Free food and medicine
Picture: Supplied

It tastes "really average" when eaten raw, according to Larry Blight. Not only is it hot and spicy like raw radish but it also leaves you with a purple tongue.

Cook it with kangaroo, however, and bloodroot adds a welcome bit of spice and flavour. And there's another advantage with this bush tucker: it's useful as a medicine.

One of Larry Blight's audience was complaining of a bad toothache. "I diced up a little bit of this bloodroot and said 'Chew on this'," he recalls. "It tastes really average but it fixed up her toothache in about 30 seconds."

Food and medicine, both from the same plant, both free from the Australian bush.

If it sounds too good to be true, there is indeed a catch: you need to know exactly what you're doing when foraging for bush tucker.

One problem, he noted, was that some edible plants looked very like those that are not edible. Even trickier, some edible plants can be toxic at certain times of the year.

"I always tell people 'I don't want you to try anything by yourself'," he says. "You need someone who knows what to look for."

Larry Blight knows a fair bit about what to look for.

He's a member of the Menang Noongar people from the Albany area who's lived in the region for 40-odd years.

As a young bloke, he was taught about bush tucker by his family.

"I used to go out with my uncles a fair bit and they used to talk about the country and the animals and we used to do a lot of hunting together," he says.

"They were really good times. We'd get a couple of kangaroos and light a fire and have a bit of a feed and bring the rest back in.

"My mum also showed me a lot of bush foods, as well as some of the elders in Albany. I was shown a lot because I was very interested and I wanted to learn.

"But being a young bloke at the time, I didn't really take a lot of it in."

That started to change when he returned to Albany after a stint working in the North West and became deeply interested in Aboriginal culture and history.

Mr Blight says he's helped spread the word about Noongar culture and bush foods through the Education Department, the WA Museum and the Clontarf Academy in Albany - from storytelling for pre-primary students to teaching traditional toolmaking and building.

He says he wants to pass on the knowledge to both the younger Noongar generation and non-Aboriginal people.

"If non-Aboriginal people can get an understanding of how Aboriginals lived through bush foods and the language, it helps cultural awareness and that's what I'm trying to do," he said.

"I'm really seeing a lot of younger people nowadays showing interest and excitement in it and to me that's great. Even some of the older generation are asking me about the bush foods out there."

Mr Blight gets another chance in the IGA Taste Great Southern festival when he presents "Bush Tucker - The Original Australian Food" on March 4 at the Bush Tucker Garden.

He says that before such talks he'll usually go into the bush and collect enough bush tucker - seeds, tubers, wild plums, medicine plants - so everybody attending can taste a little. Maybe some balga, or zamia (also known as jeridjen) or perhaps some spicy bloodroot (aka mean or menang).

Then if the interest is there, he'll take his audience to where he has located the food so they can see for themselves the environment in which it was growing.

"I know a fair bit," he said.

"But there's still a lot more out there that I don't know a lot about."


Bush Tucker- The Original

Australian Food March 4: At Co-Op building, WA Museum, Albany from 10.30- 11.30am. Gold coin donation. Phone 9841 4844

The West Australian

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