Clockwise from top left: Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens); Fruiting pigface from Carpobrotus glaucescens; Blooming bush of karkalla (or pigface, beach banana, Carpobrotus rossii); Pigface fruit from Carpobrotus glaucescens.
The unusually named pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens, or carpobrotus rossii), also called karkalla, sea fig or sea bananas, is a succulent groundcover found in most parts of temperate coastal Australia. Its flowing green leaves and bright pink flowers are hard to miss as you walk the sand dunes for your ocean swim. This edible Australian native bushfood can also be easily grown in your garden.
Pigface is a coastal variety of saltbush, a halophyte which means it can adapt to high saline soils or water. It does this by either excreting salt or absorbing a lot of water to keep a healthy balance. Every part of the pigface plant is edible, with the red fruit being described as tasting like salty strawberries or salty fig. The leaves can be used medicinally for burns or stings, plus eaten raw or cooked.
Pigface is a spreading succulent with vibrant, fleshy green leaves 3–10 cm long and striking red or purple flowers. It can be found year-round covering large patches of coastal sand dunes. Not to be confused with Mesembryanthemum, a genus to which pigface used to belong, which has 25 species from Europe and South Africa, comes in a hugely variable range of colours and shapes and is what you might find for sale at a garden nursery.
You will find a green blanket of pigface leaves covering sand dunes at the beach or creeping along coastal cliffs. During spring and summer they will be dotted with bright pink flowers that, once pollinated, will swell into the edible red/ purple fruit. Keep in mind this groundcover is an important part of the ecosystem and dune stabilisation, with the flowers being a food for bees and insects. Take only what you need, leaving plenty for other creatures, and avoid treading on too many juicy green leaves.
Pigface can be grown in your home garden in full sun or partial shade. It’s a hardy groundcover for rockeries, walls or banks, likes well-drained soil and is drought tolerant. It’s easy to propagate by taking a leaf and planting it in potting mix similar to how you would grow a succulent. If you would like to make this process even quicker, take a stem cutting about 10 cm long and break off the lowest two leaves then plant the whole stem. Well-watered and looked after, this stem will establish roots in about 6 weeks. Best done in summer.
Enjoy a sweet-salty snack and eat the raw ripened fruit straight off the plant, peeled or unpeeled. Or you can gather a small bunch of the fruit to add sliced to a salad, or to pickle, or cook as part of your meal to add flavour, or make into a jam. The leaves can also be eaten raw or cooked as greens. The leaves can be added as a substitute for salt in meat dishes. Crush the leaves and use medicinally as you would use aloe vera, applied on the skin to soothe mosquito bites or burns.
Pigface And Greens Stir Fry
3 tablespoons of coconut oil or lard
3 garlic cloves chopped
¼ teaspoon of salt flakes
Small bunch of pigface leaves
Small bunch of warrigal greens
Small bunch of baby spinach
2 tablespoons of tamari
½ teaspoon of sesame oil
Heat the oil on high and once hot add the garlic and salt and stir-fry for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the greens and stir-fry 2–3 minutes until wilted. Add the tamari and stir fry another minute. Add the sesame oil and remove from the heat and serve straight away.