Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ruby Saltbush

Enchylaena tomentosa
Saltbushes are such useful plants, and these family members are no exception.
Like most saltbushes, they are drought and frost hardy. They can grow in nutritionally poor soils, and in soils damaged by salinisation.
They have fruits which can be eaten raw. They are quite tasty, sweet, and rich in Vitamin C. Eat them straight from the bush, or use them as a pretty garnish for rice dishes, meusli, or salads.
The plant has salty leaves which are valued as high quality stock fodder, but they can also be eaten by people, providing a good source of Vitamins C and E. There are better tasting vegetables, but in times of vegetable scarcity saltbush leaves have been valued for their ability to stave off scurvy. The quantity of salt they contain varies, depending on the amount in the soil where they grow. They need to be cooked, and boiling them briefly also removes much of the salt.
Nowadays we would throw this salty water away, but early settlers and explorers needed a source of salt, both for their health, and for preserving meat. The salt from saltbushes was valued!
In good garden soil, given a bit of care from a gardener (including some pruning), they can be beautiful plants. They have blue-grey leaves, and bright fruits for a period of many months in summer and autumn. There are, broadly speaking, two local forms; the one with ruby-red fruits, which tends to be a dense ground cover, about 1m across and 25cm high; and an orange-fruited form, which more upright and has orange fruits. However fruit colour varies considerably within our region, and a selection of these plants can provide a multicoloured show.
All saltbushes are fire-retardant. Where fire is a possible threat to homes, saltbushes could be a better choice for a ground-cover in the garden than the popular, but flammable, wood-chip mulch.

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