Warrigal Greens, Tetragonia tetragoniodes, also known as “New Zealand spinach”, is a frost-tender, short-lived, perennial vegetable. In our western Sydney location where winters can get below 0°C overnight, it tends to be herbaceous, meaning it dies down in winter and comes back in Spring. Sometimes that’s the old plant breaking dormancy, more often it’s a whole lot of new plants that were self-seeded. Being slightly succulent in nature, it is heat tolerant and disease resistant. Even the snails and slugs leave it alone!!
The plant has been used in Australia for over 230 years, mostly by settlers, as a spinach substitute, particularly in hot weather. It is native to Australia and New Zealand, where it is used in cooking by the Maori, although it, apparently, did not feature much in the diets of indigenous Australians.
It’s natural habitat is along shorelines, and will it survive in salt water. Given its liking for sandy locations, it can be difficult to grow in heavy soils. Try growing it in a large container if your soil is more clay than loam.
In our garden, in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, it does better in afternoon shade and is particularly vigorous when kept well watered. It is a trailing plant, rarely growing more than 15cm high, but will also climb shrubs or other structures. The yellow flowers are barely noticeable but it produces masses of large seeds along its stems. Once established in the garden, it self seeds and will survive being neglected as long as it has access to moisture.
This propensity to self-seed is good because, in our experience, it is quite difficult to get the hard seeds to sprout. First, they must be soaked for 12 hours in lukewarm water, then, once sown, they are erratic and may take several weeks to germinate (despite seed packets saying “14-21 days”). We have found the best way to grow it from seed is to soak then put one seed per cardboard tube (see footnote) filled with sandy potting mix (homemade, of course) and be prepared to wait, up to two months! Of course, you could try throwing seed on the ground where you want it to grow and leaving it alone! Don’t try growing it in winter, but any time from late September to mid-February should see the seed germinate (eventually).
Once the seeds have germinated and the first ‘true leaves’ come through, you will see triangular-shaped, succulent leaves with a dew-drop appearance, even when they are not wet! Grown in full shade, such as found under our Cape Gooseberry bush, it will grow slowly but will survive. In ‘perfect conditions’, sandy soil with plenty of moisture, it will grow quite vigorously.
The leaves can be harvested from about sixty days, if the plant is growing well. Warrigal Greens are high in oxalic acid and, therefore, must be blanched for one minute, before being cooked. It can be used in any recipe that calls for spinach, silverbeet, chard or bok choy, and is suitable for soups, stews, stir fry or steamed as a side vegetable.
Lizards are attracted to the plant and our hens find Warrigal Greens irresistible!
FUN FINAL FACT
The plants were found growing around the shores of Botany Bay in 1770, and was cooked and pickled on Captain Cook’s ship, The Endeavour, as a prevention against scurvy.
footnote: from the inside of a toilet roll or paper towel (cut in half)
DISCLAIMER: The information given here is for entertainment and/or gardening purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. If you have never eaten it before, try a small amount and wait a day or two before eating more.