Saturday, May 21, 2011

Native berries

Natureblog May 2011


I spent a couple of days at Borland recently with Year 10 from St Peters. That’s Form Four. I’m doing the environmental stuff – the bush, stream, nightlife and birds. Being autumn we had the fungi and the berries. The fungi weren’t good. The season had been too dry for them. Fungi have good years and bad years and this was a bad one. It had been an exceptional year for flowering and fruiting, however. The coprosmas were in fruit. Long ago geckos and abundant birds would have eaten the berries but the geckos are long gone from the bush and the birds are less numerous.

We tasted all the berries. It is right to experiment with new foods as long as you identify the doubtful ones and very few native fruits are poisonous. The obvious one is tutu with clusters of fleshy flowers in late summer. The juice is not poisonous but the tiny seeds are.

Coprosma foetidissima

Coprosma rhamnoides

Rohutu, Coprosma colensoi, C. foetidissima and C. rotundifolia berries are orange, Coprosma rhamnoides berries are red, Weeping matipo berries are purple and pepper berries are black. Pepper berries are very hot, about ten times as powerful as the leaves. The flesh is orange and there is a large seed. One girl chewed a handful of them before realising what a mission she had just signed up for. She drank a good bit of the Borland River before she recovered. I didn’t tell them that there is another side effect of eating all those orange, red and purple berries. They act as a good laxative.

Weeping matipo


 Pepper or horopito berries can be used as flavouring. Horopito butter is sometimes available but it’s nasty stuff really and I can’t imagine it was a traditional Maori food. Surprisingly little of our native flora makes its way into the cooking pot. Puwha and watercress are the two most popular wild greens but neither is native, both being introduced early in European settlement. There are no other leaves, fruits or roots which have a commercial use – the only exception being manuka. Manuka is the single native species cultivated for its food value, in this case manuka honey and manuka oil. Manuka leaves have a fragrant oil as do many other members of the myrtle family to which it belongs such as eucalyptus and rata. Make manuka tea by boiling a sprig of fresh leaves. Maori did not have manuka honey as there were no honey bees in New Zealand before they were brought by the early missionaries.

Apparently there is only a single Australian plant grown for its food value as well – the Macadamia.