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Plant identification guides:
Bush tucker food forest

Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.

 

As with all medicinal applications of Australian bush foods, please do your due diligence and consult with First Nations or other Australian herbal specialists before utilising as a remedy for any condition.

 

Some parts of the plant may not be edible or some may need preparation before they are safe to eat or use in any way. We do our best to describe their traditional & modern uses. It is the reader’s responsibility to ensure they are fit for their intended use.

 

We can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Illawara Plum

Scientific name:

Other Names:

Podocarpus elatus

Brown pine, Daalgaal, Goongum, Plum Pine, Pencil cedar, She pine, yellow pine

Family:

Podocarpaceae

Illawara Plum

Basic info:

This tree is a common rainforest species endemic to the east coast of Australia. It is a medium to large tree with brown to dark brown bark that is often fissured and scaly on old trees.


Despite its name, this tree is not a plum species (nor it is from Illawara) but rather a conifer which is an ancient family of trees tracing back to long before Gondwana detached from Laurasia and the Super-continent some 200 million years ago.  Conifers usually produce seeds in cones, however, in this case, we have single seeds attached to branches by swollen, fleshy, plum-like, stalks (receptacles). In other words, the tree bears seeds on swollen edible stalks - which is the 'plum'. Hence the name “Plum Pine”.


Branching starts low on young trees, forming a dense pyramidal crown. As the tree ages, the lower branches prune off naturally, and the remaining branches become wide-spreading, resulting in a rounded crown in mature trees. 


The leaves are narrowly lance-shaped, of variable lengths up to 18 cm (7 in) and alternately arranged along the branches. They emerge glossy red, soft and limp, soon become lime-green, then gradually mature into dark green, stiff and leathery. The light, bright colours of the young leaves make a stark contrast to the darker, older leaves, which predominate on the tree.


The flowers are small and insignificant, green-white, either female or male, on separate trees and held in finger-like clusters arising at the sides of the branches. They are followed on female trees by small, plum-like pseudo or false fruit that become bluish-black when ripe with a single round seed attached, which is the actual fruit.


Illawarra Plum fruits are made up of two segments – a hard inedible seed (1cm in diameter), and a large, fleshy purple-black berry (2.5cm in diameter). They ripen between March and July. 

The seed is actually on the outside of the fruit which is incredibly useful! The hard seed is quickly twisted off and the fleshy part of the fruit can be taken.

Uses and Interesting Information:

Illawarra Plum was regarded as one of the best bush foods by both Aboriginal people and European colonists.[1]


The fruits are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. They are known to calm stomach cramps and encourage a healthy gastro-intestinal tract. They have also been shown to inhibit growth of colon cancer cells (research suggests they may be an alternative to chemotherapy).


The fruits may be eaten raw or made into a jam or jelly. The purple fruit are grape-like with a sweet juicy pulp which is quite slimy; if you can ignore the salivary texture then the flavour is truly like a mild plum.


The flavour of the Illawarra Plum is best when perfectly ripe, or slightly overripe, when it is ready to fall off the tree, or has already fallen onto the ground. It is tempting to pick it off early, but the flavour will not be as pleasant! Freezing the plums is also detrimental to the flavour.

The taste of the fruit can, however, be further enhanced by cooking. When cooked, they are known to complement dishes with chilli and garlic very well, and are especially popular in sauces, marinades, preserves, muffins, tarts, cheesecakes and fruit compotes.


Also has been used to make a gin-like spirit.


Note: when cooking with Illawarra Plums, stainless steel utensils are recommended over aluminium to prevent bitterness.


The fruit is loved by birds such as fruit-doves and currawong.


The timber is tough with a fine grain, and has natural resistance to rot and decay, termites and marine borers, making it fit for indoor, outdoor, and in-water construction. Hence the timber is valuable for furniture, joinery, lining, beams for wharf and bridge construction, in-water piling, boat planking, table tops, packing cases, kitchen utensils, musical instruments (piano keys and violin bellies) and wood turning.


There is a steroid called Podecdysone C found in the bark of P. elatus (as well as in several other species of Podocarpus). This compound has a structure extremely similar to that of hormones that induce moulting in insects, which prompts the obvious question, what does that achieve for P. elatus? Is it an insecticide? However, no one seems to have followed up on this question.


NOTES:

[1] This is certainly the case in NSW, but in Queensland (where there was much more variety available), they were apparently not so highly regarded.



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