Common names: Kangaroo Apple, New Zealand Nightshade
Taxonomic names: Solanum aviculare, Solanum laciniatum
Habitat: Forest margins, woodland edges
Form: Bush to 3 metres
Flowering Time: Spring and Summer
Ngarrindjeri name: Mookitch
Kangaroo Apple is one of the amazing Solanum family which gives us so much of our food and lots of our medicines.
There are two closely related and very similar plants, S. laciniatum and S. aviculare. They’re pretty similar except that S. laciniatum has notched lobes on the flowers and the seeds are larger (2 – 2.5 mm long compared to S. aviculare which has seeds 1 – 1.5 mm long). S. laciniatum has flowers that tend to be more of a dark purple colour.
They’re both bushy plants that grow to around 3 metres tall.
Kangaroo Apple has large, dark green leaves which are deeply lobed or toothed. The flowers are purple and have 5 petals. The flowers are in the common Solanum shape.
The most interesting part of a Kangaroo Apple plant is the fruit which is egg shaped and changes from green to red/orange as they ripen. The plants are heavy fruiters.
Note: only eat the ripe, orange fruit. Unripe or green ones will get you pretty sick.
When the fruit is orange it’s ready to eat. I have been recommended allowing it to ripen to the point where the skin splits before eating too. The fruit tastes very bitter before it is ripe and it’s a taste that stays with you for a while.
They fruits go off quickly when ripe, so it’s best to pick them at the stage shown in the first picture on this page, then leave them to ripen until they are at the stage of those in the photo above. Luckily, Kangaroo Apple fruit ripens nicely even if picked too early – just leave it in a sunny, warm spot until it changes colour.
Besides being a tasty bushfood, Kangaroo Apple leaves and fruit have some interesting medicinal properties.
They leaves and unripe fruit contain a toxic chemical called Solsadine which is used for the production of cortisone based contraceptives, so don’t take it when you are pregnant or trying to conceive. That explains one traditional use – contraception.
There are also compounds in the plant that act as corticosteroids and one is a building block for cortisone production. That explains one traditional use which was to crush the fruit and apply the pulp as a poultice for inflammations, particularly in joints. The steroidal components of the plant help to reduce inflammation and rashes.
Reminder: only eat the ripe, orange fruit. Unripe or green ones will make you pretty sick.