Clockwise from above: Warrigal greens will create a thick edible ground cover; Warrigal greens and macadamia pesto; Once established, they will keep coming back year after year. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt
Warrigal greens Tetragonia teragoniodes is a trailing leafy groundcover native to Australia, Eastern Asia and New Zealand – hence its other name, New Zealand spinach. In Europe it is now an invasive species, which belies its historical use as a great source of vitamin C for scurvy-riddled sailors and settlers during colonisation. Botanist Joseph Banks took warrigal greens back to England’s Kew Gardens, from where it became a popular cultivated vegetable for a while.
The word warrigal comes from the Darug indigenous people of the Sydney area, although not much is known about how they used this hardy plant. Warrigal greens is now grown commercially in Australia and is marketed as a bush food in restaurants and cafes.
Warrigal greens has a large, succulent, triangular-shaped leaf three to 15 cm in length, with small yellow flowers appearing in late summer. It is a low-growing perennial that forms a thick, attractive groundcover that can work well under fruit trees in an orchard. It can handle either full sun or shade.
You can find this salt-tolerant plant along the coastline growing at the edge of sand dunes. Look under trees such as Norfolk pines or melaleucas for patches or spreading clumps. If you’re further inland, you may find warrigal greens along waterways or on the edge of degraded land. As with all native plants, only take what you need: either enough for a meal or to replant at home. Avoid foraging from public areas that may have been sprayed with chemicals.
You can cultivate this delicious green virtually year-round in frost-free areas. In summer it prefers partial shade. In temperate climates it grows well from mid-spring (or after the last frosts) through to late autumn, then dies off in winter and self-seeds to come back in spring. Once established, it will readily self-sow year after year.
Simple to propagate, warrigal greens can be pulled out of the ground, roots and all, and replanted in its new position, then watered in. Being quite hardy and tolerant, it can tend to get a bit invasive if it is growing well. Even though it’s a hardy plant, it responds well to fertilising, mulching and watering by growing even bigger leaves. It can also be grown in pots.
Tough & Hardy
Easy to grow, with no significant pests or diseases (slugs and snails don’t even eat it!), there’s really no excuse not to have a patch of warrigal greens in your permaculture garden. Capable of thriving in hot and dry conditions, it may well be the type of plant we all need to move towards in times of changing climate.
Warrigal greens is an excellent substitute for spinach, however, like spinach, it contains oxalates and must be blanched before use to reduce the acid content. The leaves are a good source of vitamins A, B and C, as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.
Add to any dish the same way you would use silverbeet and spinach. Blanched and chilled, it makes a delectable salad or cold side dish, especially with a serve of macadamia cream.
WARRIGAL GREENS & MACADAMIA PESTO
1 cup warrigal greens
½ cup macadamia nuts
½ cup oil (ideally macadamia or olive)
1. Remove the leaves from the warrigal greens
2. Place leaves in a heat-tolerant bowl and pour boiling water over them
3. Let stand for two to three minutes
4. Strain leaves and rinse immediately with cold water to prevent overcooking
5. Blend warrigal greens and set aside
6. Blend nuts, oil and lime to a smooth paste, gradually adding warrigal greens
Serve with your favourite pasta, added to salad, or use as a garnishing sauce for grilled or BBQ meats, fish or tofu.