Friday, August 20, 2010

Ti kouka and relatives /cabbage trees (Cordyline species)

Trees in the Cordyline genus grow all round the Pacific, and are amazingly useful. New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Hawai'i ... in these places and more they have long histories as sources of food, medicine, and fibre.

In most places, 'Ti' is part of their name - indicating that knowledge of these trees has been vital and carried widely around the Pacific.

Maori brought at least one species over, and found several more when they got here. In some parts, they selectively bred and cultivated them.

The most widespread of the Cordylines here is the native Ti kouka, or Cordyline australis, pretty much a national icon.

There's a great run-down, with photos, of the different species of Cordyline in New Zealand, here at The Bushman's Friend.

Cordylines as food
Ti kouka, along with others in the genus, provides a quick meal up the top, and a larger one, requiring a lot more prep, down the bottom.

If you take a leaf head and peel back the tough outer leaves, inside is a paler shoot and heart - with a delicious mix of sweet and bitter tastes. Trial and error during cooking will tell you how far you need to peel back the leaves till you find the tender shooting ones. (Better to strip away too few than too many to start with.)

Cook for 6 minutes or less, depending on its size, then treat it like an artichoke heart. I hope to put up a photo next time I do this!

You can boil them or bake them. If you throw them in with some baked veges, put them in towards the end, when there's about 10 mins left to go.

The inner trunk and the tap root of younger, smaller trees can be stripped, dried and baked, then made into a sugary, high-carb paste or meal.

Cordylines as medicine
Maori boiled the leaves up as a tea - a treatment for dysentry, and also a topical wash for wounds.

Cordylines as fibre and kindling
The leaves are tougher and more weatherproof than harakeke leaves. All around the Pacific they've been used to thatch roofs, and made into sandals, traps, mats, and more.

Old cabbage tree leaves can be folded or bundled up and make great kindling for your fire - catching alight fast. (The drier the better, but green ones burn too.)

The future of Cordylines in New Zealand
Grazing animals, and a bacterial infection called 'Sudden Decline', both threaten cabbage trees to some extent these days. If you scroll down, this page on the DoC website has good info about it.

Sustainable harvesting is all-important - growing your own, best of all. Cordylines need sun, but  grow easily in all sorts of soils.

Above photo of Ti kouka courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Madz said...

my Nan collects the dead leaves from her cabbage tree for fire kindling.

Apparently the fruitose paste from the trunk was most common in the south island and a main source of carbs since none of the other Polynesian plants could grow down their apparently (except for kumara, sort of).

I've never actually tasted the TiKouka hearts but my nan reckons her dad used to make it but I don't think she thought much of it - said it was quite bitter. Depends how you prep it i guess.

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Madz - thanks a lot for that info!

Anonymous said...

what a great blog! The uses of wild plants have always been of interest to me too. Now I've got an additional reference point.

watching kereru said...

We have 3 magnificently grand old cabbage trees in our yard. All winter i have been using the leaves as kindling. I stopped trying to find a dry place to store them when I realised that they do a great job even when totally wet.

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