Someone gave me a cutting of warrigal greens a few years ago, and though I can’t quite remember who it was, I have them to thank for a never-ending supply of pickable greens, which I admit are virtually fail-safe to grow.
Down in history one of the first native plants eaten by Captain Cook’s crew, saving them from scurvy, warrigal greens can be found along Australia’s coastline where they grow best in saline soil. An incredibly versatile, easy-to-grow vegetable, warrigal greens have a fresh, grassy flavour with a slightly bitter finish. This plant is native to both Australia and New Zealand, as well as Chile, Argentina and Japan.
Research has shown it is high in fibre, vitamin C and healthy antioxidants, but also in oxalates. In high concentrations oxalates can cause calcium oxalate to accumulate in your body, which can develop into kidney stones.
The leaves of Tetragonia tetragonioides have also been used in herbal medicine remedies to treat gastrointestinal diseases, as an anti-inflammatory, and more recently, it was shown to have an anti-obesity effect when fed to mice on a high fat diet.
I admit it actually took me a while to integrate warrigals into my weekly meal plan. I found the hard leaves bitter and unattractive. Even the sheep wouldn’t eat them!
But after discovering that the high oxalate level simply requires warrigal greens to be blanched before eating, I viewed them in a different light.
Let me fist say that the warrigal greens in my haphazard ‘garden’ are thriving – literally outgrowing any other English-heritage vegetable I’ve tried to grow. They’ve survived the heat, and even the aforementioned sheep, so we’ll give them tenacity for a start. They grow well from a cutting and survive with minimal water or care, and actually triplicate when everything else is struggling. I guess that’s what it means to be endemic.
So, as we look towards our future food security, and think about the reality of our changing climate, I think it’s imperative that we look towards plants like this for a sustainable future. Plants that grow easily, survive our harsh climate, and provide nutrition and sustenance are literally integral to our survival!
After a quick blanch in hot water, and a good rinse, warrigal greens can be used exactly like spinach or kale: tossed through a stir fry; used as a green bed under a serve of meat or vegetables; folded through a casserole or layered in a lasagne.
Integrating these native greens into our diet can only be a positive as our food landscape changes – and we must be ready to embrace those foods which actually thrive in our climate.