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Issue 5

The Desert Raisin and Other Solanum

Extract from 'Bush fires & Bushtucker" Peter Latz

IAD Press

Solanum fruits


Plants of this genus are widespread throughout Central Australia and are found in most habitats. They are most common in areas where two plant communities overlap (inter zone areas) and usually only venture out of these areas into areas where the more stable plant communities have been disturbed in some way. Generally fire disturbance most favours their spread. All of the Central Australian Solanum species are clonal and have the ability to spread by producing new plants from their roots. The 18 native Solanum species known to occur in the area can be arranged into five groups:

1. Inedible species

Of the 18 species so far known to occur in Central Australia, nine produce inedible fruit and are avoided by the Aboriginal people. The fruits of most of these species can be easily distinguished because they become hard and bone-like when dry. While still immature, however, they can be difficult to distinguish from the edible species.


2. Soft-fruited species

Four of the species have rather soft fruit which quickly rot, or are mvaded by grubs after they reach maturity. These are gathered as soon as they ripen and the whole fruit is usually eaten on the spot (eg. Solanum ellipticum).

3. Species remaining edible after maturity and having edible seeds. Of the two species falling into this category, Solanum centrale, the desert raisin, occurs throughout Central Australia and was a very important food plant. The fruit can be eaten whole as soon as they ripen although if too many are eaten a headache can often result. However, when the fruit dries to about the texture of a raisin, it remains on the plant and can be gathered for some months after the plant has died. Eventually the fruit becomes black and unappetising, especially if spoilt by rain, but is still edible in an emergency.

Aboriginal people sometimes gather the fruit in large quantities and then grind them into a thick paste. This paste is then rolled into a ball, which is usually covered with a thin layer of' red ochre and then dried in the sun. In the past, the balls were stored in a safe place, such as in the bark of a tree or on the top of an abandoned shelter, to be used at some later date.

Before use, sometimes a year or more later, they were either soaked for a period in water or ground with water into a paste and then eaten uncooked.

The second species in this category, Solanum esuriale, is a less common plant in Central Australia. It also has fruit which remains on the bush after maturity but, although they retain their moisture for a longer period than the desert raisin, when dry they have a harder texture.

The fruit of the desert raisin has quite a high protein content, mostly contained in the seeds. When the fruit is eaten untreated much of the protein is lost as most of the seeds pass through the alimentary tract and are not digested. Grinding the fruit breaks up many of the seeds and tends to make this protein more available.

4. Species with inedible seeds

Two species, Solanumn chippendalei and Solanumn diversifolium, have very bitter seeds. The fruits are large, about the size of an apricot, and have a rather thick outer rind. The fruit is cut in half and the black inedible seeds removed with a special wooden spatula. The rinds are either eaten immediately or spliced onto a thick stick and then dried in the sun or near a fire. The dried husks, still threaded on the sticks, are then stored away for later use.

Before use they are either soaked in water or ground with water into a paste. The fruit of these species, when ripe, have considerable keeping qualities and will remain on the plant for a month or more. They usually spoil, however, before they dry. They have high vitamin C and carbohydrate values but low protein values.


5.Species requiring treatment

Solanum coactiliferum, the only species in this category, has fruit which are too bitter to be eaten without treatment. The fruit is processed by breaking them up between two stones and then thoroughly squeezing the resultant mass between the hands to remove the bitter juice. Sometimes water is added and the process repeated. The resultant paste is usually cooked before eating.

The fruit remain on the bush for a considerable period before spoiling, and are therefore available when other plant foods are scarce. This fruit is not utilised by people in the north who instead apparently utilise other more favourable subtropical plants which do not occur in the south (eg. the bush potato).

Carbohydrate-rich plant foods are not common in the Central Australian diet. This group of plants is an exception and is highly valued for this reason. As an added bonus, they all have high vitamin C values, and in some cases, quite high protein values as well.

Some Solanum species names in Aboriginal languages:

Alyawarr language:

S. centrale: akatyerr

S. chippendalei: anemangkerr kanakety

S. ellipticurn: alperrantyey ararnt irrwarlp

S. esuriale: arntek-arntek

Anmatyerr language:

S. chippendalei: anakety antyewal

S. ellipticum: ararnt irrwarlp

S. centrale: katyerr

S. chippendaei: ngaru pintalypa

S. ellipticum: yuralpa

S. centrale: kati kati kampurarpa

From 'Bush fires & Bushtucker'

Index: 5
From the Editor...
Peak National Body
Research & Development News
The Desert Raisin (Akadjura) - Solanum centrale
Purely Pepper (Tamannia spp) 
Three Bucket Garden
Black fella, white fella
The Good oil on Kurrajongs
CSIRO report - Acacia
Christmas in the bush
Bushfires and bushtucker
Northern Exposure
The bee that 'fishes' for pollen
Fruiting times (N NSW)
Common names
From the papers


Purely Pepper


Notes on our native pepper from Keith Padbury, Alpine Bushfoods, Mansfield, VicPepper

Mountain Pepper

Tasmannia lanceolata, commonly referred to as Native Pepper or Mountain Pepper, is a member of the family Winteraceae. It is usually a branched shrub up to about 5 metres high with dark shiny leaves & distinctive crimson young stems. The plant is dioecious (separate male and female)& bears black fleshy fruit, the size of a pea, containing a cluster of small black seeds in its centre. It inhabits cool wet habitats from sea level to about 1200m in Tasmania, in rainforests & wet mountain gullies and is often found on disturbed sites where it is an early coloniser, preceding wet eucalypt forest & Nothofagus rainforest. It is found in similar situations in Victoria and at high altitudes in NSW as far north as the Hastings River. 


Having tasted it, one wonders why we import the common 'exotic' pepper at all...

The History of Medical and Culinary Use of the Family

Several closely related species have been associated with medicinal use amongst indigenous peoples in the regions in which they occur. New Guineans are reported to have used the pounded leaves of a local species for treatment of `spots' on the skin of pigs, a South American relative was used as a treatment for colic and as a `stomachal tonic', and decoctions of a related New Zealand shrub were used by Maori people as a stimulant and for stomach ache while the leaves were chewed to relieve toothache.

European use of the family began in 1597 when Captain Winter, Commander of the Elizabeth, used the bark of the South American Drimys wintera to relieve scurvy amongst his crew. That species then enjoyed some European use as a herbal remedy until it became hard to obtain and was partly replaced by T. lanceolata in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

During the nineteenth century and the first half of this century, the species have been occasionally referred to as having economic possibilities. T lanceoloata was mentioned by Maiden, a one-time director of the Sydney Botanic Gardens, for its potential as a pepper or allspice substitute & for its resemblance to Winter Bark. He also mentioned it as a possible source of a succulent, though insipid(!) fruit.

More recently, the plant has been mentioned by numerous authors writing on the subject of bushfood and occupies a position as a standard ingredient for many proponents of the `Australian Cuisine".

Pepper2The Active Constituents

Mountain pepper leaves and fruits contain a large number of the volatile flavour and fragrance compounds also found in other species in the spice and essential oil trades, as well as a few novel and interesting compounds of their own. Chief amongst the flavour compounds is the pungent ploygodial, present in the leafs and seeds of most plants. This compound has attracted considerable scientific interest in recent years for its unique biological properties, antimicrobial and antifungal properties as well as having a hot taste for humans and, presumably, browsing mammals.

Purified extracts containing the compound have been shown to be active against a range of bacteria, fungi and yeast isolates. In particular, the synergistic effect of ploygodial when used in conjunction with other antimicrobial agents such as actinomyein B&D and anethol, shows considerable promise.

The compound delivers a sharp hot taste to the human palate, and, together with a large number of other fragrant and flavoured volatile compounds produces an unusual spicy, `bushy' effect when used alone or in combination with other savoury ingredients.

The Tasmanian Essential Oil Industry has helped fund an RIRDC project to develop the species as the source of a novel, spicy extract currently used by a Japanese company as a confectionery flavouring and toothpaste (!) and is being trialed by several international food and fragrance houses with a view to wider use in the future.

Storing Mountain Pepper

The best way to store mountain pepper leaves is to dry them as you would other leaf herbs. Lay them out flat or lie the branches in bunches to dry. Ensure that you have the leaves in an airy position, preferably away from direct sunlight. Once dried, store the leaves in airtight plastic bags or an airtight container so they will keep indefinitely with minimum flavour loss. The leaves may of course be used fresh.

Pepperberries can be frozen whole in sealed freezer bags or kept in salt. Either pickle the Pepperberries in a solution of brine or layer them with coarse table salt in a sealed container. Again, the fruit will keep well for months with its zing well and truly intact. Once dried, Pepperberries resemble common peppercorns and can be used in pepper grinders.

To Cook

As with many bushfoods, Mountain pepper has an intensity of flavour that must be respected. Finely milled white or dark peppers are not comparable, the closest equivalent lies in the very coarse ground or cracked black pepper. Where possible, use Mountain pepper as suggested - it has more complex flavours to contribute to the dish being prepared. The best way to use Mountain pepper leaf is to dry and mill the leaf into a fine, powdered form or break it into larger flakes.

It can be used in cooking as you would common white pepper or other savoury herbs but bear in mind that it has additional strength - use about half the stated quantities for white pepper. The leaf should be added to the dish towards the end of cooking for the best flavour results. It loses its pungency when added at the beginning. For example, if cooking a casserole, add the Pepper leaf the last 30 mins of cooking.  On the other hand, add the Pepperberries to the sauce of the dish early in the cooking process so that some of the heat is dissipated. Try them fresh first to get an idea of their intensity. 

Goes with...

Mountain pepper works well with European and Asian ingredients. Be guided by the application of common pepper to determine the complimentary flavours but don't ignore the other flavours Mountain pepper presents you with. It complements; cheese, dips, bread, pate and soup.

A very simple favourite of ours is Savoury Mountain Scones with cheese and flakes of Mountain pepper leaf. Another is pumpkin soup. Simply sprinkle a little ground Pepperleaf on top the soup after serving. Looks great with a swirl of sour cream. Any meat dish will benefit from a dash of Mountain pepper but it is especially good with turkey, goose and game meats. 

More Ideas...

Use the dried Pepperberry in a standard pepper grinder as you would pepper corns. Caution - don't use too much (it is far hotter than normal pepper!) The flower buds are an interesting addition to salads. They can be pickled and used as a caper substitute. The complex aromatic flavour and heat of the Snow pepper (T. xerophila) makes it a perfect addition to curries and chilli dishes. The bark can be used as an infusion and makes a pleasant herbal tea. Pepperberries are a superb addition to any marinade or pickle solution - they impart great flavour and infuse a soft, pink colour to the pickling solution.

A friend swears her Osso Buco casserole never tasted better since she began using Mountain pepper. She cooks the pieces in a 2 litre casserole dish for 1 hour and then adds 2 teaspoons of ground Mountain pepper leaf evenly over the meat and juices, cooks a further 20 mins (or until you judge completely cooked) and serves.

Much of the information for this article has been extracted from the Southern Bushfood Association newsletter and is intended to be a general guide only.

Further information on Mountain pepper can be obtained from: "Wild Lime", Juleigh Robyns, Allen & Unwin. and Alpine Bushfoods, 3 Finlason St, Mansfield, Victoria 3722


Extract from `The Bushfood Handbook' By Vic Cherikoff

solanumSolanum nigrum

Bush tomatoes, desert raisins, nightshades and kangaroo apples are some of the common names of members of the family Solanaceae. They are all perennial herbs or small shrubs with the characteristic flowers of the tomato (and potato) family and often with prickly leaves and branches. There are some edible species spread all over the country. The fruits are a succulent, globular berry full of a seedy endoplasm just like the conventional tomato.

The Australian species of the genus Solanum, which were used by the Aborigines as food, are listed in the following table. Other species contain high levels of toxic alkaloids and are too bitter to eat. This reduces the risk of being poisoned by inedible fruits, but there are several points to note when sampling solanum fruits. Only fully ripe fruits of the edible species should be eaten, and the seeds of two species are toxic even when ripe. Break open the fruit, taste the juice and bite into the seeds. Reject any fruits which are bitter. S. chippendalei and S. coactiliferum are unusual among the species listed in that they require treatment before being eaten. With S. chippendalei, only the fruit husk is eaten, either raw or skewered on a twig, lightly roasted and eaten or stored for later consumption. The pitjantjatjara in Central Australia prepared S. coactiliferum by squeezing out the bitter juices, washing the skins and heating before eating them. The bitterness of the juice in these species make it very unlikely that anyone would munch away enjoying the taste and not recognising the danger.

Fruits of local Solanum species were staples for Aborigines in the Australian arid zone. As staples, they formed over 50 per cent of the diet when in season. There were different species in different places to fill this role throughout the year and many species, such as the bush raisin (S. centrale), were utilised in a naturally dessicated state, months after fruiting.

The dried fruit could be picked from the bush and was rarely attacked by insects, whereas persistent fruits often indicate the presence of toxic chemicals. The fresh fruits of S. centrale were also collected and dried for storage. The dried product was processed by some Aboriginal groups by grinding the collected fruit with water and either eating the paste or fashioning it into round cakes up to twenty-five centimetres in diameter.

This was not a universal practice among traditional desert people, but part of a regional cuisine. In nutritional value, the Solanum are generally rich in protein, carbohydrate, fibre, potassium, iron and vitamin C when fresh and ripe, with the concentration of the vitamin C dropping as the fruits dry or are processed.



S. aviculare (kangaroo apple) - orange-red fruit, red-brown seeds, plant not prickly, found in coastal eastern Australia and South Australia.

S. centrale (desert raisin) - yellow fruit dries light brown, pale seeds, exposed fruit, plant hairy or with a few prickles, found in Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia.

S. cleistogamum - yellow-green with purple flush fruit, tan seeds, plant prickly and hairy, found in Western Australia, Northern Territory.

S. chippendalei - yellow fruit, bitter black seeds and pith, plant prickly and hairy, found in Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland.

S. coactiliferum (Western nightshade) - yellow-brown fruit and seeds, found in all states except Tasmania.

S. dioicum - greenish-yellow fruit, black seeds, fruit enclosed in calyx, found in Western Australia, Northern Territory.

S. diversiflovum - greenish-yellow fruit, black seeds, plants are prickly and hairy, found in Western Australia, Northern Territory.

S. echinatum (spiny tomato) - ivory-green fruit, red-brown seeds, fruits enclosed in a prickly calyx, found from tropical Western Australia to Queensland.

S. ellipticum (potato bush) - yellow-green with purple flush fruit, pale seeds, plants prickly and hairy, found in all states except Victoria and Tasmania - arid zone.

S. esuriale (quena) - yellow fruit, tan seeds, plant hairy with few prickles, found in eastern Queensland, northern Victoria, Western Australia, Northern Territory.

S. gilesii - bone fruit, pale seeds, found in Western Australia, Northern Territory.

S. hystrix - black fruit, grey-black seeds, plant prickly.

S. laciniatum (kangaroo apple) - yellow-orange fruit, red-brown seeds, plant not prickly, found in eastern Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia.

S. lasiophyllum (flannel bush) - yellowish fruit, tan seeds, plant not prickly, found in Western Australia, south-west Northern Territory, north-west South Australia.

S. lucani - green fruit, dark brown seeds, found in the north of Western Australia and Northern Territory.

S. nigrum (black nightshade) - black fruit, bone seeds, plant not prickly, found in all states near settlements.

S. orbiculatum orbiculatum - yellow-ivory fruit, tan seeds, plant prickly and hairy, found in Western Australia, Northern Territory, arid zone South Australia.

S. simile - greenish fruit, grey dark brown seeds, plant not prickly, found in Western Australia, South Australia, north-west Victoria to northern New South Wales.

S. stelligerum (devils needles) - bright red fruit, tan seeds, plant prickly and hairy, found in eastern New South Wales, Atherton Tablelands, Oueensland.

S. vescum - greenish fruit, grey-brown seeds, plant not prickly, found in south-eastern Australia, southern Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania.

'The Bushfood Handbook' is available directly from Cherikoff the Rare Spice Co. or through the Bushfoods Mail Order Bookshop.


The Solanum genus consists of some 1700 species of which around 80 are native to Australia. Many of them prefer dry situations and full sun. Many species can be found growing in profusion by the roadsides in arid areas, most especially after rain or a fire. Solanum aviculare and laciniatum (Kangaroo apple) contain the mildly poisonous alkaloid solanine, extracted for use in contraceptives and thus should be eaten with care (if at all!) It is reported that over-eating of fresh S. centrale can also cause illness.


Some 'short' recipes from Juleigh Robins' book 'Wild Lime'

* Add ground bush tomato to pizza, either sprinkled over as a topping or make a sauce seasoned with bush tomato to spread on the pizza base

* Spread bush tomato sauce on a pizza base and top that with goat's cheese, mozzarello and basil

* Add ground bush tomato during the last stages of making a mayonnaise

* Make a sweet potato and bush tomato rissotto, adding the bush tomato with the last ladleful of stock


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