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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Bush food research by SCU

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Pocket Herbs’ creator Iain Reynolds with Southern Cross University’s Professor Bronwyn Barkla, Pocket’s assistant manager Ian Collier and SCU’s horticulturist Alicia Hidden at Pocket Herbs Burringbar discussing saltbush, one of the 20 plants in the joint study.

Northern Rivers’ Pocket Herbs – a cutting edge producer of specialist edible plants in Burringbar Valley – has entered into a research partnership with Southern Cross University to determine the nutritional (and anti-nutritional) content of native bush foods.

Up to 20 bush food varieties will be selected and their propagation optimised in greenhouse conditions.

The year-long $95,000 study is jointly funded by the federal government’s Entrepreneurs Program – Innovation Connections grant and Pocket Herbs. Southern Cross Plant Science, based at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus, will be providing research leadership.

‘The selected plants and seeds will be germinated and propagated at both a Pocket Herbs greenhouse and in Southern Cross Plant Science facilities for biosecurity reasons,’ said Pocket Herbs co-owner and horticulturist Iain Reynolds.

‘Southern Cross Plant Science will develop protocols for the selected varieties to achieve optimum yields and quality using existing greenhouse growth tables and irrigation, analysing the nutritional profile for a decided set of plant macro- and micronutrients and antioxidants, as well as anti-nutrients (oxalates).’

Peter Hardwick, a Northern Rivers wild plant researcher and professional forager, said that Pocket Herbs’ continued development of quality micro-product was a welcome first in Australia.

‘Succulent wild vegetables have become very popular in high-end restaurants, and it’s time to really start producing these crops more consistently and in larger volumes.

‘Horticultural production provides a reliable supply and quality which the marketplace needs. But we need to know what the optimum conditions are for these as crops, and I am looking forward to assisting Pocket Herbs and SCU in this research.’

Pocket Herbs supplies to wholesalers and local providores, who in turn supply to chefs, restaurants, and cafes. ‘We grow in a sustainable manner utilising little water (our system recycles water) and have over 42kW of solar power installed,’ said Mr Reynolds.

‘Our crops are grown in a controlled greenhouse environment using sustainable agricultural practices. These practices involve soil-less growing techniques and the collection and re-use of rainwater. No fungicides or chemical pesticides are used.’

Associate Professor Bronwyn Barkla, director of Southern Cross Plant Science, said she was excited to be involved in the project. ‘Many of the plants selected are naturally salt-tolerant species. One of our objectives is to determine what the protocols for optimal salt treatment during growth to produce a deliciously salty salad leaf for the consumer,’ she said.

Darren Robertson TAFE ambassador with Pocket Herbs’ assistant manager Ian Collie.

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  1. Most of this work has already been done in South Australia by Mike Quarmby and I fear that micro-greens will be grown for that classic plate garnish – you know the ones. They are the little sprigs of colour that gets wiped into the rubbish bin because no one eats them. It is the same as with those giant (tasteless) strawberries chefs use to decorate a dessert. They look good but no one eats them.

    However, we are really missing out on what Indigenous Australians have known for 65,000 years. Live within the carrying capacity of your Country. Eat 4 to 10 times the variety of foods do do today and eat as much raw as you can. And eat wild or near wild because cultivation turns good food into rubbish.

    For example, wild foods are rich sources of micronutrients including antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, anti-allergens, anti-rogue cell (anti-proliferatives, pro-apopotics, anti-carcinogens, anti-mutagens), immune boosters, adaptogens, organic acids, organ protectants (brain, heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, blood vessels, etc), live enzymes and enzyme regulators, good sugars and bioavailable minerals.

    Cultivated foods are not. If fact they miss out on whole classes of beneficial components eg fat soluble antioxidants in fruits, fibre in all our produce (and anthocyanin antioxidants which are usually associated with the fibre), anti-rogue cells, adaptogens, good sugars, bioavailable nminerals etc etc.

    Our government health advisers recommend that we 2 fruits and 5 vegetables a day but anyone who has been out foraging with indigenous families can assure us that traditional diets were more like 10 fruits and 3 vegetables a day. Why? Because modern fruits (mangoes, melons, pineapples, stone fruits) can have up to 3% MORE bad sugars (sucrose and fructose) than Coke or Pepsi. Dried fruits (dates, raisins, sultanas etc) can be from 45 to 65% bad sugars.

    I know from feedback from people who have tried LIFE (Lyophilized Indigenous Food Essentials)™ and from my own experience, it appears that wild foods are the antidote to modern foods.

    Add to this, studies in 1908, 1971 and 2016 which reported that among Indigenous Australians, Africans and Americans, conditions including cancers, ischemic heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, gout and mental diseases were extremely rare to non-existent.

    Perhaps we should be educating anyone who eats that wild foods supply essential micronutrients that may address most of the diseases of nutrition and we need to be eating more of them. Not garnishing plates in upmarket restaurants with what quickly becomes food waste.


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