Saturday, February 11, 2017

Smilax glycophylla

Smilax glycophylla, or Australian native sarsaparilla, was used by early settlers as a valuable vitamin C source.  A bitter-sweet beverage made from steeping fresh leaves was thought to be an agreeable substitute for tea.

During a recent bushwalk through one of the many trails that have been prepared through local bush I discovered a stand of smilax. There are about fifteen plants in a tight area.  The plants vary in maturity and height to about three metres.  Here is a Google Map image of the location.  The map image is of Epping Road and it is just prior to the crossing of Lane Cove River.  Access to the bush is by pathways that skirt the commercial building.

Smilax is a climbing plant that opportunistically uses other plants for support.  Over time I have noticed that Smilax has a strong preference towards climbing banksia.  The preference for banksia possibly suggests that there is beneficial soil bacteria that both banksia and Smilax share. 

 It is the young pinkish-red leaves that are harvested.  The young pinkish-red leaves are always at the extreme ends of the growing tendrils. To harvest only these leaves one is taking only 1% of the total leaves.  Prior to the day's venture I had sampled smilax while out walking.  One takes a young leaf in the mouth and slowly bites at it as one walks.  The bitter-sweet taste is a great pick-up.

For tea, the leaves are dried and then roughly cut in preparation for use in a tea.  After rinsing the leaves I added them to my homemade sun dehydrator.

In the dehydrator I also added some of the small black fruit. These fruit are edible.  They are sweet.  The skin is quite thick.  Once these are dried I am thinking of using them as one may use juniper berries.
Lane Cove Council has identified contamination adjacent to the area.  Take care how you enter the vicinity. 

A recent ABC Radio program - The Conversation Hour - "Forgotten feast: John Newton on the abundance of Australia's native foods" made mention of Smilax. 
Note: all links good at 11 February 2017.  I am indebted to a wonderful book that allows for ready identification of Australian foods.: "Wild foods in Australia", A.B. & J. W. Cribb, 1987, page 207.  The dehydrator featured in an earlier post.

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