Good For The Body, Good For The Soul
NAIDOC Week kicked off on Sunday, and what better way to welcome it than with Nayri Niara and Festival of Voices’ NAIDOC Celebration and Exhibition at LongHouse Hobart. Nayri Niara, an indigenous-owned and -operated social enterprise, invited us to observe and share in Aboriginal culture, through art, music and – of course – food and beverages. In keeping with this year’s NAIDOC theme, Heal Country, the celebration centred on healing, through connection to country. Nayri Niara co-creator and event producer Chloe Proud says food is one of the great connectors.
“Our focus is on the medicinal, traditional and nutritional, and that permeates through indigenous foods, which we source locally and seasonally,” she says. “There’s also something healing and connective about just sharing food and having a yarn together.”
Sharing food and having a yarn was precisely the agenda at a native botanicals workshop, which took an intimate audience on a discovery of traditional plants. Led by bespoke beverage experts Rohan Massie and Nerissa Waterfield, the healing application of these botanicals in the medicinal and culinary realms was shared. The best part? Indulging in a drinkable menu of delicious non-alcoholic libations.
Punch and Ladle’s Rohan says there’s a hidden harvest all around us just begging to be repurposed in the kitchen or apothecary.
“There’s a bounty of native botanicals all around us, and we often don’t realise they’re edible,” he says. “I live in the eastern suburbs of Hobart, and we have heaps of wonderful things like kunzea, pigface and amazing native herbs that we can use as natural flavour in our drinks and food.”
Take river mint for example. It’s got a different flavour profile to the mint you might see at your local greengrocers, with more herbaceous notes that complement sweet aromatics.
For Rohan, it pairs perfectly with a soda of locally-grown feijoa.
“We juice the feijoa and then macerate the leftover pulp with sugar to add flavour instead of going to waste,” he says. “Feijoa has an apple or pear flavour with a hint of bubble gum, so it’s a beautiful combination with that herbaceous river mint that packs quite a punch.”
For a native mocktail, sea celery takes the humble virgin Mary to a whole new level. Built up with tomato juice, pepper berry leaf, saltbush and local kelp, it maintains the traditional flavour profile of everybody’s favourite hair of the dog, but adds a native
twist. Ochre Experience’s Nerissa says sea celery tastes like a mixture of supermarket celery and strong parsley.
“It’s got quite a kick to it – it’s a lot stronger than ‘normal’ celery,” she says. “It brings out amazing flavour in soups, stews, casseroles and my bush relish.”
For a bush tucker spin on childhood nostalgia, try a creaming soda with native wattleseed. Rohan’s formula infuses sugar syrup with crushed and roasted wattleseed, then adds lactic acid to balance sweetness and bring the “cream” to creaming soda. Carbonated in a soda stream or diluted down with soda water, it’s a healthier home-made way to get a soft drink fix, with a flavour that is steeped in indigenous tradition.
“Aboriginal people collected wattleseed to grind to make flour for damper and scones,” says Nerissa.
“It brings out a beautiful roasted, nutty, coffee flavour that is also delicious in chai and other baked treats like cakes and biscuits.”
There’s a virtuous side to these indulgent treats, too. Nerissa points out that native botanicals have medicinal properties that have been used for tens of thousands of years.
“Pepper berry is one of my absolute favourites when it comes to bush tucker. It’s got a massive kick, with a beautiful sweeter, stronger flavour to it,” she says. “But you can also boil it in water and the vapours will clear your nose if you have a cold or flu.”
“And sassafras has amazing medicinal qualities, too. Growing up, there was always sassafras boiling on the stove in winter so we wouldn’t get a cold, and it’s also really good for your gut,” Narissa says. “Everything we’ve served today is native, natural and organic – it’s good for your body and good for your soul.”