These are amazing tiny astringent pops of tartness, so not really like the cherries you would be used to. Plus, they take a lot of time and effort to harvest by hand.
Though beautiful and useful, the Native Cherry is an elusive little plant. Much has been cleared because its leaves are toxic to stock. It grows as a parasite on host trees and is from the same family as quandongs. Don’t eat the little seed that hangs off the fruit, the red part is edible and is ready when you tap it and it falls into your hands.
Native Cherry grows from the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland to southern Tasmania, and across to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. It was considered by the Wadawurrung to be a men’s tree because remarkably its seed appears on the outside of the edible fruit.
Propagating the Cherry Ballart has led to many experiments and many failures in nurseries. The mystery of germinating its seed has never been solved.
◎ Common Name: Native Cherry, Cherry Ballart, Cyprus Cherry
◎ Scientific or Latin Name: Exocarpos cupressiformis
◎ Comparison: Tart cherries
◎ Seasonality: All year frozen
◎ Region: Eastern
◎ Taste Profile: The fruit has the delicate texture of a European cherry and is quite sweet with a subtle salty finish.
◎ Types: Exocarpos cupressiformis belongs to the sandalwood family of plants. It is a species endemic to Australia.
- The stem bark contains about 22% tannin which is likely responsible for the astringent properties.
- The stems and old branches of the tree were further found to contain exocarpic acid.
Aboriginal & Traditional
Australian Aborigines consumed the “berries” and used other parts of the native cherry as medicine. For example, the twigs of native cherry were used as bitter tonic and astringent.
The strong wood was used by the First Australians to make spear throwers and the sap was used to treat snake bite. Europeans have used the Native Cherry to make furniture, tool handles and gun stocks.
Western & Modern
It makes a refreshing and welcome snack on a Winter/Spring bush walk but like many of the native fruits in the southern states, it is small, about the size of a black current, and slow to harvest any large quantity.
The fruit stalk is sweet and palatable when fully ripe, but astringent otherwise. It is eaten raw or made into preserves.
The stem bark contains tannin which is likely responsible for the astringent properties, and can be used to remedy snake bites. Little else is known of the medicinal properties of this plant.
Note: The term 'Bush Tucker' and 'Bush Food' are not Warndu's preferred terms for Australian Native Ingredients or Australian Botanicals.
Images: Photo by John Tann, as featured on La Trobe University.