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Mai Putitja and Irmangka-Irmangka

Bush Tucker and Bush Medicine

around Coober Pedy

Contents Introduction Bibliography
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Bibliography

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Contents

 

Introduction

 

Aparuma and Apara

Aparuma

Eucalyptus socialis
Red Mallee

Ngapari

Psylla eucalypti
Lerps

Apara    

Eucalyptus camaldulensis
River Red Gum

 

Ilpara

Ilpara

Grevillea nematophylla
Water Bush

 

Ipi-Ipi

Ipi-Ipi

Sarcostemma australe
Mimi Bush

 

Irmangka-Irmangka and Aratja

Irmangka-Irmangka

Eremophila alternifolia
Scented Emu Bush

Aratja

Eremophila freelingii
Rock Fuchsia Bush

 

Kalaya

Kalaya

Enchylaena tomentosa
Ruby Saltbush

 

Kampurara and Tawaltawalpa

Kampurara

Solanum centrale
Desert Raisin

Tawaltawalpa

Solanum ellipticum
Bush Tomato

 

Kupata

Kupata

Santalum lanceolatum
Bush Plum

 

Kurara

Kurara

Acacia tetragonaphylla
Dead Finish

 

Kurku, Tjarulka and Kurkunytjungu

Kurku

Acacia aneura
Mulga

Tjarulka

Mulga Apple

Kurkunytjungu

Austrotachardia acaciae
Red Mulga Lerp

 

Maku

Maku

Xyleutus biarpiti
Witchetty Grub

 

Malu-Munpunpa

Malu-Munpunpa

Erodium spp.
Native Crow’s Foot

 

Mingkul

Mingkul

Nicotiana spp.
Native Tobacco

 

Parka-Parka and Nyinkini

Parka-Parka

Lysiana murrayi
Murray Mistletoe

Nyinkini

Amyema maidenii
Pale-Leaved Mistletoe

 

Tjala

Tjala

Camponotus inflatus;
Melophorus bagoti
Honey Ant

Digging for Tjala

 

Urpa and Anumara

Urpa

Boerhavia coccinea
Tar Vine

Anumara

Celerio lineata livornicoides
Hawkmoth Caterpillar

 

Utiralya and Kalkula

Utiralya

Marsdenia australis
Bush Banana

Kalkula

The Fruit of the Bush Banana

 

Wakati and Nyurngi

Wakati

Portulaca oleracea
Pigweed

Nyurngi

Calandrinia spp.
Parakeelya

 

Wangunu and Kaltu-Kaltu

Wangunu

Eragrostis eriopoda
Naked Woollybutt

Kaltu-Kaltu

Panicum decompositum
Native Millet

 

Wanka

Wanka

 

 

Onchrogaster spp
Itchy Grub

Introduction

In 1915, opal was discovered in the area now known as Coober Pedy, in the central deserts of Australia. The miners who arrived there found what they thought was a barren inhospitable area. Water and food sources were to remain a constant problem for the next seventy years. These miners soon began to change the landscape of the desert by adding the white mining dumps for which Coober Pedy has long been famous and which, visitors have often remarked, give a lunar crater-pocked appearance to the mining fields that surround the town.

In 1922 the miners named the growing town Coober Pedy as the European pronunciation of the Aboriginal name kupa piti, which, it is now thought, means literally, ‘young uninitiated boys’ waterhole’. And this is how the newcomers have seen it ever since – as a dusty hole in a huge inhospitable desert.

But this country has been home to the Antakarinja people since the Dreamtime. They have been able, not only to live, but to thrive, in this country, where few other people could have survived. Here is presented some of the plants and animals that these resourceful people have been able to use as food and medicine, over the time that they have lived in this beautiful, but harsh, environment.

There is no permanent fresh water for many hundeds of kilometers and the ability to find water and food was essential for survival

 

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Aparuma and Apara

Aparuma

Eucalyptus socialis       Red Mallee

Aparuma, the Red Mallee (Eucalyptus sociallis), is a multi-stemmed Eucalypt with red branch tips (hence its name) and cream coloured flowers. The bark is rough at the base of the tree and smooth above. It grows to five metres. This mallee is found in breakaways country, where it prefers limestone soils.

The leaves of this plant have Ngapari (Lerps) (Psylla eucalypti) growing on them, an insect that produces a sugary scale to cover itself. This scale has a sweet taste, and can be eaten straight off the tree. Aparuma flowers are also used to obtain honey for eating, and the roots of this plant provide a source of water in the arid zone.

The leaves of Red Mallee also contain Eucalypt oil, known for its ability to cure the symptoms of colds and flu. Leaves from this plant can be used to sleep on, and the body heat will release the oils. A liniment for massaging areas of the body affected by cramps and pain is also made by boiling the leaves in water.

   

Apara
Eucalyptus camaldulensis       River Red Gum

Apara the River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) is a large tree commonly found along desert creeks, with smooth whitish bark and red streaks. It also has Ngapari on its leaves, and its seeds are edible. Maku Unganungu, the edible grub of the Hepialid Moth (Trictena argentata), can be found in its roots, while another type of grub, Ilytjaliti, is found in the trunk and branches of this tree.

Apara roots can be used to fashion wooden implements such as bowls, and the bark is stripped off to be burnt to ash, which is mixed with Mingkulpa (Native Tobacco) (Nicotiana spp.) to make a chewing tobacco.

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Ilpara

Ilpara

Grevillea nematophylla       Water Bush

Ilpara is a large shrub growing in breakaway and sandhill country. It has long strap-like leaves and large showy flowers.

 

When the plant is found in sandhill country it can be a good source of water. The roots may be dug up and cut into 30 centimetre lengths. These are placed into a container, with the end closest to the tree facing down. After about one hour, the root can be removed and the water used. Plants in breakaway country cannot be used in this manner.

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Ipi-Ipi

Ipi-Ipi

Sarcostemma australe    Mimi Bush

Ipi-Ipi is a leafless, dense shrub that grows to one metre high. It has pale green flowers and milky sap, and is considered rare in the arid areas. It grows in breakaway country. This plant is poisonous to humans if it is eaten.

The milky sap has a very important medicinal use. It can be applied directly to cuts and sores that are infected or will not heal properly. The sap forms a clear protective covering when it dries, and helps to speed to healing process. For skin disorders and scabies, the stems can be crushed and boiled before washing the affected area with the liquid.


Irmangka-Irmangka and Aratja

Irmangka-Irmangka

Eremophila alternifolia       Scented Emu Bush

Irmangka-Irmangka or Scented Emu Bush (Eremophila alternifolia) is uncommon plant is found predominantly on gravelly limestone soils, and has pink or mauve tubular flowers with dark red spots. The leaves are strongly scented, the branches knobbly and the young growth sticky. It grows to one or two metres.

Irmangka-Irmangka is prized by the local Antakarinja people for its use as a medicinal plant. The leaves are boiled up with kangaroo fat and water to make a strong smelling, sticky gel, which is put into tea or smeared onto the chest as a treatment for colds, headaches, chest infections, and other minor ailments. It is also used to soothe painful bites and stings. This medicine stores for a long time, and is said to encourage deep sleep.

Aratja

Eremophila freelingii      Rock Fuchsia Bush

Aratja (Rock Fuchsia Bush) (Eremophila freelingii) is a common plant throughout the region, with lilac flowers and soft hairy leaves, growing on gravelly soils.

It is used in a similar way to Irmangka-Irmangka, however leaves of this plant are also often crushed in the hand to release a strong aromatic smell. This helps to clear blocked sinuses and cure cold symptoms.


Kalaya

Kalaya

Enchylaena tomentosa Ruby Saltbush

 

Kalaya, Ruby Saltbush (Enchylaena tomentosa), or Emu Bush  as it is also known, is a low shrub with small succulent leaves. The flowers are too small to see with the naked eye, but the yellow, orange or red berries are small and juicy. The plant fruits all year round, however the most prolific fruiting is after winter rains. It is a common plant that can be found all through the far north of South Australia, in both sandhill and breakaway country. Kalaya fruit is often eaten by Emus.

The fruit make a sweet, juicy snack food when eaten raw. They are also soaked in water to make a sweet drink, or dried and reconstituted later. A red dye can be made from the berries.

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Kampurara and Tawaltawalpa

Kampurara

Solanum centrale    Desert Raisin

Kampurara, the Desert Raisin (Solanum centrale) is a small shrub that grows in sandhill country after good rains and fires. It has velvety leaves, purple flowers and, when ripe, the fruit is yellow. The fruit dries on the plant, looking something like a chocolate brown raisin. This fruit stays on the bush for most of the year.

The fruit is very nutritious, and can be eaten raw in its dried state. Alternatively, they can be picked and ground into a thick paste, rolled into a ball and stored for a considerable period. Later these balls can be soaked in water or ground to a paste with water, and eaten uncooked.

A similar plant, but not as widespread is Tawaltawalpa (Bush Tomato) (Solanum ellipticum), which is used in the same way.

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Kupata

Kupata

Santalum lanceolatum       Bush Plum

Kaputa or the  Bush Plum (Santalum Lanceolatum), also known as Sandalwood, is a small tree up to two metres. It has thick drooping grey-green leaves and small cream flowers. The fruit is a dark purple colour and is very fleshy. The wood and oil have a distinctive perfume. Kupata is a common plant in breakaway and sandhill country, and fruits after rain. It taps into other plant’s roots, and must use them to survive.

The fruit is very high in vitamin C, and are eaten raw or dried and reconstituted with water later. A dye can be made from the fruit, and the wood is used for carving artefacts.

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Kurara

Kurara

Acacia tetragonaphylla       Dead Finish

Kurara or Dead Finish (Acacia tetragonaphylla)is a distinctive shrub with small four sided needle-like phyllodes (leaves) and yellow spherical flower heads. It is common and widespread in breakaway and sandhill country of the arid zone. Dead Finish has gnarled and twisted wood, and grows to three metres. Like the Mulga, Kurara is a very useful plant, and due to it being common in the area, is also an important plant in Antakarinja culture.

The bark from the roots of this plant has healing qualities. It is used as a bandage to bind broken limbs, with the straight roots as splints, repairing the bone quickly. The healing of minor cuts and sores can be encouraged by the application of a liquid made by boiling this bark in water. A medicine to treat coughs is also made by soaking the roots and bark.

Kurara also provides an excellent method of removing unwanted warts. Dry phyllodes from the ground beneath the plant are collected and stuck into all sides and the top of the wart. The ends are broken off and the tips are left in for two to three days, by which time the wart should have died and dropped off.

Dead Finish also provides some important bush tucker. The seeds can be cooked in the pod when still green, or when ripe, parched on hot sand and ashes, yandyed, and ground to form an edible paste.

Grubs that can be found in the roots of this plant also provide a tasty meal. Finches, nesting in the protective foliage of Kurara, are eaten, while droppings from abandoned nests have important medicinal properties.

The hard, fine-grained wood of Dead Finish also makes good artefacts and tools.

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Kurku, Tjarulka and Kurkunytjungu

Kurku

Acacia aneura       Mulga

Kurku or Mulga (Acacia aneura) is a common plant throughout the arid zone, which can be found in both breakaways and sandhill country. It is a small tree that grows up to 12 metres high, with rough dark bark and small cylindrical yellow flower spikes. These trees live to a great age. The tree is versatile, and can be used for a great many things.

The Kalka (Mulga seed) can be roasted and ground with water to make an edible paste, which is very nutritious being high in both protein and fat.

Tjarulka

Mulga Apple

The Tjarulka (Mulga Apple) is a marble shaped wasp gall, with small lumps on the outside, and is edible. The small white grub in the centre of the gall is regarded as the sweetest part.

Kurkunytjungu

Austrotachardia acaciae     Red Mulga Lerp

Kurkunytjungu or Red Mulga Lerp (Austrotachardia acaciae) are small insects on the outer branches of Mulga trees. They exude a honey dew to protect themselves from animals. This honeydew is very sweet, and can be sucked straight off the branch, or the whole thing can be soaked in water as a sweet drink.

The pale gum from the branches of Mulga trees can also be eaten, and is regarded as a delicacy.

The wood of the Mulga is easy to work when green, yet dries to a hard strong texture and rarely splits. For this reason, the wood can be used for making digging sticks, boomerangs, containers, and other wooden tools.

It also makes good firewood, and ash from burning Mulga twigs can be mixed with Native Tobacco to make a chewing tobacco. Mulga leaves can also be used as a good mat for placing food.

Associated with Mulga are Tjala (Honey Ants) (Camponotus inflatus) which build their nests in the ground beneath these trees. Growing on the branches of Mulga can be found Mistletoe, another important bush tucker plant.

 

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Maku

Maku

Xyleutus biarpiti     Witchetty Grub

This grub is the larvae of a grey Cossid moth. They live in the roots of the Ilykuwara (Witchetty Bush) (Acacia kempeana) for several years before they emerge as a fully grown moth. They live off the nutrients in the root, becoming fat and juicy, and causing the normally thin root to swell around them.

The swollen roots are close to the ground surface and are broken off using a digging stick. The grubs are removed and either eaten raw or kept for cooking later. Both larvae and pupae are eaten. To cook Maku, coals and ash from a fire are laid out on the sand, the grubs are placed on top of it and more coals are used to cover them. They are quickly cooked while stirring around in the coals. When they are ready, the grubs are put into a hole in the sand and covered so they cool quickly. Cooked in this manner, they taste like scrambled egg, and are very rich in protein and fat.

Maku are also used to treat serious burns. The grubs are crushed and pounded, then spread over the burn. Finally a bandage of bark is used to protect the area for one to two days. This treatment leaves the burn victim with minimal scarring.

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 Malu-Munpunpa

Malu-Munpunpa

Erodium spp. Native Crow’s Foot

This spreading, hairy herb has broad leaves and blue or pink flowers. The Native Crow’s Foot can be found in sandhill country. It is especially abundant after autumn or winter rains. It is a quick growing plant that is encouraged by drought and fire.

The tuber of this plant is roasted in coals before eating. As Native Crow’s Foot is common during droughts, the seeds are often used as food when other foods are scarce.

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Mingkul

Mingkul

Nicotiana spp.       Native Tobacco

Mingkul the Native Tobacco (Nicotiana spp) is a soft herb that grows to 60 centimetres. It has creamy white flowers and grows in both sandhill and breakaway country.

Mingkul is mainly used as a narcotic. To make a chewing tobacco it is first dried in the sun or over a fire, then broken up and mixed with the ash of River Red Gum bark or Mulga twigs, and finally formed into a small moist ball. This tobacco can be chewed or kept behind the ear where it is absorbed through the thin skin. It has an extremely strong nicotine concentration, and should only be used by people who are used to it.

The chewing tobacco can be used as a pain relief and sedative. Also juice from the leaves of the Native Tobacco can be spread over the skin where bites and stings have occurred. It is especially soothing for centipede bites and the rash formed by the Wanka,  the Processionary Caterpillar (Onchrogaster spp.).

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Parka-Parka and Nyinkini

Parka-Parka

Lysiana murrayi     Murray Mistletoe

Parka-Parka the Murray Mistletoe (Lysiana murrayi) grows on the branches of other trees and shrubs, such as Acacia spp., Eucalyptus spp.  The leaves of this plant often resemble those of the host plant, an adaptation designed to disguise its own leaves like the inedible host, a protection from leaf eating animals. Murray Mistletoe has white, yellow or pink flowers and pink or red fruit.

The sweet and sticky fruit, especially favoured by children, is eaten raw.

Other Mistletoe plants with edible fruit are Ngantja (Lysiana exocarpi) (Harlequin Mistletoe), Nyinkini - Pale-Leaved Mistletoe (Amyema. maidenii), and Wire-Leaved Mistletoe (A. preissii).

Nyinkini

Amyema maidenii       Pale-Leaved Mistletoe

Nyinkini - Acacia spp., (Eucalyptus spp.) grow on the branches of other trees and shrubs, as do all Mistletoe plants. The leaves of this plant often resemble those of the host plant, an adaptation designed to disguise its own leaves like the inedible host, a protection from leaf eating animals. Nyinkini - Pale-Leaved Mistletoe has greenish flowers and yellow fruit.

The sweet and sticky fruit, especially favoured by children, is eaten raw.

Other Mistletoe plants with edible fruit are Ngantja - Harlequin Mistletoe (Lysiana exocarpi), Parka-parka (L. murrayi), and Wire-Leaved Mistletoe (Amyema preissii).

 

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 Tjala

Tjala

Camponotus inflatus; Melophorus bagoti   Honey Ant

Tjala, Honey Ants, nest in the ground beneath Mulga trees. They collect the honeydew made by the Kurkunytjungu (Red Mulga Lerp) (Austrotachardia acaciae) and store it in their nest in special worker ants. Deep in the nest, these ants with swollen abdomens store the honey for the rest of the ant colony.

Once a nest is located, the ants can be dug up and removed. Only the amber coloured abdomen of the ant is eaten, while holding the head and legs between the fingers.

 

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Urpa and Anumara

Urpa

Boerhavia coccinea Tar Vine

Urpa or Tar Vine (Boerhavia coccinea)   is a low groundcover commonly found in both sandhill and breakaway country of the arid zone. It has hairy, triangular leaves and small white, purplish or pink flowers. The stems can run for up to three metres along the ground, and are very sticky, especially the young tips.

The carrot-like tuber of this plant is an important food in bad years as it is available even when other plant foods are not. The root, tasting like parsnip, is baked and the tough outer skin removed before eating.

Anumara

     Celerio lineata livornicoides      Hawkmoth Caterpillar

Another important food found on the Tar Vine is the Anumara (Hawkmoth Caterpillar) (Celerio lineata livornicoides). It has a greenish and reddish-brown body with black and cream spots and stripes, and a distinctive black tail spike. These caterpillars eat the leaves of the Tar Vine. When gathered they are stored for approximately one day so all the eaten plant material is passed through, yandyed to remove the dung. Alternatively they can be prepared quicker by removing the head and squeezing the stomach contents out. Anumara are cooked by adding hot ash to a dish with the caterpillar and gently shaking. They taste somewhat starchy and can be stored for a long time.

Another use for Urpa is as a trap for small game birds such as finches. The sticky young growing tips are spread around small waterholes where these birds come to drink. The birds get entangled in the vines and are easily captured. This is a common method used by children.

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Utiralya and Kalkula

Utiralya

Marsdenia australis     Bush Banana

The Bush Banana is a vine that grows to the top of other shrubs and trees, where it forms a mass of vegetation and flowers. It has small cream flowers, large pear shaped fruit and seeds with tufts of white, silky hairs. This vine is common through the central deserts, where it grows in sandhill and breakaway country.

Utiralya is extremely versatile, with almost the entire plant being edible. The young Kalkula (fruit) have a pleasant tangy flavour when eaten raw, or they can be roasted. Older fruit are roasted, but the outer rind may be eaten raw. Kalkula have an exceptionally high thiamine level – 2900 m g/100g – ten times that of any cultivated food. It is easy to see why this fruit was valued as bush tucker.

The flowers of Bush Banana are also tasty when raw, and the shoots, seeds and leaves can all be eaten. The young leaves may be eaten raw, while the older leaves are better when steamed. In times of food shortages, the large string of tubers can be dug up and cooked.

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Wakati and Nyurngi

Wakati

Portulaca oleracea       Pigweed

Wakati, the Pigweed (Portulaca oleracea) is a common fleshy groundcover with small yellow flowers and small black seeds. It can be found in sandhill and breakaway country, and is most prolific after rain.

The seed, although small, is a very important food source. Whole plants can be gathered up when the seed has set and piled together for several days until all the seed has fallen to the ground. The plant displays the time when it should be collected by changing the colour of its stems from green to pink. Up to 10000 seeds can be produced on each plant. These are harvested from beneath the pile of plants, cleaned and either roasted before being ground into a paste, or cooked after grinding. Cakes of this paste are baked in hot sand with ashes and coals. Wakati seed is very nutritious, being 28% protein and 16% fat, with a high concentration of vitamin E.

The leaves and stems of this plant are also edible raw or cooked, and the cooked roots can be eaten.

Nyurngi

Calandrinia spp.      Parakeelya

A similar small succulent herb, the Nyurngi (Parakeelya) (Calandrinia spp.), also has edible seed, however, these are only used in times of hardship as the seed only ripen gradually, so little seed can be collected at any one time. During emergencies, the leaves and stems can be eaten raw to obtain moisture.

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Wangunu and Kaltu-Kaltu

Wangunu

Eragrostis eriopoda Naked Woollybutt

Wangunu or Naked Woollybutt (Eragrostis eriopoda)is an erect perennial grass that grows in dense tufts to 35 centimetres. It is widespread and common in the arid zone. It is course and wiry, and has distinctive white "woolly butts" at the base of the plant. Wangunu is long lived, with each plant living up to 20 years. Seeding of Naked Woollybutt occurs after summer rain, with the seeds remaining on the plant for one or two months.

The seed from this plant is an important traditional staple food for the Antakarinja people. The small reddish seeds can be easily collected by rubbing the seeds heads to remove it. It is first winnowed, then ground to a flour and damper made. This meal is very nutritious and keeps for a long time.

Kaltu-Kaltu

Panicum decompositum      Native Millet

Kaltu-Kaltu or Native Millet (Panicum decompositum) is another grass used in the same way. This plant is short-lived and is encouraged by fire. It has the same nutritive value as Wangunu.

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Wanka

Wanka

Onchrogaster spp. Itchy Grub

Also known as the Processionary Caterpillar, the Itchy Grub is very dangerous. Its hairs can cause major irritation and even death to some people. During the day, Wanka nest in the "Itchy Bag" made from their silk, high in a tree.

The inner silk of these bags is very useful for dressing ulcers, burns and large sores. Care must be taken to properly clean the bags of any hairs before the inner silk is removed.

 

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