Friday, January 23, 2009

Harakeke/NZ Flax (Phormium tenax)

Harakeke is of course one of those all round super-useful plants. I'm no weaver though, so for me the two most exciting discoveries (both shown to me by other people) have been the seeds in the pods and the gel at the base of the plants.


The seeds are highly edible. When white or green they are sweet and meaty. When black and shiny they are bitter. The sweet ones are nice on their own or sprinkled on a salad.

What I have noticed is that the plants with short, fat pods seem more likely to contain sweet white seeds - and after a while you can predict which pods will contain the sweetest seeds, because they have a slightly more yellow-brown tinge to them than the other pods.

It seems that the easiest way to extract the seeds from the pod is to snap it in the middle and squeeze the seeds out from each end.

(Note that Phormium tenax is not the kind of flax that flaxseed oil comes from. That other kind of flax is from a whole different plant family.)

Other edible parts
Apparently you can get quite a lot of sweet nectar out of the flowers.

And Jane, who introduced me to flax seeds, says she has a friend who collects the pollen from flax flowers as a nutritional supplement. Flax produces a LOT of pollen, as I found when I looked down at my clothes after brushing up against flax flowers!

Soothing, healing gel
As for the plant's gel, that can be found by pulling apart the leaves at the base. It has antiseptic qualities and apparently makes a good substitute for aloe vera gel. I've used it to make a skin lotion.

Flax links
Plants for a Future database
Google images
My blog post on flax seeds


Anonymous said...

ugly though and stinks

Jon Richfield said...

The previous comment was ugly. Beauty is in the eye and though I am not particularly a Phormium fan, I say it is a fine range of plants, handsome and rewarding. Stinks? Aren't we delicate? If Phormium stinks, there are not many plants that don't!

Dale said...

Interesting, I've never heard of people eating the young seeds, though people are looking at extracting the oil from them. Do you realise that you have a picture of Phormium cookianum, the mountain flax in the top photo? I can see it has hanging (not upright like P. tenax), skinnier, slightly twisted seed pods, and is also growing on a bank with droopier leaves, but the real key is the seed pods.

Johanna Knox said...

Oh dear, sorry, you're right! Thanks Dale! I need to update the entry as well to acknowledge P. cookianium. The P. tenax seeds are definitely more worth eating ...

Anonymous said...

i hear that the starchy roots can be used as treatment for karaka poisoning. ive heard also the roots are poisons. ive also heard that they can be consumed. anyway i brewed a tea from the starchy roots as you would ginger. it was very nice. ahead caution