This large tussock-like plant, which grows in clusters along streams and in areas where there is plenty of moisture, is one of eastern Australia’s most versatile native grasses.
Spiny-headed mat-rush Lomandra longifolia, whose botanical name literally refers to ‘long foliage’, has many uses. Aboriginal use of native plants is often threefold. It may be valuable in the manufacturing of tools, weapons and utensils. It may also provide an ingredient that has medicinal value or be a valuable and versatile source of sustenance.
As A Food
All parts of lomandra are edible, the leaves, root, flower and seeds. The leaves form in smaller clusters within the mother plant, and the new shoots in the centre of the cluster can be extracted with little effort. If a leaf cannot be removed quite easily, then the general rule is do not eat it.
Once removed, the bottom of the leaf has a white base that can be eaten raw – the younger leaves will have
a similar flavour profile to fresh snow peas. The taste becomes stronger up the length of the leaf, with the flavour profile changing to resemble beans and even corn.
The starchy bulb at the base of the leaves is often combined with native carrot and native spinach to make a vegetable broth, much the same as chicken soup is used in recovery from an illness. Sap from these roots was traditionally used to ease the pain associated with insect bites. The leaves can be wrapped tightly around an injured limb to ease pain or muscle soreness, while the tougher leaves are also used as a teething ring for children.
As well as its nutritional and medicinal properties, lomandra’s long foliage was, and still is, useful for lots of
other purposes. The leaves can be collected, stripped, split into narrower lengths and woven into mats, baskets, rope and fishing line. Adding to its versatility is the ability for the foliage to be dried out and rehydrated at a later date to be used as needed. Far more pliable to weave with after it’s been soaked, lomandra leaves will hold their shape once they dry which is why it’s a popular grass for weaving and why it’s sometimes referred to as ‘basket grass’.
Fresh or rehydrated lomandra can be used to weave eel traps and fence-link fish traps called weirs. The long foliage is also perfect for securing sea-soaked paperbark wrapped around naturally seasoned fish before it is placed in hot coals to cook.
Flowers And Seeds
Lomandra will produce flower spikes for up to seven months of the year but the small flowers are the sweetest between late winter and early spring. The small cream- or yellow-coloured flowers contain a sticky, honey-like nectar that children – and pollinators – love to eat. Adults, too, who would sweeten water by immersing the flower before soaking up the moisture with stringy bark which could be chewed at a later time when water was scarce.
After the flowers die back, the berries ripen into dark yellow seeds. The female seeds are much larger than the male seeds. The seeds can be harvested, ground into a flour and used as an ingredient to make damper. Once ground, the course dark husk is removed by winnowing.
In The Garden
A member of the Xanthorrhoeaceae family, lomandra will tolerate most soil types and is even tolerant to really dry conditions. Lomandra needs moisture for active growth, however, and in the right conditions, the leaves will grow up to one metre in length. The plant is use to stabilise the sand dunes and riverbanks and can be easily propagated either by seed or by clump division.