There’s no doubt we’re big on food in Adelaide – cooking it, selling it, serving it up, celebrating it at festivals, learning about it and of course, eating it! Many of us also love to grow our own food but, as green as your thumb may be, there are some edible – and often quite exotic – plants that just aren’t easy to produce in the average backyard garden.
Enter: Adelaide Botanic Garden. A visit to this urban oasis can make for an interesting afternoon out to see some of these ‘not so easy to grow in your own garden’ plants. Many of these plants aren’t showy, so it can be hard to believe they produce the delicious ingredients so many of us enjoy.
Pick up a map at the Adelaide Botanic Garden Visitor Information Centre
to help you navigate this foodie tour with a difference or download a map here. Then, use our location pointers below to track down some of these interesting food-related finds. If you get stuck, be sure to ask the friendly volunteers at the Botanic Garden Visitor Information Centre.
We all know bananas are a fruit – they contain seeds just like oranges and tomatoes. But did you know bananas are also technically a herb? It sure looks like a tree, but the part you see is a leaf, not a trunk. Each leaf stem only produces one bunch of bananas which is harvested before the stem is cut off. The bananas grown here taste unpleasant, mostly due to our climate which isn’t ideal for producing the fruit we’re familiar with. Don’t worry though, they don’t go to waste; the Adelaide Botanic Garden donates their bananas to the animals at the Adelaide Zoo.
Location: In the northern end of the Classgrounds. Start at the main gate on Plane Tree Drive, enter the Classgrounds which is to the left then head west towards the group of tall leafy plants.
Sugar cane is a giant grass originating in New Guinea. Like the spice industry, historically there was much money to be made from sugar in Europe when supply was limited. It was a luxury item which could be afforded by few. Queen Elizabeth I liked sugar so much that her teeth were black! We didn’t know about the effects of sugar on our health until much later.
Location: Just behind the bananas in the Classgrounds.
Spices including cinnamon, cardamom, pepper and cloves were once the exclusive privilege of the wealthy and have strong links to colonisation. The English, Portuguese and Dutch fought to control Sri Lanka’s cinnamon which could be sold at great profit in Europe as supplies were so limited. The spice, which is commonly used in cooking today, comes from the inner bark of the tree which is encouraged to roll as it’s harvested, hence the shape of cinnamon sticks.
Location: In the Classgrounds. Behind the bananas is a bench. From here walk east along the paved path for approximately 90 metres. The tree is to the right, near a T junction. If you reach the next bench at the end of this path you’ve gone a little too far.
Pineapples contain the enzyme Bromelain which digests proteins, and yes, that includes the skin in your mouth while you’re eating! There’s no real cause for alarm because your stomach destroys the enzymes when you swallow, but some people report a tingling feeling on their lips, tongue or mouth. Not surprisingly, the enzyme also makes it a great meat tenderiser.
Location: In the south east corner inside the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion. Keep your eyes down low.
Australia grows only the higher quality Arabica coffees used in the specialist or roast and ground market. The first coffee cultivated in Australia was planted in 1832 at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane. The major production regions in Australia are in the tropical areas of the country. When the beans are picked they’re green, and it’s not until they’re roasted that they take on the flavour we associate with coffee.
Location: Behind the pineapple in the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion.
We wouldn’t have chocolate without the cacao plant, which grows the bean from which chocolate is derived. Not even the fussiest cook would source the cacao beans to process into chocolate, which is a highly specialised process. We’ll leave that to the experts (and visit Haigh’s for our chocolate fix another day) but, in the meantime, it’s interesting to see the humble plant where it all begins.
Location: In the north east Amazon Waterlily Pavilion.
At one stage, vanilla was worth more than gold by weight. Vanilla comes from a climbing orchid that grows as a vine – it’s the only orchid to bear fruit. It takes three years for a vanilla plant to flower. The green vanilla pods are picked after nine months but have no flavour until they’re dried in the sun and then fermented in sweat boxes at night to bring out the oil, vanillin, which takes another four to five months. No wonder vanilla is still an expensive spice to buy in modern times.
Location: Northern annexe of the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion
Want to see more?
Make your way to the Visitor Information Centre at Schomburgk Pavilion and ask their friendly volunteers where you can find the plants that produce cardamom, ginger, curry leaves, dessert lime, avocado, grapes, olives, walnuts and more.
They can also point you to their monthly self guided trail, featuring different ‘hidden’ plants that sometimes go unnoticed. The May tour includes the Scrub cherry, magenta lilly pilly, which is used to make jam. Yum! The Friends of the Botanic Gardens also run free guided walks.
Adelaide Botanic Garden offers a range of self-guided trails for schools covering a variety of topics including edible plants. Register online here to access maps, trails and information about your trail of choice.
With thanks to the Adelaide Botanic Garden for information about the edible plants in its collection.