Habitat: Toward the coast, low lying, saline, clay pans, overgrazed mallee
Flowering Time: Spring
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 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.
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 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.
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.
On a separate trip, further up the coast, we found olive and deep purple coloured fruits…