Wild Foods of Werribee Park Heritage Orchard

Committee member Scott Hitchins holding a sprig of the wild herb ‘horehound’ in the orchard, December 2010.

Around the trees and in the grass of the orchard grow plants that, to the untutored eye, look like weeds. Many of them are – but some are also edible or useful in other ways.


Warrigal Greens is a ‘bush tucker’ plant also known as New Zealand Spinach or Botany Bay Greens.
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Bega Valley Seedsavers provide this information:
The plant is native to New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Chile and Argentina.
Rarely used by Māori or other indigenous people as a leaf vegetable, its existence was first recorded by Captain Cook. It was immediately picked, cooked, and pickled to help fight scurvy, and taken with the crew of the Endeavour.
It spread when the explorer and botanist Joseph Banks took seeds back to Kew Gardens during the latter half of the 18th century.
For two centuries Tetragonia tetragonioides was the only cultivated vegetable that originated from Australia and New Zealand.

Edibility: Do not eat the plant raw, as the leaves contain oxalates which are water soluble and can be blanched out.
Mix with cheeses, pesto style dishes, bruschetta, meats. Use in quiches and stuffings (blanch first). Use as Asian greens (blanch first). Blanch and toss with butter or olive oil. Mix into omelets, casseroles, or cream sauces. Propagation:
Some references say to propagate from herbaceous stem cuttings and from softwood cuttings.
Another reference says the thick, irregularly-shaped seeds should be planted just after the last spring frost. Many references say both are valid.
Before planting, the seeds should be soaked for 12 hours in cold water, or 3 hours in warm water. Seeds should be planted 5-10 mm deep, and spaced 15-30 cm apart.
The seedlings will emerge in 10-20 days, and it will continue to produce greens through the summer.
Can become a ‘weed’.
Soil: The plants grow naturally in sandy coastal soils and in the inland. Prefers good soil. Will grow in salty conditions.
Aspect: Full to partial sun.
Diseases: None
Insects: Snails and slugs do NOT eat this.
Nutrition: Apparently reduces risk of scurvy

Medical Warnings: Like some other edible plants, Warrigal Greens have a high oxalate concentration and nitrates and saponins. Only leaves and young stems should be eaten and these both should be blanched for 3 minutes to remove soluble oxalates, and the water discarded.


From Wikipedia:
Amaranthus, collectively known as amaranth, is a cosmopolitan genus of herbs. Approximately 60 species are recognized, with inflorescences and foliage ranging from purple and red to gold.
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The origin of amaranth is obscure. Some authors believe that it originated in Central and South America because it was a staple crop of the ancient Aztec and Inca civilizations.

Nigeria has also been claimed as the centre of diversity, collaborated by the prevalent use of local names and the enormous genetic diversity available there.

Amaranthus species can be broadly categorised into grain, green leaf vegetable and weed types. People around the world value amaranths as leaf vegetables, cereals, and ornamentals.
A traditional food plant in Africa, amaranth has the potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.

These are photographs of the wild amaranth growing at the orchard. We have not been able to identify the species – if anyone knows which amaranth it is, please contact us at address
Find wild amaranth recipes here.


The Kangaroo Apple is a small shrub with ornate purple flowers blooming throughout spring and summer. It is native to Australia and New Zealand.
Flowers are followed by green fruit ripening to yellow and then a deep orange. The egg-shaped fruits have juicy pulp and numerous small seeds. Unripe, they are are poisonous. They must be dark orange-ripe to eat. The fruits contain hard small stones as well as seeds.
In central Australia, many other Solanum species are important foods, and are known as bush tomatoes’. The Kangaroo Apple has been used medicinally by Maoris and Australian aborigines.

Image: Parks Victoria ranger Adam Smith in the orchard with Kangaroo Apple, December 2010.


Also known as White Horehound, Common Horehound, Hashishat Al Kalib, Hoarhound, Itsinegiotu, Malrove, Marrubio, Niga-Hakka, Qutainah, Wild Horehound, Woolly Horehound.

The name Horehound may be derived from “Horus”, the Egyptian god of sky and light. Some say it comes from the Old English Word ‘horhune’, meaning ‘white dog’ or ‘grey hound’, in keeping with the old belief that the herb was an antidote to rabies.
This cultivated, medicinal herb is native to Europe. Although somewhat bitter and possessing a unique, pungent flavor, the fresh or dried leaves are edible and can be used as a seasoning or flavoring, made into pleasant-tasting and medicinal tea (if you like the flavor of Horehound), and used to make Horehound ale. Horehound is also often included in herbal cough drops. [1]

Horehound candy is often sold at at old fashioned candy shops, living history museums, online and specialty shops. They’re a hard candy, usually sugar coated, and have a distinctly bittersweet taste to them. People use the candies as cough crops. You can even make horehound candy at home with these recipes. [1]


Chenopodium nutans, known by its common name of Climbing Saltbush or Nodding Saltbush, is a climbing groundcover native to Australia.Plants form a blanket on the surface, climbing over logs and up trees to a height of around 1 metre. Each plant grows to around one metre in diameter. The small leaves are semi-succulent, and have a distinctive arrowhead shape. They grow along long, vine-like branches spreading out form the centre of the plant. Both the leaves and the branches are of a light green colour.Flowers are inconspicuous green balls, which form on top of terminal spikes during summer. These transform into very conspicuous, tiny, bright-red berries during early autumn.
Human uses:
The plant was boiled along with other species of saltbush for use as a greens substitute by early European settlers in the Adelaide region. The plant is easily propagated, making it a particularly attractive and useful plant for revegetation projects. It has recently been enjoying increasing popularity as a garden plant, for its low maintenance, low water usage properties.
(Source: Wikipedia)


Nettles are native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America.
If you have ever brushed against a nettle you will know that the experience is painful. (Fortunately, the leaves of the dock – Rumex obtusifolius – which often grows close by nettle, contain chemicals that neutralize nettle sting.)
Most people think of nettles as a weed, however over the centuries, they have been valuable wild herbs, with edible, cosmetic, medicinal and other uses.

Nettles as Food The nettle is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamins. The young plants have been used in soups, stews, and as a spinach-like vegetable. In Scotland, oats and nettles were cooked as a porridge, and nettles were used to flavor and color cheese. The people of Bhutan have been eating nettles since prehistoric times. Nettles of more than one type grow all over Bhutan.
To harvest the plant, people use a thin piece of bamboo bent to make a pair of tongs. They bring them home, wash and boil them and serve half to the family, half to the cattle. For the family, the dish is seasoned with a little salt and some red hot chilli peppers.
Nettle beer can still be bought in the Czech republic and in the north of England where it is traditionally brewed with hops and is called ‘Internettle’.
Make nettle lasagne (and watch a movie on harvesting nettles—for those with fast download!) Stir up a nettle frittata, fettuccini with nettles, or potato-nettle soup.

Nettles as Medicine [2] Nettles have been used for centuries to treat osteoarthritis, eczema, prostate problems, and dandruff. The leaves contain a natural histamine that may be useful in treating allergies. Some of the health benefits of eating nettle are said to include: stabilizing blood sugar; enhancing the operation of the circulatory, immune, endocrine, nervous, and urinary systems; reducing fatigue and exhaustion; reducing allergic and menopausal problems; and eliminating chronic headaches.
Nettle medicinal uses, plus instructions on brewing nettle tea.

Nettles as Cosmetics Nettle hair rinse is said to make your hair shine and feel thicker and smoother. To make a hair rinse, collect 2-3 cups of nettle leaves (wear gloves!). Cover with water in a non-reactive saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and cool for use as a rinse after washing your hair.

Nettles as Fibre The nettle contains long, pliable fibers that can be twisted and used as cordage or spun and woven to make smooth, supple nettle cloth. The Bhutanese make ropes, string, strong lasting nettle baskets and clothes from stinging nettle fibre. ind out how to make nettle cordage here, and here, with instructions on using other cordage plants. Click here to download a history of nettle and hemp as fibre plants, with documentation.

Nettles as Paper Click this link to making nettle paper, with photographs and plenty of details. Note that nettle fiber is not “blender friendly”. Nettles are also cooked and processed as paper.

Nettles For Clothing and Linen Cloth has been woven from the fibres in mature nettle stems for many centuries – frequently used for tablecloths and sheets in Scotland. It is, however, difficult to ascertain the extent to which it was used as the term nettlecloth came to be used for all manner of fine material whether made from nettle or not.
Similar in texture to those materials produced by flax and hemp fibres, nettle fibre was used alongside that of the nettles’ Asian cousin, Ramie ( Boehmeria nivea). Clothing made from nettles is not a new idea; for the past 2,000 years people have worn fabrics made from these stinging plants. But nettles lost their popularity when cotton arrived in the 16th century, because cotton was easier to harvest and spin. Nettles made a brief comeback during the First World War, when Germany suffered a shortage of cotton and nettles were used to produce German army uniforms.
A new trend for stinging-nettle fiber has been driven by concern over the environmental damage caused by the production of fabrics such as cotton. In the hunt for new, ecologically friendly fabrics, stinging-nettle fiber has come up looking good. Now, new advances in spinning technologies and cross-breeding to produce super-high-fiber plants mean that stinging nettles are set to become the latest fashion.
Clothing made from nettles

Nettles as Garden Fertiliser As liquid compost, nettles make a great fertilizer. Pick them in spring and pack them into a bucket with a lid, adding one-half gallon of water to each pound of nettles. Let sit for 2-3 weeks, stirring occasionally. Strain out the nettles and put them on the compost heap. Use the liquid as a fertilizer (1 cup nettle liquid to 10 cups water), on container and garden plants. In a stronger mixture (1 cup to 5 cups water), you can use it to spray aphids and black fly. The nettle itself is a food plant for butterflies.

Some tips on growing nettles in your garden (yes, on purpose!), plus a recipe for nettle soup

“Friendly Stinging Nettles”— more growing tips, plus information on how the nettle “stings”

Nettles as Dye [1] A decoction of nettle yields a beautiful and permanent green dye, which is used for woollen stuffs in Russia. The roots, boiled with alum, produce a yellow colour, which was formerly widely used in country districts to dye yarn, and is also employed by the Russian peasants to stain eggs yellow on Maundy Thursday.

Nettles as Fodder “Nettles are of considerable value as fodder for livestock. When Nettles are growing, no quadruped except the ass will touch them, on account of their stinging power, but if cut and allowed to become wilted, they lose their sting and are then readily cleared up by livestock. In Sweden and Russia, the Nettle has sometimes been cultivated as a fodder plant, being mown several times a year, and given to milch cattle. “When dried, the proportion of albuminoid matter in Nettles is as high as in linseed cake and the fat content is also considerable. “The Nettle is also of great use to the keeper of poultry. Dried and powdered finely and put into the food, it increases egg-production and is healthy and fattening. The seeds are also said to fatten fowls. Turkeys, as well as ordinary poultry, thrive on Nettles chopped small and mixed with their food, and pigs do well on boiled Nettles. “In Holland, and also in Egypt, it is said that horse-dealers mix the seeds of Nettles with oats or other food, in order to give the animals a sleek coat. [1] [2]

[1] ‘A Modern Herbal’ by Mrs Grieve

[2] DISCLAIMER: This page is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. The author is neither a chemist nor an herbalist and has had no medical training whatsoever. The content herein is the product of research, not practical experience.

Disclaimer: This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Werribee Park Heritage Orchard group nor Parks Victoria nor the editors of this website nor the author or publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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