Herbs for Health and Goodness from the Garden

We can grow a fabulous array of herbs an medicinal plants. So why go to a shop and buy supplements and “superfoods” when we can have them in the garden!

I ran a workshop on exactly this and here is the start of the focus plants, with recipes to follow. There are so many but these are the ones with the most health benefits that are easisest to grow ALL YEAR in our Darwin climate…long long board of stuffTop tips on herbs for health

  1. Eat and use as many herbs in food as possible for fresh flavours and health benefits.
  2. Make the most of our climate and the herbs we can grow and use local herbs
  3. Grow as many herbs as you can, even if you have a balcony you can have some of the smaller herbs in pots.
  4. Get to know as much as you can about the health benefits and how to cook or ingest them best!
  5. PS- Officially herb refers to a plant that you use the leaf of or is a non woody stemmed perennial. Often “herbal medicine” refers to using any plant parts for health. In this instance we are looking at a combination of medicinal plant parts, including many leafy parts roots and flowers.

More plants information and recipes to come (this is extracted from the “Herbs for Health” handout by Emma Lupin).
NB. Nutritional information sourced from Isabel Shippard’s “Using Herbs in Your Daily Life” and various research texts which will be referenced later.

Here are the first five focus plants we can grow in Darwin Gardens and have fantastic health benefits:-

Moringa board1) Moringa (Moringa oliefera)

Family- Moringaceae
Origins in Africa and Asia
Form- Medium Tree to 5m
Part Used- Leaf, seed pod can also be eaten
High in Protein (38%) and 8 essential amno acids.
Vitamin A, Bs, C, D, H and K, Calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and zinc

5 spiceboard22) Mother of herbs (Coleus amboinicus)

Family- Lamiaceae
Origins in Sub-tropical Asia
Form- Ground cover herb
Part Used- Leaf
Contains essential oils
High in vitamins A, B and C with minerals calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron.
Used as an antiseptic, for sore throats, digestive and anti bacterial

Kaffir lime leaves2

3) Kaffir lime leaves (Citrus hystrix)

Family- Rubiaceae
Form- A small tree/ shrub to 4m
Origins in Asia
Part Used– Leaf and fruit is also used in cooking.
High in essential oil
Contains vitamins B and C
Used as a digestive, antibiotic, antioxidant.
Used for coughs and mouth ulcers too.

Turmeric board24) Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Family- Zingerberaceae
Form- Herb to 1.5 m
Origins in SE Asia
Part Used- Root
Contains vitamin A and C
Active ingredient is curcumin – antiseptic, anti inflammatory, digestive aid.
Stimulates the adrenal glands and liver function
May help regulate menstrual cycle

lemongrass5) Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

Family- Poaceae
Origins- India
Form- Herb (grass) to 50cm
Part Used- Stem/ Leaves
Essential oils including citral, geraniol and nerol
Contains vitamins A, B and C and high in iron, chromium, magnesium
Used in Ayverdic medicine for coughs, colds. Expectorant and digestive.


Herbs for Health and Goodness from the garden

So many people look to store bought superfoods, but we grow so many beneficial foods right here in Darwin. If you don’t grow them yourself we can connect you with where to support local growers..

Learn here how to incorporate the Top 12 into everyday cooking, teas and drinks, and learn more about their nutritional values. 

This is run by Emma of Taste of The Top End and supported by Healthy Darwin.

The 12 focus plants include- Turmeric, Ginger, Rosella leaves (and sepals), Thai Coriander, Sweet Leaf,  Amaranth, Gotu Kola, Mint, Lemongrass, Lime (leaf and fruit), Thai and Lemon Basil, Pawpaw, Snake Beans and Sweet Potato leaves (plus other seasonal fruits and veggies)

Herbs for Health in Everyday Cooking June 2016 (1)

Beautiful Bush Tucker in photos

I am alway fascinated by people’s relationship with plants,  their importance and their place in the native landscape, and yes I am a bit of an unashamed plant geek.

The stories of  plants and their place is so important; not just for people, but as they are the basis of so many species’ existence. By letting others know some of the plant stories, I am hopeful that their place and their presence is more valued.

As someone fascinated by food (and food plants) and as someone who has grown to love and learn about our native landscapes and spend quite sometime in them, I have been finding out more and more about “Bush tucker” plants in the Top End.

Bush Tucker not only seems a popular topic, to catch the attention of people and tell these plants stories, it was vital as a food source for the traditional custodians of the land, it provides food to our wildlife and highlights why looking after the fantastic swathe of native landscapes we have in northern Australia is important. IN Darwin this is the Larrakia people, who we respect past and present.

I will slowly tell the stories of these plants (and some already are on here- follow links after the photos)….

Enjoy this colourful feast, which  shows just some of the food plants that are common in the greater Darwin region, the majority of which has been wild collected (16 of 18, with permission from the landholder/ collecting permit)

Busher tucker tiles 1Bushtucker tile 2

From the top, Left to right:-

Terminalia carpenteria, Terminalia microcarpa, Grevillia pteridifolia( Fern leaved Grevillea) , Naucleau orientalis (Liechart Tree), Syzygium fibrosum, Syzygium minutiflorum, Exocarpus latifolius (Native Cherry), Syzygium nervosum and Fluggea virosum (Native white currant)

Cychlophyllum shultzii ( Lolly bush), Terminalia ferdiandiana (Kakadu or Billy Goat Plum) Ficus racemosa (Cluster fig), Persoonia falcata (Milky plum) Syzygium suborbiculare (Red Bush Apple) Planchonia careya (Cocky apple), Meiogyne cylindricarpa (Bush Apricot) Buchanania obovata (Green Plum) and Sterculia quadrifida (Peanut Tree)

There is also long list of  many language names for all of these plants across the many languages of northern Australia.

Thanks to Yvette Brady, one of my Bush Tucker teachers, to Strider and to the some of my  Yolngul family in Arnhem Land for passing on this knowledge.

Also see https://tasteofthetopend.com/2015/05/15/top-ten-of-the-top-end-bush-tuckers-plant-based/

Or search “Bush Tucker” in this webpage.



Fourteen Fabulous Fruit from NOT faraway

Fruit bowlToday the local food supply situation was brought to my attention once again, by an acquaintance and journalist. I have been pretty busy working in our native bush and my local food fascination sometime slides a little to the sidelines. Today I started making contacts about wanting to re-boost our local food stories and featuring local food cooks to inspire others. The above journalist thought I had heard about her complaint- one of a well known cafe, who served her some floury browning pears and apples when ordering a fruit salad.

I always mention that 97% of our (fresh) food is from more than 3000 kms away. I need to get some more startling and well backed up statistics to back up the importance of connecting with climate and getting into local food, but lets just say a f***ing load (like truck and truck and train loads comes from a very long way away, and when those trains come off the rails, the shelves of the stupid markets are empty (yes you know the duopoly market I am talking about) and you may go very hungry and even eat your cyclone kit or suck green ants. I am trying to get some solid stats on this from government departments.

As I have written about before, I do market tours and gently inspire people to slip some sweet leaf in the salad or carve up some cassava for a curry- these are incredibly easily grown, but a little unfamiliar, but tropical fruit – what could you not like about it, and why not embrace it. The commitment to initially planting  a fruit tree, where a lot of the classic sweet fruit grows from, is a little more than a herb box, but in the long run the maintenance is less and you probably end up with a lovely shade tree or some screening from your neighbours.

I get confused when our Tropical fruit is called “Exotic fruit” because lets face it an apple is exotic to Darwin right? Well I would be blown away to see one growing, but for many people it won’t cross their mind, because they stick to what they know and often that is a temperate up bringing.

Fruit platter

And lets get this straight too, before someone makes a comment, any vessel holding the seeds of a plant is fruit, so that means, eggplants, beans, gourds, pumpkins and so on, but in this instance we are talking sweet, generally juicy fruits, which often, but not always grow on trees and can be popped into a salad…(OK geeky plant paragraph over)

So guys get those damn long distance “Exotic fruits”, that are a little bit old from the journey out of your mind and lets  appreciate the amazing array of local FRESH (sweet tree) fruit.

Here is just a snap shot of some lovely local fruit, some familiar, some maybe not, in no particular order, but chosen as they can be added to a yummy fruit salad or desert.

MAngosteens1)- The Mangosteen, Garcinia mangostana. (Guttiferae)

From a tree growing 4- 6 m which takes a long time to fruit, making it kind of pricey. It fruits in or at the end of the dry season.

I put this at number one, because it seems to be a favourite of many and called “Queen of fruits”, but wow, so sweet. It is a tree fruit with a very purple outer thick skin and the most sweet white juicy segment of flesh and is fairly difficult to grow- well it takes a long time for fruit mature. It is a beautiful tree too. They seem to be in season at the end of our dry season in September.

star apple2) The Star Apple, Chrysophyllum cainito (Sapotaceae)

The fruit of a large tree (which can reach 20m), originally from the Caribbean. A sweet juicy almost milky fruit with a sweet taste and very slightly fibrous inside and found in purple and green blush varieties.

pawpaw3) Pawpaw, Carica papaya (CARICACEAE) is probably one of the most well known Tropical fruits, it is hardly a tree and more of a herb as it is not truly a woody trunk. Probably originally from Mexico or Central America this is so easy to grow and fruits within a few months of growing from seed. The plants are either male or female and you need both flowering in an area to get female plants to produce fruit. You can buy tissue cultured bisexual plants that have male and female flowers together. Make sure they are in full sun or they will grow very tall towards it!

The fruit can come in red (more like dark orange) and yellow- a yellow/ orange variety. Many people say the red is sweeter and tastier, I think this definitely seems so. I love ripe pawpaw with a squeeze of lime and not too ripe, sometimes if it is too ripe and not a great variety it reminds me a little of vomit, but otherwise I LOVE it and grow many as an easy crop. When green they can be used like a veggie, with a clear firm taste and roasted, added to soups or grated in a classic green pawpaw salad. The ripe dried seeds can be used as a spicy pepper like condiment.

Rambu blog 24) The Rambutan, Nephelium lappaceum  SAPINDACEAE

From a tree that is potentially huge (up to 20 m tall)  and produces fruit for up to 50 years. This can be grown well in the Darwin rural area, I think the cooler nights help away from the sea. I have managed not grow one (yes I killed it) and have not seen many near the coast but could be wrong. It originates from the lowlands of Indonesia and Malaysia.

Often seen at the markets throughout the wet season (probably not the best tree for a small garden) These fascinating rubbery coated hairy monster fruit are fantastic in salads and can be made into syrups for drinks or put with seafood or chicken in a number of delicious meddles of Asian flavours with salty, sweet, spicy and fragrant herbs.


longan long5) Longan, Dimocarpus longan, SAPINDACEAE

The longan can get fairly big (15m) and its fruits are sold in the local markets in Rapid Creek and beyond around January, in the mid wet season, but I have read they fruit twice a year elsewhere, originating in China.

They are fairly similar to the texture and flavour of Rambutan and less tasty than the cooler loving lychee, but are quite thin on flesh. Best sucked of their shiny stone and eaten like that, they can also be peeled, pipped and popped into salads or fancy drinks- like soda, lime, Thai Basil and Longan or cocktails.

Sapodilla table6) Sapodilla, Mailkara zapota, SAPOTACEAE

Grown from a medium tree originating in Central America the Sapodilla fruits a few times a year, and is seen sold in abundance in the mid wet season. It has a taste of caramel, sweet and juicy and can be added to the old classic fruit salad, sucked from the skin or baked into fabulous deserts (including some great raw tarts) and can be made into ice cream and juice. The sap of this tree is the original source of chewing gum!

We are lucky to grow these fruit in the Darwin region as they often do not transport very well and so are not often sold on a grand scale out of growing regions.


IMG_05537) Guava, Psidium guajava  MYRTACEAE

A small to medium tree from the Tropical Americas, that has a distinct taste, almost medicinal and a bright pink or greeny inside, with many varieties. It is high in vitamin C, A, iron and potassium and fruit all year, but I have seem them mainly for sale in the dry season.  They can be eaten just as they are o made into drinks, jams and in salad or savoury dishes.

Their bark can be used as a dye!

Jack stool sml8) Jackfruit, Atrocarpus heterophyllus. MORACEAE

Its claim to fame is it is the largest tree fruit in the world! Yes often as large as a very large several month old human baby, these fruit are massive. They cling to the trunk and inner branches of the tree. I have planted one and it fruited within 2- 3 years and prolifically fruits all year. When ripe the fruit has a sweet hum and you have to get in quick before the birds and mammals grab their chance.

The fruit are pulled from the pith in their yellowy amazingness and eaten like chewy sweet bubble gum (that is kind of their flavour). Inside this ripe fruit is an amazing seed that sits loosely in the yellow nose like envelope and can be boiled and roasted and made into crazily yummy and creamy roasted nut snacks, dips or pestos. At the markets you can find the fruit and seeds separated for you, probably by someone more skillfull than yourself and popped into seperate containers. If you do dissect this fruit yourself, be warned of the sticky white sap and cover yourself and your knife in oil so it does not stick to you!

If the fruit is picked small it can be made into savoury dishes and has a chicken like texture to be skilfully added into curries and Asian salads.


Pineapple colse yello9) Pineapple, Ananas comosus , BROMELIACEAE

What tropical salad would not be complete without pineapple ?

This amazing fruit is not from a tree, but a bromeliad, a spiky ground level or epiphytic plant that collects water and other nutritious supplements in its leaves. This may sound obvious, but until I moved to the Tropics when I was 18 (18 years ago now) I thought pineapples grew on trees, and had mainly eaten them from cans. What a delight that we can grow them quite easily and on neglect. They don’t need heaps of water and fruit mid wet season. They take about 2 years to fruit from a top cutting and one from a pup- so not especially space saving for volume of fruit per area as they also enjoy full sun. The fruit is famously sharp, sweet and juicy all at once.


Passionfruit step
10) Passionfruit, Passiflora edulis, PASSIFLORACEAE

Now how could you not have a truly tropical fruit salad without passionfruit on top?

Originally from Paraguay passionfruit is found growing all over the world in many varieties. It is a vine and as well as having a sweet delicious fruit it also has an very beautiful flower. The pulpy seeds inside can be incorporated into all kinds of sauces for sweets, drinks or scooped out just like that.

In Darwin they fruit sporadically throughout the year and need quite a lot of nutrients and full sun to set fruit.


11) Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus, CURCUBACEAE

Yep in the cucumber family, a vine that grows along the ground, originating from Africa and has its season here at the end of the dry season. This fruit is one of the few grown on a huge scale in large plantation fields (usually near Katherine) and then sent interstate. You can grow your own watermelons or they can be grown on a small scale in raised beds. Generally they are a watery red sweet fruit dotted with a few black seeds inside a giant green ball. I have seen yellow varieties too!. To know if the watermelon is ready you can tap the outside and hear a more hollow sound, too ripe and they become powdery. Incredible in fruit salads, drinks and eaten in chunky slices with drips down the chin and bear chest on a build up afternoon.

Pamplemoues12) Pomello, Citrus grandis, RUTACEAE

A giant sweet grapefruit with origins in Indonesia and immensely popular in Pacific Islands. Breaks open the pithy segments and pull the sea creature like tentacle which are sweet sacs of citrus. Fabulous in seafood salads, sweet and sour fruit salads or any fruit salad really. IN the photo above the pomelo is on the left, they can be pink or yellowy and have a huge pith. On the right is a pink grapefruit rather than a pomelo. There are many fantastic citrus to be grown in the Darwin area, lemonade fruit, various slimes and lemons. The main season for citrus variety is the early dry season in May.

Star fruit13) Starfruit, Averrhoa carambola

Native to South East Asia these have got to be one of my favourite fruit, and as well as being very tasty they look stunning in a fruit salad, getting their name from the star shape they take when sliced. Oh you can them into very pretty arrangements and they are so sweet and tasty with a crispy crunchy and juicy taste when ripe. They can be used just less than ripe in a great variety of savoury dishes.  The medium tree (5- 8 m) is stunning with tiny pink flowers and weeping branches, which fruits throughout the year in the Darwin region. Some varieties taste better than others and often it is hard to stop little insects  getting inside them.

You can make great wine and drinks from them too.

Rose apple14) Rose apple, Syzygium samarangense  MYRTACEAE

Last but not least this little perfumed powdery number, one of my favourites. In the Lilly Pilly family, but from Asia, apparently Java. There are a few types of fruit called “Rose Apple” and all Syzygiums. These are another fruit that don’t travel too well, so better fresh and probably not seen taken too far from where they are grown. They grow from an attractive medium sized tree.

Diced with a squeeze of lime they give a fragrant taste and a hint of coulour to any salad. You can eat the middle of the fruit, just under the bell is a little harder than the rest of the fruit and can be cut off, they also add a crunch and slight sweetness to savoury salads. If you don’t want to grow a tree yourself they are sold at markets at the end of the dry season and I think they fruit throughout the year.

If you want to buy fruit trees the best place is Tropiculture Darwin run by the incredibly knowledgeable and long time fruit grower Chris Nathaniel. 

110 Horne Rd, Bees Creek NT 0822
Chris is open on Saturday mornings
My favourite Tropical Fruit book is Tropical Fruit by Desmond Tate (available online published in Singapore) It has wonderful illustrations. 
Tropical fruit
I also have a few fantastic books I collected in the Pacific Islands,  from Tahiti and Vanuatu, including-
Fruits de Tahiti et ses isles
and Fruits of Oceana
I hope you get to enjoy a local Tropical salad soon!


Market Tour and Taste

For the last year or so I have run some occasional Market tours through “Healthy Darwin”, which is a City of Darwin, council program that subsidises the tour. We came up with the idea to connect people to their food more, by connecting them to local growers and familiarising them with the sometimes more ‘unusual’ local produce and I take participants for a tour of Darwin’s largest local produce market, “Rapid Creek Markets” and then onto the nearest community garden- “Jingili Community Garden”, just across the creek.

I take up to 15 Darwin residents on a produce experience, from garden, to market, to taste or vice a versa. Many of the people who come along have lived in Darwin for a long time and even go to the market, but wonder what some the items are and would love to know how to use them. Often the stall holders are understandably too busy to explain more than ‘stirfry’ or similar. Most growers have small farms in the rural area outside Darwin, in Humpty Doo, Virginia, Howard Springs and Bees Creek, and drive in for the Sunday market. Not everything is local, so it is good to know what is in season and all stall holders will tell you straight up where the produce came from, if it sprayed and so on…




The idea of the tour is to familiarise people a little more with the local produce sold at the market, to explain  the uses of the different produce and how it is grown, and to meet some of the growers and hear their stories. It is so valuable to connect people to the produce they consume, know who grows it, how it grows and even inspire people that to grow a little yourself is not that hard.

After many years visiting the markets I have built up a pretty good relationship with a lot of the stall holders, who are often very busy and work really hard, so we try not get in their way too much and I am always appreciative of any of them who can spend a couple of minutes with us.


After a walk through the markets we then take a chilled walk to the nearby Jingili community gardens to see some of the produce growing, the participants can find out how to get involved in local community gardens, or just get inspired to grow a few things at home.


We then sit in the workshop area and taste some of the items, that either I have brought along, or those on the the tour have selected and bought with some their returned “tour fee” – a kind of show and tell. We try these raw or lightly cooked on a simple camp stove set up I bring along with some basic ingredients.  I give ideas about how to use produce to the create delicious dishes and hopefully the tools to take way to experiment with the plant parts (ok, the veggies and fruit).



We are looking to do a few more tours and maybe one that starts at the market and moves on to different gardens around the Northern Suburbs. If you are interested, get in touch and I can put you on the communications list.

I am always too busy to take photos, these shots are  kindly taken by  Lina of Malak Market place, who came on a market tour last year, we hope to work with her at Malak Market next year. Thanks also to Healthy Darwin for subsidising the tour!

Market_Tour_Nov2015Feb2016 Flyer (1).jpg



Seasonal Side for a Tropical Christmas

So are you enjoying a sweaty or stormy Christmas in Darwin this year? I hope so..

I love Christmas here, it’s quite and you get to hang out with friends in the yard, in the bush, or the pool with friends, family, cocktails, beer or all of the above.

One thing that should be definitely on the menu is the sharing of some delicious dishes-  healthy and locally grown. I love that celebrations bring people together and whatever your religion, culture or origins this festive season should be celebrating friends, family, he wonderful place we live and of course the local produce we can grow (and eat).

I recently put together a workshop for “Healthy Darwin” of City of Darwin for Darwin residents and 20 participants came along to learn about what is in season around Christmas time, how you can grow it in urban spaces, or where to buy it AND how to make it into fantastic seasonal sides for Christmas (or just sweaty season) celebrations-

So here goes- (a short list, more pictures added later)

A yummy pimento pineapple salsa 

Pineapple salsa one


Great to accompany that fish you caught, any meat dish or on roasted local roots. Pineapples are ready around Christmas- so perfect! You can plant the top to grow more! Use local thai coriander and local peppers.

A raw pumpkin salad with snake beans and an Asian twist

Pumpkin salad grated

Jicama and watermelon salad

Jicama and watermelon salad

(watermelons are just hanging on around Christmas time)

This is a great crunchy and refreshing salad using the versatile jicama root and great local herbs.

A snake bean and butter bean salad with ginger, chilli, lemon and salt. 

Snake beans grow all year and make amazing dishes, including this one with local ginger and lemon (you can also use lime if you like)

Grilled Eggplant with a miso dressing

Another fabulous all year easily grown veggie with a great dressing and some sweet leaf thrown in.

An Amaranth salad with Coconut and Chilli sambal

Amaranth  and coco salad

JAckfruit nuts roasted with lime peel and sumac (or chilli powder)

Jackfruit nuts

Just following the above instructions and add any fab flavourings as you roast. If you have got these from your own jackfruit you make a great fruit salad or juice from the fruit too.

Mango and cucumber salad (with mint and chilli of course)

mango smaller.jpg

You have to add mangoes to as much as possible as this is their time to shine and mango madness rules.

And some drink ideas

Rambutan and Thai basic tonic with a hint of ginger

Rambu thai


Rambu top 2

Lemongrass, ginger, honey and mint iced tea

Chilled grapefruit, lime and cucumber water.

Starfruit spritzer with mint.

Mango and lime smoothies

Hibiscus, lime and honey tea.

Chilled rosella refresher