Out of all plants the Quandong (Santalum acuminatum) is probably Australia’s most significant bush tucker. It was widely recognised as a source of food and medicine by Aborigines while the aromatic wood was used in their smoking ceremonies. Given the fact that it has adapted extremely well to the arid conditions of the country’s interior the Quandong has often been referred to as ‘Jewel of the Desert’ or ‘Desert Peach’ – one of the plant’s remarkable features is that it is semi-parasitic, with its roots cheekily attached to neighbouring plants for moisture and nutrition in order to survive. The ripe red fruit was a staple food for Aborigines and would be consumed raw or dried for later use – dried Quandongs can be perfectly reconstituted in water years later! The inside of the succulent fruit contains an edible oil-rich kernel with many uses such as skin moisturiser, ointment or ornamental bead. The best place to look for them is underneath the trees – but as emus are particularly fond of the sour tasting fruit the undigested kernels can also be found in their droppings.
Quandongs are a rich source of vitamin C and have undoubtedly protected many explorers and early settlers for scurvy. But as they have never been domesticated their use and popularity have diminished in modern society. I was therefore very happy to stumble upon this beautiful ripe and palatable specimen a couple of weeks ago while camping out in the coastal dunes of Beekeepers Nature Reserve. And despite warning signs for crossing emus I didn’t see any – and none of their scat either: the bounties of nature were all left for us to enjoy!