If you tell any farmers over the age of 60 that saltbush is now a bit of a delicacy, they would laugh in your face. A bit like the lamb shank, which was once fed to the farm dogs but is now one of the priciest cuts in the butcher’s shop, saltbush was only eaten by the sheep. Alas, it should be eaten by us all – it is wonderful. A huge number of seeds come from the flowering after spring and autumn and they are like little salty popcorn kernels, but were also ground and mixed with water to make dough cooked in coals. We have loads on our farm, as I walk around I just pick it and nibble on it. A bit like the sheep. Note: there are many different species of saltbush. We tend to use old man saltbush the most.
Old Man Saltbush, also known as Bluegreen or Giant Saltbush is a versatile plant and great Bush Food. Adapted to arid conditions with saline soils, Saltbush is native to most parts of Australia. The United Nations Carbon Emission Trading Scheme has identified Old Man Saltbush as assisting with the reduction of greenhouse warming. Indigenous Australians have traditionally utilised the seeds and leaves of Saltbush, which are collected and ground and used in damper and to flavour foods. The leaves were also sometimes eaten fresh or added to meat as it cooked. This dried and ground Old Man Saltbush leaf has been wild-harvested in South Australia, where it grows pesticide-free. It has a soft, salty flavour – slightly earthy – and can be used as a direct substitute for salt as a seasoning or condiment.
◎ Common Name: Saltbush
◎ Scientific or Latin Name: Atriplex spp.
◎ Comparison: Salty and a crunchy seed
◎ Seasonality: All year fresh
◎ Region: Arid
◎ Taste Profile: It has a soft, salty flavour – slightly earthy – and can be used as a direct substitute for salt as a seasoning or condiment. Saltbush adds a wonderful flavour to fish, meat and vegetable dishes.
◎ Types: There are about 61 different species of Saltbush growing across Australia. Old Man Saltbush or Giant Saltbush is a very adaptable plant found in many soil types across Australia. It is a fast-growing, evergreen shrub. Warndu sells Saltbush as a seasoned salt & pepper or in leaf form, dried & ground.
- Saltbush is an excellent source of protein and contains beneficial calcium and trace minerals.
- It contains 20% less sodium than table salt and is a rich source of antioxidants.
Traditional Aboriginal Food and Uses
Saltbush has been used by the native Aborigines of Australia for centuries for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The indigenous people collected the seeds to roast and grind for adding to damper, a traditional bush bread cooked over an open fire. They used the ashes of the burnt leaves like baking soda and ground the seeds as a flour substitute. Leaves were used as a poultice for burns or wounds. Saltbush has been used as grazing fodder for sheep and cattle by both natives and settlers. Today, the national park service in New South Wales considers Saltbush a threatened species due to trampling, invasive weeds and excessive clearing.
Western & Modern
Today Saltbush is still incorporated in baked goods, but its leaves are the most desired part. The round silvery-green toothed-edge leaves can be added fresh to salads, stir-fry and meat marinades, or dried and used as seasonings (it can be a direct substitute for salt). There is also an emerging trend of using it to flavour beer and spirits, and drying it out as a natural 'potato chip'.
Saltbush leaves are fleshy with a salty, herbal flavour, and are very versatile. Use fresh leaves in salads or as a bed for roasting meats (it's great with lamb) or fish, toss them into stir-fries, dip them in batter and fry them, or use the dried leaves as a seasoning; ground dried leaves can be a substitute for salt.
The salty leaves are commonly cooked and eaten, but can also be used to treat the following:
- Topically for cuts and stings
Other interesting uses include:
- Atrracting bees & other insects
- As a fire retardant plant
- Suitable fodder for sheep and cattle
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Saltbush is featured in these recipes in Warndu Mai:
- Saltbush Soda Bread
- Saltbush Salt 'n' Vinegar Crisps
- Warndu's Salt and Pepper Crocodile
- Warndu's Saltbush Soda Bread and Davidson's Plum Jam
- Warndu's Wallaby Shanks
Warndu Products featuring Saltbush
We sell our Saltbush dried and ground, ready for your use at home as a spice. You can also taste this delicious flavour in our Salt & Pepper Mix, perfect for your salt grinder at home. New to the Warndu pantry is our Salt & Pepper Olive Oil, featuring a delcious infusion of Saltbush and Pepperberry.
Note: The term 'Bush Tucker' and 'Bush Food' are not Warndu's preferred terms for Australian Native Ingredients or Australian Botanicals.
Images: © Luisa Brimble