Nitre Bush, Salty Grapes (Nitraria billardierei)
Common names: Nitre Bush, Salty Grapes, Dillon Bush
Taxonomic name: Nitraria billardieri
Habitat: Coast, low lying, saline, clay pans, overgrazed mallee
Form: Sprawling bush to 2 metres
Flowering Time: Spring
Kaurna name: Wadni
Ngarrindjeri name: Wemba Wemba
Description and uses:
Nitraria billardierei or ‘Salty Grapes’ as they are called locally are a prodigious fruiter during Summer. It only takes minutes to harvest a couple of kilos of tasty berries from wild bushes.
These bushes grow to around two metres tall, but are more often chest height and sprawling over a few square metres. They have white flowers on the ends of branches.
Nitre bushes grow in tough conditions along the coast, in salty soil and even salty clay pans. They also grow further inland on overgrazed and damaged (usually saline) land, From that toughness comes a real treat.
The name “Nitre Bush’ comes from the early settlers who burned the bushes to produce nitre (potassium nitrate) otherwise known as saltpeter which was used for fertiliser and as a preservative – it is also an ingredient in gunpowder but I don’t know if they used it for that.
The fruit – the ‘Salty Grapes’ are just as the common name says – grape like in size and texture. They have a sweet taste on the first bite, then the saltiness kicks in. There’s a decent sized seed contained in each grape, so watch your teeth!
The grapes vary from bush to bush and even on the same bush. They can be golden, purple or red and make a delightfully bright mix on the plate.
The traditional owners of the land (and me) eat them raw, straight from the plant. European settlers soon found that they can be dried or, even better, make a tasty jam.
Look for an untidy shrub with clusters of grey – green leaves in whorls of 3 – 6 along sprawling stems. A plant can sprawl over 4 metres in width and reach 2 metres in height. Every part of the plant can be hairy, even the fruit.