A gallery of edible and useful wild plants, in Wellington and the Wairarapa (NZ)
Friday, January 28, 2011
Harakeke/NZ Flax (Phormium tenax)
(Reposted from January 2009, with a few changes and additions)
Harakeke is one of those all round super-useful plants, used by Maori in many fine arts and useful crafts.
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.
(New note: Since I wrote this post two years ago, I've taken up spinning. I'd be interested to know of anyone who has tried spinning harakeke fibre (muka). The strands are so long, I'm not sure what would be the best way to do it?)
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.
They are nice in salads, and I am keen to try adding them to a paste or dip, probably ground up.
I haven't had much luck with cooking or drying them. They tend shrivel to almost nothing.
Other edible parts
You can get a lot of sweet nectar out of the flowers. Maori have used it as a sweetener.
My friend 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
The plant's gel can be found by pulling apart the leaves at the base. It has antiseptic qualities and makes a good substitute for aloe vera gel. I've used it to make a skin lotion.
Andrew Reilly, an artisan papermaker in Bulls, has revived the art of making paper from harakeke, and produces a range of lovely papers. You can visit him on Facebook.
You can find loads of info on harakeke and its history as a resource and commodity at Te Ara.