Grow your own herbs and spices

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I pruned this lot of oregano today as it was spreading out into another spot I have reserved for growing vegetables. It’s now in the dehydrator drying to use later. While fresh herbs are lovely in cooking, I’m going to dry some other herbs from the garden like sage, marjoram, parsley, rosemary and add some dried Adelaide hills porcini I foraged to make my own Italian dried herb mix.

Spices can also be grown in the garden. Right now coriander, dill, celery and mustard have all gone to seed in the garden. When ready some can be used to start next seasons crop and some can be used in the kitchen as spices. All through the hills at the moment wild fennel is growing and the flowers heads are bright yellow. I’ve done a post previously on how to collect the pollen. In time, the fennel flowers left of the plant then transform into fennel seeds which can also be collected and used in the kitchen.

A substitute salt flavour is Old man salt bush (Atriplex nummularia) if you have saline soils. Dry the leaves and grind into powder to use. Dry Mountain pepper (Tasmannia lanceolata) is used as a pepper flavour substitute. The history of the spice trade is pretty interesting and at times brutal. Growing your own herbs and spices is a much gentler option.

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Native cherry

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Native cherry Exocarpos cupressiformis 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. While it’s not a huge taste sensation the fruit is very much edible. 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.

Bush food tour

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During reconciliation week there were so many wonderful events celebrating Aboriginal culture. My work organised a range of events during the week and of course I couldn’t go past putting my name down to go to the bush food tour held at the Botanic Gardens. Haydyn Bromley from Bookabee tours was our host. He was a very knowledgable guide and we were in very capable hands.

I find bush foods really interesting because there’s alway something new to learn. There are an estimated 30,000 edible plants across the world and people subsist on a tiny fraction of these. Supermarkets seem to sell countless versions of wheat, sugar, corn and rice. It all looks and tastes the same to me. There are so many interesting foods out there and I got to find out about a few more during this tour. Along the way he discussed responsible harvesting and how these plants were part of culture. Some plant highlights from the tour:

  • Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata – edible vermicelli-like core, butterscotch flavoured resin, young whitish parts of leaves chewed to quench thirst, seeds made into damper.
  • Eucalyptus camaldulensis Karransis – animals that lived in the tree were hunted, bees make home in the hollows and give honey, the hollowed out trunks used as shelters.
  • Macadamia tetraphylla – I’d heard there were some trees in the gardens so it was good to finally see where they were.
  • Podocarpus elatus – they were fruiting on the walk and Haydyn described the texture as being like oysters, I like to think they’re more like Turkish delight.
  • Araucaria bidwillii – used as a family home, nuts eaten and also the centrepiece of a festival at harvest time.
  • Cymbopogon ambiguus – used as a tea, particularly to settle the stomach.

Haydyn was such a knowledgable and friendly host and I really hope I get to spend some time walking amongst the plants with him again.

Catching strawberry runners

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Each year a strawberry patch should double in size with runners forming new plants. Generally it’s a good idea to catch the runners before they set up a new home in the patch so it doesn’t become too overgrown. An overgrown patch can decrease strawberry yields. Also, its a good idea to replace your patch every 2 -3 years to keep the plants happy and healthy.

About a month ago when the strawberries were first sending out their runners I grabbed a whole bunch of old pots and filled them with potting mix. Then I pegged the runners to the edge of the pot so the roots would take hold. I gave them a tug today and they have taken root in the pots. Just cut the stem to seperate it from the mother plant and they can be planted now where you want them to go or given away to friends and family.

Growing your own organic strawberries is a easy and much better than eating conventionally grown ones. Apart from tasting no good the conventional ones will always be contaminated with pesticide and fungicide resides. The big commercial Australian growers in Victoria use nearly 30 tonnes of methyl bromide on the 100 million strawberry runners they grow each year for sale in your local hardware store. Methyl bromide has been banned around the world for the last decade because it depletes the ozone layer. Definitely a crop to choose organically grown – better for your health and the environment.

Fig jam

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It’s fig season and they’re delicious fresh and in salads and deserts. Our neighbour on one side has two massive trees and we usually get some given to us. They prune them very hard and while they are quite old they aren’t much taller than a person but are very wide. This makes for easy harvesting of the fruit and easy netting. The neighbour on the other side also has two fig trees. The big one is quite tall and the birds tend to get most of those fruit as its really hard to pick from it. The small one is growing over our side of the fence and the fruit is delicious. As well as drying the fruit to preserve, it also makes a lovely jam.

1 kilo figs, peeled and quartered

200 grams sugar

4 tablespoons water

Select figs that are just ripe and are firm. Peel and quarter the figs. Prepare a syrup with the sugar and the water. Add the figs to the boiling syrup and cook on medium heat until gelling stage is reached. Put into sterilised jars and seal the lids. Boil jars for 10 minutes to preserve.

Preserved lemons

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My neighbour dropped over some lemons and cucumbers the other day. I was especially chuffed to hear the story about where they came from. Basically neighbour A has a beautiful garden full of lovely fruit trees and some vegies. Neighbour B next door is a gardener but is always too tired at the end of the day to have a veggie garden but wants one. Neighbour A doesn’t have much room in his own yard for more veggies so he offered neighbour B to put in a veggie patch. Neighbour A runs his hose into neighbour B’s garden and has put in a massive veggie garden and neighbour’s A & B eat the veggies. Neighbour B also has a lemon tree and excess lemons so neighbour A is sharing them around to other neighbours like me. They also had way too many cucumbers so I luckily got some too. My cucumbers got shredded early in the season by my chooks so I have a shortage this year so I was very grateful for them.

Preserved lemons

Sterilise some jars. Wash the lemons well and dry them. Cut off the end of the lemon that was joined to the tree. Then quarter them but leave about 1cm uncut at the other end so that the quarters stay together. Split open and add 1 tablespoon of sea salt in the middle of the lemon. Press the lemons into the jar and push down firmly. Repeat with all the lemons and stuff until the jar is full. Then submerge the lemons with lemon juice. Make sure the lemons are completely submerged, a small sterilised jar can be used to hold the fruit down. Put on lid and seal. Then put jars on a plate or on tray to catch any oozing lemon juice. Open the jar each day for a few days to let out the pressure as it will be fermenting. Store for at least a month before using. It’s ready when the rinds are soft. To use scrape out flesh and just use the rind.

Native Juniper

Hindmarsh Island seems to be covered in Myoporum insulare. While the fruit is edible it does have a strong gin like flavour which puts me right off. Juniper happens to be a key flavour of gin which I think is one of those spirits you either love or hate. There is a small boutique distillery on Kangaroo Island making gin with the the Native Juniper. On all accounts if you are a gin fan they are producing gin that is up there with the worlds best.

Juniper berries are also a traditional ingredient added to sauerkraut. As cabbage season is months away these berries could be preserved for using later on possibly by drying. They could also be used in meat and game recipes as you would use European Juniper berries.