Probably up there with the most glorious looking plants, spiky leaved and almost pineapple-like, the Pandanus is of very important use to Aboriginal people. The nuts or kernels can be eaten raw or cooked, as well as the new leaves (the soft white part). The leaves also make incredible baskets and are used for weaving. This nut is considered a luxury and we couldn’t agree more. Try it fermented, pickled, toasted or raw.
Pandanus are bountiful right across Northern Australia, from beaches to open woodland to dense tropical forest along river banks, although they prefer areas with some fresh water. This hardy tree is abundant along much of the Yuraygir coast because that coast is largely unmodified by human practices. Pandanus can also be found on much of east coast Australia, north from Port Macquarie.
Pandanus (or breadfruit) have many uses and continue to be economically important in a number of regions. They are extremely useful and important plants for Aboriginal people, a 'one stop shop' with different parts being used for craft objects, food and medicine.
Pandanus spiralis produces tough fibrous fruit. Each cluster of fruit has about 10 to 25 individual nut-like fruits which each contain 7 to 10 seeds. Aboriginal people eat the fruit once they have ripened to a deep orange-red colour, but getting into the seed is another thing! If you want to try eating the seeds from inside the fruit, wait until they have changed to a brown colour.
◎ Common Name: Pandanus, Breadfruit
◎ Scientific or Latin Name: Pandanus spp.
◎ Comparison: Coconut and walnuts
◎ Seasonality: Rare
◎ Region: Northern Territory/North Eastern Australian Coastline
◎ Taste Profile: The nuts taste good, with a flavour similar to almonds or tasting a little bit like peanuts and coconut together.
◎ Types: Pandanus belong to a large group of similar plants, with 37 species found in Australia. They are generally confined to coastal regions. The genus is dioecious – ie having different male and female plants.
- The nuts are high in fat and protein so provide good energy.
- When ripe, Pandanus fruits contain an oily, protein rich, nutty tasting seed which can be eaten raw or cooked (usually roasted).
- They are an essential part of the Aboriginal culture because of their many uses as food, medicine, and craft objects.
Traditional Aboriginal Food and Uses
Aboriginal people found many uses for most parts of the Pandanus plant. They used the leaves as strapping or string fibre to make baskets, mats, dilly bags, bracelets and various ceremonial objects. The dead stems or branches were used to make didgeridoos as the fibrous inside disintegrated to leave a hollow tube.
To avoid having to re-light fires with rubbing sticks, Aboriginal people carried slow smouldering Pandanus branches to transfer fire from camp to camp when they travelled.
The cabbage was pounded into a paste and used as an antiseptic ointment for sores and wounds. So with these uses as well as being a bush tucker, the Pandanus is a versatile plant of Northern Australia.
Aboriginal people baked it in hot sand or ash, removing an irritant to the mouth if eaten raw. North Australian Aboriginal people were known to have made a mild alcoholic drink from Pandanus fruits as well.
Western & Modern
The most obvious use of Pandanus is as an easy source of bush tucker. The white growing bases of the leaves are edible and easy to access. The taste is similar to cabbage or silverbeet. It can be eaten raw or cooked.
The fruit separates into wedges, with each wedge housing several small almond like nuts. The fruit wedges are tough and fibrous, but depending on species, sometimes the base of the wedges are soft enough to chew or suck to extract some sweet tasting pulp. The fruit stalk itself, which remains after all the wedges have been removed, is also edible, although is usually quite woody.
The core of the pandanus trunk can be used to treat stomach pain, diarrhoea, wounds, toothache and mouth sores.
Note: The term 'Bush Tucker' and 'Bush Food' are not Warndu's preferred terms for Australian Native Ingredients or Australian Botanicals.
Images: © Luisa Brimble