As Australia’s floral emblem, the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) is a familiar site across the southern temperate regions of the continent. Its bright yellow blooms bring a sneeze in spring for those prone to hayfever. Australian aborigines utilised various species for everything from food and medicines, to utensils such as digging sticks and barbs, weapons (clubs, shields, boomerangs, spear throwers, spear shafts and heads), for musical instruments such as clap sticks; firewood, ash, glue, string, dye, waterproofing, sandals, head decorations, ceremonial items and seasonal signals.
Early European explorers, colonial settlers and scientists were impressed by the ‘healing’ powers of acacias, commonly used them to treat dysentery, diarrhoea and sore eyes.
Preparations from at least 30 of the more than 950 acacia species in Australia were traditionally used by indigenous Australians for medicinal purposes . Leaves, branchlets, bark, gum, roots, pods and seeds; different parts were prepared in different ways to drink or apply externally to cure ailments.
Southern Ironwood (Acacia estrophiolata) was used to treat colds, sore throats and headache. A decoction using the inner bark from the smooth younger branches was used once daily for sores, boils and scabies and as a splash for inflamed eyes. A red or blackish gum exuded by this species after it was damaged, was softened by kneading under water and applied like an ointment directly to sores and wounds. Hard pieces of gum were sometimes ground to fine powder which was dusted onto skin lesions. Long strips of the root bark of were moistened with water and wrapped around sores, burns and larger wounds, and used to secure dressings.
Other Acacias were used to treat itching from a number of skin conditions such as allergies, various diseases and rashes; including those caused by hairy, stinging caterpillars (itchy grubs).
In arid areas of Australia, seed from about 40 acacia species was used for food. The high nutritional value and wide availability of seed from various species made them a valuable resource. Wattleseed contains 33% more protein than wheat. It’s gluten-free and has a low glycemic index. It contains magnesium, zinc and calcium.
The Mulga (Acacia aneura) woodlands, widely spread in all mainland states except Victoria , are a common habitat for the honey ant, the lerp scale which exudes ‘honey dew’ that was made into a sweet drink, and the wasp which produces the juicy mulga apple. Kangaroos use mulga woodlands for shelter, and zebra finches nest in the branches.
The highly valued witchetty grub is found pupating in the roots of the Witchetty Bush (Acacia kempeana ).
Depending on the species, seed was eaten and prepared in different ways. Young green pods were eaten raw or green pods were roasted or steamed, or dry mature seed was ground into a flour, mixed with a little water and eaten as a paste or cooked as a damper . Uncooked seed from a small number of species were plucked from the pods and eaten raw as a ‘snack food’
Acacias were also used as seasonal indicators or calendar plants. For example, when the flowers of Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata ) growing along the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne fell into the water, it was time to fish for eels that fed on grubs that lived in the wattle flowers.
However, as is the case with all plants, if you can’t identify them don’t eat them. Many acacia species contain toxins that require extensive preparation before they can be used, and others should never be used.
Roasted and ground seed from the Elegant Wattle (Acacia Victoriae ) has been readily accepted at today’s Australian table. By roasting the raw wattle seed until it pops, similar to pop corn it has an amazing flavour related to hazelnut, coffee, walnuts, and chocolate.. This has many uses, coffee-like beverages (caffeine free), essences, beer, baking, confectionery, dairy, sweets, confectionery and marinades.
Over the past few years even the pod/husk of the Elegant Wattle have been researched for its medical properties, in the fight against cancer. After roasting, the seeds are ground for convenient use.
Wattle seeds have very hard husks and when they fall off the tree will last for up to twenty years only germinating after bushfires. If you plant them, soak them in boiling water for a few hours first or alternatively, throw them on the BBQ and then plant after they pop. Because their hard shell also protects the seed during long periods of dormancy on the ground you have to crack through that for the germination to occur. It is generally the first tree back after a bushfire.
Roasted and ground wattleseed is used in desserts, cake and bread and gives a delicious flavour to meat dishes, chicken, fish and cream sauces. Add to pancake batter, cheesecake or ice cream .
For sweet dishes it blends well with vanilla and cinnamon. For a savoury flavour, try it with lemon myrtle, bush tomato or pepperberry. In uncooked dishes, allow to infuse overnight.
If you brew a “tea” you can then use the softened grains in baking. Some chefs grind it really finely to produce delicious Wattleseed Scones. I love to add a heaped teaspoon to my bread mix. After 4 hours the grittiness that can occur with a short cooking time disappears.
Easy Wattleseed Icecream.
For each litre of premium vanilla ice cream use 2 teaspoons of roasted ground wattleseed. Put the wattleseed into a cup and just cover with boiling water. This will swell the wattleseed and release the flavours. Allow to cool. Slightly soften the vanilla ice cream in a bowl. Stir through the wattleseed slurry. Return the ice cream to the tub and refreeze.
Tips for using roasted and ground wattleseed.
1. For a beverage……1 heaped tsp per cup, in a percolator, plunger or filter.
2. Bread, damper, scones…..1 tsp per cup of flour.
3. Ice cream….1/2 tsp per 200ml
4. Slices and Biscuits add 1 tsp to each cup of recipe mixture.
5. Best to brew the wattleseed in hot water to bring out the flavour, and use the syrup……..
6. Lightly dust meat just prior to cooking
7. For a sauce – add 25gm and 2 star anise to 2 cups of reduced lamb stock. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain twice and then add a knob of butter.
Wattleseed & Macadamia Nut Anzac Biscuits
1 ½ cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour
½ cup white sugar
30g ground wattleseed
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ cup chopped and toasted macadamias
1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees C.
2. Mix together the oats, flour, wattleseed, sugar and macadamia nuts.
3.In a saucepan, melt the butter and butter and golden syrup over a low heat, stirring until combined. Mix water and baking soda in a cup and add to melted butter mixture. Add all of this to the dry ingredients. Take teaspoonfuls of mixture and place on lightly greased biscuit tray flattening them a little with a fork. Leave 3cm for the biscuits to spread.
4. Cook for 15 minutes, then remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
Wattleseed Cinnamon Myrtle Swirl Cake
Cream 125gm butter with a tspn of Wattleseed Extract and ¾ cup sugar. Add 2 eggs. Mix well and then divide the mix in half.
To the first half add 1 Tbspns softened Wattleseed, ¾ cup of self raising flour and a ¼ cup milk.
To the second half add 1 Tbspn of Cinnamon Myrtle, ¾ cup of self raising flour and a ¼ cup milk.
Spoon into a prepared cake tin, alternating and swirling. Bake at 180C for 40 minutes.
Serve warm with custard and/ or whipped cream.