice Plant
Ice plant is just one of the many greens harvested from South Australia's Coorong. Its common name comes from the very obvious icicle-looking drops that cover the succulent.
This coastal plant is related to Barilla, Saltbush and Seablite and a relative of this plant is widely used throughout Europe as a sea vegetable. Ice Plant naturally grows in sand dunes and sea weed deposits. This green succulent annual ground cover has huge succulent leaves in Spring, with glistening bubbles of salty surprise on the underside of leaves and stems.
This species is widely naturalised throughout the southern and western parts of the continent, extending as far north as Exmouth on the north-western coast of Western Australia. It is common in western New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, the southern parts of South Australia and the southern and western parts of Western Australia.
◎ Common Name: Ice Plant, Crystal Ice Plant
◎ Scientific or Latin Name: Mesembryanthemum crystallinum
◎ Comparison: Celery or Bok Choy
◎ Seasonality: All year fresh
◎ Region: Southern and Western, Widely Grown
◎ Taste Profile: It is crisp like celery or bok choy, slightly sweet and super salty to taste. The leaves have an acid flavour, they are thick and very succulent with a slightly salty tang.
◎ Types: There are 25 species of Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, mostly in the northern hemisphere, but also southern Africa. Three species naturalised in Australia.
- The plant is demulcent and diuretic.
- It is used in the treatment of inflammations of the pulmonary and genito-urinary mucous membranes.
- Leaves are used in the treatment of ascites, dysentery and diseases of the liver and kidney.
- It can be used externally to relieve itching, pain, swelling and redness of the skin.
- Leaves provide a safe trail side nibble, are sometimes pickled, and are demulcent to skin and mucous membranes, make a cooling and healing poultice for treating sunburn or minor lesions.
- Skin diseases such as neuro-dermatitis and psoriasis could be treated with Common Ice Plant sap.
- The leaf juice is astringent and mildly antiseptic.
- It is mixed with water and swallowed to treat diarrhea, dysentery and stomach cramps, and is used as a gargle to relieve laryngitis, sore throat and mouth infections.
Aboriginal & Traditional
The Ice Plant was originally a native of South Africa. It did not reach Europe and America until the 18th century and the Canary Islands until the 19th century. It has now also spread to southern Australia and coastal areas of Japan.
Traditionally gauchos in Argentina used it to treat venereal disease. The leaves were also formerly used as a treatment for scurvy for sailors on long voyages.
Western & Modern
The Ice Plant is sometimes harvested for local use as a food, medicine and source of soap.
The sap of the plant, and an extract of the plant are used as ingredients in commercial cosmetic products as humectants and skin conditioners.
The crushed foliage is used as a soap substitute.
In culinary use the leaves and stems can be consumed raw or cooked, and as a substitute for spinach. It can be used in a variety of ways: in stir-fries and salads, battered like tempura, with seafood dishes (quickly blanched), or stuffed inside a whole fish. It’s particularly suited to Asian-style dishes. Ice Plant leaves have an acid flavour that are thick and very succulent with a slightly salty tang. They can also be pickled like cucumbers or used as a garnish.
Various regions around the world use common Ice Plant to treat different health conditions, including colds, fevers, and even glaucoma. Research has shown that this plant consists of extremely high levels of isoflavones as well as flavonoids and isoflavonoids which are plant metabolites that have a significant effect on human metabolism.
The plant is demulcent and diuretic. It is used in the treatment of inflammations of the pulmonary and genito-urinary mucous membranes. The leaves are used in the treatment of ascites, dysentery and diseases of the liver and kidney.
Note: The term 'Bush Tucker' and 'Bush Food' are not Warndu's preferred terms for Australian Native Ingredients or Australian Botanicals.
Images: © Luisa Brimble