Tetragonia- a useful and hardy Australian native food plant
Tetragonia tetragonioides has the common name of Warrigal greens or New Zealand spinach, and is one of the better known Australian native edible plants. It is common at seaside locations as well as inland, and will thrive naturally without any care. It is the foliage that is eaten, and the new shoots and stems are the most tender. It is a hardier and, by some opinion, tastier version of English spinach, and will form a great ground covering plant. Caged birds like to nibble on it too, making it a good green pick plant.
It is one of the earliest Australian bush tucker plants to be cultivated by Europeans, having been brought back by Joseph Banks to England, and was one of the plants that Captain Cook used to fight scurvy on his long sea voyages. It is native to Australia, as well as New Zealand, South America and Japan.
Cultivation is easy. It is a perennial, though it can be short lived, so is most often grown as an annual. Will grow in sun or part shade, and is a waterwise plant. They can self seed readily. It will thrive on neglect, making it a great plant for time poor gardeners. It is also suitable for growing in containers and would be good as a green wall plant. It can also take saline soils and salt laden winds, and is often found growing close to beaches. Grow from seed or cuttings from spring onwards. A bonus is that snails and slugs won’t eat it, unlike English spinach which can get demolished by the pests.
It is advisable to boil Tetragonia before eating, as the leaves contain oxalic acid. Blanch in boiling water for around a minute, or more if desired, and then it can be used in various ways. Use them in Asian stir-fries as the leaf will take the heat better than spinach, in salads, soup or stew. Try it in pies or quiches, and is great in combo with feta wrapped in filo pastry and baked. It can also be used for in fruit and vegetable juices after blanching, as it is high in antioxidants.