Foraging: Warrigal Greens

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Warrigal Greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides) are also known as Botany Bay Spinach or Sea Spinach, and grow wild along the coast of Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Japan and Argentina.

If you’re in these parts, you can find it where the sand meets the soil, or you can cultivate it too – it’s a hardy and delicious addition to any garden. 

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Garden raised warrigal greens

warrigal greens pioneering an estuary beach

Warrigal Greens pushing the edge on an estuary beach

The habitat above the shoreline of beaches and estuaries – where the sand meets the soil – is a rather magical place.

On one one side there’s the beach, and on the other side there’s the soil-based land, and in between, there’s this liminal space where pioneer species like Warrigal Greens help convert the foredunes resources (like decomposing seaweed and other available biomass) into the beginnings of soil.

Since soil is that rather important stuff on which all terrestrial life depends, I see this kind of community as rather special.

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Where to find Warrigal Greens

Look for Warrigal Greens under trees that are on the edge of the sand-meets-soil habitat, or where there is a large amount of decomposing  seaweed at the storm-tide (higher than the high tide) mark along dunes and estuaries – this is where you’ll find this tasty wild green.

On the South Coast of Australia, the first place I always look is under melalucas and norfolk pines – these are my go-to species for finding warrigal greens.

Warrigal Greens generally grow in a sprawling mat, or in small pockets here and there. Get to know the leaf shape and plant habits to ensure you pick the right stuff.

A little further inland, you can often find Warrigal Greens pioneering over degraded ground.

When to Harvest Warrigal Greens

Warrigal Greens reach their peak in the hotter months, but in maritime environments you can find them under trees year round. Consider it an annual in colder parts, and a short-lived perennial in warmer areas.

*Note: harvesting any plants in nature reserves and natural parks in illegal, so go find somewhere where it’s ok to do so.

How much to harvest

Take what you need for today, and no more. Also, do you best not to step on the plants.

As mentioned above, these plants are doing a very important job making soil and generally holding things together, so don’t mess them up or take so much that they cannot do what they’re there to do.

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How to propagate Warrigal Greens

Warrigal Greens grow well from cuttings and/or planting seeds in pots and planting out. Once you plant them out keep them watered, but don’t feed them anything special.

Like most garden plants, they love sun and good soil (but can put up with far-less-than-great soil too).

At our farm in Mudgee, we planted seeds in one of the woolshed garden beds and one small plant grew, which then sat there for a season, didn’t do much, and died off in the frost.

The next year however, without planting any more, the Warrigal Greens went nuts in the same garden bed. Not that this helps much, but I’ve heard similar tales from other gardeners.

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How to eat Warrigal Greens

The big thing with Warrigal Greens is that you need to BLANCH THEM FIRST before using, due to their Oxalic acid content.

Drop them into boiling water for no more than one minute, then drain, squeeze out excess water, and you’re ready to go.

Our favourite way is to chop them up and use in pastitzis or canneloni (with home-made ricotta, which is ridiculously easy to make, by the way).

But you can also use them however you might use green things – in pesto, dumplings, pasta, fritters or whatever gets you going.

In the past few years Warrigal Greens seem to be on the Sydney restaurant circuit – showing up at places like Billy Kwongs and Momofuku Seiobo, to name just a few.

There’s loads of recipes out there too, including Warrigal Greens pesto and frittatita or, if you’re feeling fancy, suckling pig with roast fennel and warrigal greens. Haven’t tried making a saag with it yet, but I rekon that would rock too.

Warrigal Greens Resources

Do you forage or grow Warrigal Greens? What do you do with yours?

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11 Comments

  1. Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink | Reply

    That actually looks very tasty, with a little olive oil and some red wine vinegar.
    Leslie

  2. Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink | Reply

    Just to let you know that over here in Belgium, it is named “New Zealand Spinach”. I have been wondering why it is so difficult – sometimes – to make them sprout – and when you replant them, to make them ‘take on’… other years your whole garden bed is full of them!

  3. Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:08 am | Permalink | Reply

    Found once you have a cutting take off you always have them.

  4. Jenny
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink | Reply

    Great addition to the garden easy to grow self spreading use it in place spinach and silverbeet and fills in all the gaps in my food forest! love it

  5. Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you for using the Latin names too. So many plant have many common names. Inspiring and such varied content. Wish you were closer.

  6. Alacoque
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink | Reply

    This is one of the big successes in our community garden. I often use it to bulk out other recipes or just add another element of nutrition (e.g. in a lentil soup). And you’re so right about blanching- I made that mistake once, never again!

  7. Posted May 22, 2014 at 3:57 am | Permalink | Reply

    Awesome! Thanks for introducing me to a new plant to forage (when i finally get home to Aus),

  8. Posted May 22, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Just to reiterate and a word of warning if you are taking up eating Warrigal Greens for the first time make sure you blanch the leaves.
    This plant can produce concentrations of oxalates, nitrates and saponins. These can all upset ones health or even cause serious concerns. Eating the very youngest of shoots will avoid the concentrated areas of older leaves. So it is best to blanch the leaves and discard the water disposing of many of the concentrates at the same time.
    Saponins are a type of glycoside which may cause gastric irriations.
    Oxalates form calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause kidney damage.
    Nitrates are usually reduced to nitrites which oxidize heamoglobin leading to vasodilation and decreased blood pressure.

  9. Veronique
    Posted May 27, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink | Reply

    When my brother (French) saw my Warrigal Greens, he flatly said “oh! la tetragone! It comes from Europe”… I was so glad years later to inform him that it was native to Australia and had been brought back to Europe… Reverse colonisation!!!

  10. Alex
    Posted May 27, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Just a hint on the propagation side of things…Don’t be afraid to soak the seeds and change the water. In fact, I wouldn’t sow the floaters and would wait for them to sink. A lot of the plants (Chenopods especially) that grow in periodically dry areas will germinate much more consistently (rather than sporadically) once they’ve had a good flush (= a decent fall of rain). Cheers, Alex.

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  1. By Tetragonia tetragonioides | Find Me A Cure on July 31, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    […] Foraging: Warrigal Greens […]

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