This blogs release was scheduled for next week. I was already excited about it and when I read it I could not wait to get it up live for all of you to read.
This week we have a guest blogger and she will introduce herself shortly. I met this Woman only recently and have been training her through our 21 day challenge. The moments when your path crosses with some one who has so much to offer and helps you grow as a person are so valuable and I am grateful that she agreed to share some of what she has learnt with our Team Storm Community. My interest in this topic was triggered recently when I saw Uncle Bruce Pascoe speak on a panel on NITV about how our culture holds so much valuable information that could benefit our society today in regards to Aquaculture and Agriculture ( yes you are still reading a health and fitness blog) . I also have some friends who work in this space for various organisations who are employing strategies that were used by our ancestors to repair our eco systems especially around urban areas. So I brought this back to well what about foods then. People are going nuts for super foods and as the worlds oldest living culture I thought for damn sure we too had something to offer. So here she is ladies and gents her name is Zena and she is going to share some knowledge around Indigenous ‘super foods’ and how gardening and looking after country helps her Mental Health and well being. *Insanely loud applause*
- Can you please introduce yourself for our community.
My name is Zena Cumpston, I am a Barkindji woman living in Melbourne. My Mum grew up in Broken Hill but her Dad’s family was originally from Wilcannia. I lived all over Australia growing up. Most of my family now live in Sydney and Menindee. I also have Afghan and Irish heritage, my great-grandfather was a cameleer delivering mail and opening up the trade routes across the centre for industry. He held the fastest time for running the mail between Broken Hill and Wilcannia on a camel, making it in just one day. I am proud of all of my ancestry and do all I can to know about my family and culture and pass knowledge on to my young sons so they are strong in who they are.
I went to uni late in life after having lots of different careers. Going to uni has changed the course of my life and I have been working as a researcher in the field of history since I got my degree. History is one of my big passions. In my spare time I have been a mad keen gardener and propagator – sowing seeds for my own family and all my friends who are keen. I have been getting more and more interested in Aboriginal agricultural practices and traditional foods most especially because of the incredible work of Uncle Bruce Pascoe. I am also really interested in sustainability and caring for Country and the ways we can reinvigorate and reawaken cultural practices in this area which have been largely dormant since Invasion.
My current role is one I never expected to find in that it combines my interest in sustainability, ecology and Koorie history. I am a Research Fellow for the Clean Air Urban Landscapes Hub at Melbourne University. The Hub is a group that works towards making our cities healthier, more sustainable places for people and all species. Here is a link to a newsletter I put together for NAIDOC Week in my first role with the hub as a knowledge broker;
- How long have you had an interest in bush foods and how our mob used native plants to maintain health and well being?
My interest in this area is relatively new. I am just beginning my journey here. I’ve been reading lots of books the last few years and going to as many talks and short courses as I can to learn more. I am definitely no expert in this field but am trying to learn more all the time. I’ve seen a huge difference in my own health from being really into gardening and producing food for my family for the last 8 years and this has led to a natural progression in becoming interested in how our mob use plants for health and nutrition. I have struggled with depression since losing my Mum and Dad and caring for them as they died. I feel gardening and exercise are the two main things I can do to keep my mental wellbeing in check. I have two young sons now and I can’t afford to fall into a hole so I use my connection with the earth to stay well. There is nothing like getting your hands dirty to lift your spirit.
- What has been the most interesting thing you have discovered since starting your journey?
One of the things I find most interesting is how little of the foods which are endemic are known about and accessible to all Australians to eat. The more I learn about the nutritional benefit of our traditional foods I cannot believe we don’t have them as part of our diet. How ridiculous. You go into a supermarket and pretty much the only product you can get which comes from our lands is eucalyptus oil! You might find some wattle-seed something or other or maybe some Roo meat but considering we survived and thrived for over 60,000 years on the bounty freely available it is insane barely any of our foods are widely accessible. It really speaks to the silencing, ignorance, arrogance and short-sightedness and continued state of colonisation that none of our staples are readily available to us anymore when they would be so beneficial to all Australians. The nutritional value of our foods makes so-called European ‘superfoods’ look like a joke. A really good example is the yam daisy (Microseris lanceolata) which was a staple food right across the south-east of Australia and beyond. The Wurundjeri name for yam daisy is Murnong and there are more mentions of people harvesting this than any other food in early European written accounts. When compared to the same quantity of blueberries, which are used as a nutritional marker in that they are considered a ‘superfood’, yam daisy tubers have 18 times the iron (vital for growth, reducing fatigue, boosting the immune system, producing haemoglobin), four times the copper, magnesium and calcium and twice the potassium (potassium reduces blood pressure and heart rate and assists in counteracting the effects of consuming too much sodium). Yam daisy tubers are extremely high in Inulin which reduce the incidence of colon cancer. Most importantly for First Nations peoples, Inulin can assist with regulating the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats thereby lowering blood glucose levels and improving insulin sensitivity. The consumption of this tuber has therefore been linked to positive impacts on cholesterol levels and blood sugar regulation which could be beneficial for people with diabetes. Inulin is high in dietary fibre and survives the acid stomach environment to feed the beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut. These beneficial bacteria are vital for gut health by fighting harmful bacteria, preventing constipation and boosting the natural immune system.
- What are some easily accessible ‘bush foods’ that can assist with keeping us well and with ailments.
To be honest, I have not learned enough yet to know the answer to this question well. One really accessible type of food in urban areas which has high nutritional value is edible weeds. I use a book called ‘The Weed Forager’s Handbook’ (see references guide for further learning I have put together at the end of this). It is really funny many of the plants someone decided are ‘weeds’ actually have way more health and nutrition benefits than the things we go out and buy to eat. A great example is dandelion which is high in calcium, iron, vitamins A, B6, E and K, Thiamin, antioxidants and beta and alpha carotene. All parts of the dandelion can be eaten and they grow everywhere in the suburbs. The young green leaves from near the centre of the plant are fantastic in salads, and cooked go well with root vegetables and aid on the digestion of fatty meats. Dandelion roots can be used as a coffee substitute. The flower petals can be added to omlettes, patties sandwiches and salads. All around the world dandelion is used as a medicinal herb (well known as an anti-diabetes medicine!) and the Murnong outlined above is from the same family. As the book mentioned outlines, be careful where you gather ‘weeds’ – not near waterways or areas likely to have been subjected to council spraying or on demolition sites that may have heavy chemicals in the soil. As I am learning more about weeds I can’t believe we don’t eat them as part of our diets, they are accessible and have high nutritional value!
- What are some that are not so accessible but we could probably find with the assistance of an Elder or Traditional Owner?
One of the best curative plants is “old man weed” also known as common Sneezeweed (Latin name Centipeda cunninghamii).
It is a small green herb with aromatic weeds that grows along the sides of creeks and on floodplains. It can be made into a curative and restorative tonic which helps with colds and chest complaints and is even used to cure tuberculosis. Big bunches of the plant are gathered a boiled down but going on a course of old man’s weed requires some care so you must get help from an Elder in preparing and using it. Old man’s weed has a reputation as a powerful curative and its use has continued despite disruptions to our cultural practices. Another great one to learn about and use is Cumbungi which grows along rivers and lakes and was the most important plant food in the Murray Darling river system. Both the new summer shoots and the underground stems (rhizomes) were eaten. The shoots are collected and eaten as a salad and the roots are roasted then peeled and the white centre of the root is chewed, they taste much like potatoes (but better!). The fibre that remains was twisted and made into string for fishing lines and nets – incredible strong and durable in water.
- What are ways we can look after country better and help keep ourselves well in the process?
It would be so good if we had foods like yam-daisy commercially available for all of us to enjoy their health benefits. Elders, including Uncle Bruce Pascoe, are currently working towards making this a reality.
The second-highest source of climate pollution is food (after coal-fired and gas-fired power stations). If you can buy local food and reduce the amount of water and energy used from paddock to plate then you can save more energy and water than any other intervention in your home – even more than having energy efficient appliances and practices for example. Buying local food means trying to get things that are in season (haven’t had to travel across the world or a long way, like from Queensland). Farmers markets and local producers are best. Even better is if you can make some of your own food. I use no-dig garden beds (link provided at end) which can even be built on concrete and I think even if people only have a balcony to grow a tiny amount it all adds up. If your producing your own herbs and greens even over a year that is a lot less being transported to you via a truck on our roads. As I mentioned, the act of gardening helps with mental health and another excellent by-product is you are making food to eat healthier. Anyone can garden, even if you only have a tiny space, and it’s a great way to get kids connected with healthy foods. I also think composting is really important for the environment. When food waste (we have too much in Australia!) is thrown in the bin it goes into landfill and contributes substantially to greenhouse gasses. If you’re able to compost you’re putting all that goodness back into the earth and you can use it to make your soil healthy for growing foods.
I bought some Murnong seedlings from VINC at Yarra Bend and I’m hoping my family may be eating them before too long! You can also buy them at CERES nursery if you’re interested in giving them a go. I’m going to try to incorporate more bush foods into my garden and my family’s diet as I learn more along this journey.
Below are some links to further learning that people may find useful if they want to know more;
Pascoe, B, Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident? Magabala Books, Broome, 2014
Grubb, A & Raser-Rowland, A, The Weed Forager’s Handbook; a guide to edible plants and weeds in Australia, Hyland House Publishing Melbourne, 2012
Zola, N & Gott, B, Koorie Plants Koorie People; Traditional Aboriginal Food, Fibre and Healing Plants of Victoria, Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne, 1996
J Weatherhead, Australian Native Food Harvest; a guide for the passionate cook and gardener, Peppermint Ridge Farm Publishing, 2016
J Simpson, Bush Foods and Survival Plants of the south-east, Walkabout Education, Victoria, 2017
Gott, B & Conran, J, Victorian Koorie Plants; some plants used by Victorian Koories for Food Fibre, Medicines and Implements, Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne, 1998
You tube clip for how to do a no-dig garden;
Gardening Australia segment on Native plants;
Thank you again to Zena. I hope you all loved this as much as i did and if you did please let us know !