Foods that light my fire

15 April - by Lynda Grace

The tour description for Tasting Australia’s Foods That Light Your Fire mentions the existence of 2,300 plants from 257 species, showing the diversity of trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs that have assisted with healing the body, mind and soul for thousands of years. My expectations were high, but 90 minutes later, I was even more enlightened, despite focussing on only 19 plants.

On arrival at Adelaide Botanic Garden, the two dozen tour participants received a freshly poured taste of Lemon Verbena tea from three vivacious volunteer tour leaders, Sue, Fiona and Tricia. They each had a basket laden with little tastes and examples of treats in store.

Off we went to our first destination - the Arabica Coffee tree. Listening to its succinctly described history, health attributes and culinary uses of coffee, we learned that there had been five attempts in different parts of the world to ban what is now one of the world’s most important crops.

Our next stop was Ficus Avenue, where we were given a taste of dried fig as we learnt about the various uses of all parts of the ficus, including its use for making coffins in Egypt. As we rambled, we stopped at a 200-year-old eucalypt, planted before the gardens were even established. As samples of liniment and oils circulated, we were told of its use in vodka making in Australia (once there was even a eucalypt liqueur). The wood itself, of course, is used for firing ovens and smokers everywhere.

Did you know licorice is commonly blended into tobacco to sweeten it, but it also dilates the bronchial tubes to enhance smoking satisfaction? Or that sugar is used to make explosives? It was surprising to discover the lemon tree was only an ornamental plant until recent times, as we enjoyed a subtle lemon lozenge. We tucked into a delicious rosemary biscuit while hearing about the many well known and also lesser-known uses for rosemary, such as an alleged cure for baldness. There were dips to taste when we reached the horseradish beds, then a tasty little muffin showing off the flavours of the caper bush, and a delicate ginger bread biscuit by the ginger crop.

The fun the volunteers had researching their subjects and finding ways to show them off was evident and contagious. The coordinator explained that different volunteers are hosting other days, so each tour will vary. I have to say that at $5 per person, this tour was incredible value for money.

The Adelaide Botanic Garden has been hosting tours for Tasting Australia since 2004 and previously had been given specific themes. This year, it had free reign and chose an updated version of its 2004 tour. It holds a variety of tours; “If The Trees Could Talk” during History Week sounds like another not to be missed.

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