botanical profile: saltbush

botanical profile: saltbush

Becoming one of the more known and widely available native ingredients, Saltbush has been instrumental as a species across all cultures that have inhabited Australia. Saltbush is the moniker for the species of Atriplex - of which there are 250 individual species - which grows worldwide throughout Australia, South & North America and across Eurasia. They thrive in heavily saline soils in dry environments - Australia is a clear perfect fit for it. It's been able to thrive all across our ancient land, and is one of the more wildly grown edible species that you can find in innocuous places. 

Indigenous Australians have been using it culinarily for millennia, whether it be its seeds ground and utilised in damper, or its more common usage of being smoked whilst cooking various proteins. But, much like many native ingredients, Indigenous Australians had an array of medicinal practices, particularly in healing burns or cuts, being mixed with water as a cleansing agent. 

Agriculturally, it's had a massive impact across the country. Initially when settlement first began, farmers began ripping it out the ground to plant crops for harvesting - particularly wheat. What they didn't know, as they didn't have as strong connection to the land as the Indigenous peoples that preceded them, is that saltbush has an incredible ability to manage salinity in soils - hence the name - and quickly, the crops planted by colonists began to die from overly saline soils. 

Recently, many farmers and agriculturalists have been utilising saltbush to fix these problems - particularly in South Australia out near Port Augusta - creating nurseries and farm plantations to provide saltbush to help fix these overtly salty plains. Planting saltbush has also created a great benefit for livestock grazing when managed properly, creating a wonderful value addition to farmers around the nation with the new industry of 'Saltbush Lamb'.

But its modern culinary use extends beyond this, with plenty of incredible chefs finding great use for it, in simple ways. With it's salty flavour, it has been utilised in a way that's similar to crisps or fries, either being baked or fried for a crunchy treat - sometimes with light batter. It's also being utilised in a way similar to bay leaf, as a great seasoning to stocks and sauces, and an extra protein seasoning in a way that harks back to Indigenous Australians use.

In our Saltbush Gin, we decided to utilise the seeds and the leaf as the core of the gin, for that interesting bayleaf like herbaceous character, backed up with some Rivermint and body from Davidson Plum for a light fruitiness. It's a gin that structurally harks to more of a Japanese influence, but of course like saltbush, it is distinctly and truly Australian.