Bunya Seedling Tubers

A major project on my experimental farm involves a heroic (and possibly fool hardy) attempt to domesticate Araucaria as a new staple tree crop. This involves collecting as much genetic diversity in the genus as possible (both from remnant local populations of bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii) and adding a pinch of South American parana pine (Araucaria angustifolia)). I wrote about the start of this project previously here

When I sow my bunya nut seed I often end up with more than I can pot on. I usually transplant into tree tube pots at the dormant tuber stage, the strange swollen root that forms from the seed long before any shoots appear above ground. I could have run around planting the excess tubers in the paddocks, but previous experiments have shown that only a small number manage to establish from this early life stage under my conditions.

I had read that the local indigenous people used to bury excess bunya nut seeds in damp river banks to save them for later. Their rate of respiration would slow down, but if they germinated the tubers would also be eaten since the seedling tubers still contained a useful amount of nutrients. Apparently an edible fungus would sometimes infect the seeds, and I have seen them rot and emit a rather spectacular blue cheese aroma, but haven’t been game to try them myself given how unpredictable fungi can be in terms of toxicity.

This season I took the few dozen spare seedling tubers and decided to experiment with eating them. I roughly cleaned them and split the batch in half. One set was boiled for 20 minutes with skin on. A nibble on a raw root showed a texture like a somewhat woody carrot, and a flavour between parsnip and coconut. After boiling, the starch grains inside swelled, making the texture more like a potato but still fairly crisp. The skin contained most of the flavour and was soft enough to consume whole, though was a little too earthy for my liking.

The other half were peeled lightly then also boiled for 20 minutes. The final texture was more pleasant without rough skin in place. I would stick to a description of somewhere between cooked carrot crunch, and flavour somewhere between chestnut and parsnip, with a slight resinous aftertaste.

It is worth pointing out this post does not count as a recommendation to eat bunya seedling tubers yourself. Whenever you try eating a new food it pays to be cautious. Doing research is one part of the process, but more important is easing into consumption. That means tasting before swallowing, nibbling (and waiting a few hours) before eating more, and waiting a day or two before considering anything approaching a full meal. Even edible plant species can have toxic parts elsewhere in the organism- potato leaf salad wouldn’t be a good idea for example. And finally, foods that are edible for one person will usually cause unexpected reactions in a small percentage of the population.

Going forward- what practical use could be made of the results of this little experiment? Bunya nuts do have the downside of being relatively perishable. Large, starchy nuts tend to have an active metabolism that means they cannot be stored fresh for long. At the moment I mostly shell mine then freeze them, but that won’t be a practical option in a post industrial future. They can also be dried, but that needs a fair bit of energy (be it electricity or firewood) and air tight containers for storage.

The results of this experiment suggest a useful low tech approach could be to densely sow beds with bunya seeds, so the tubers can be gradually dug up over time for consumption. This could extend the season by about 3-6 months, since the sprouting of the tubers takes about that long, and would provide a functional equivalent to carrot/parsnip for cooking through winter and spring without needing to fuss with their short lived seeds.

Next time I have too many bunya nuts to process for the freezer I will give it a go and report back.

Freshly washed bunya seedling tubers

Peeled and boiled. A bit fiddly but the end result is tasty enough.

Boiled with the skin on. Edible but not ideal.

2 thoughts on “Bunya Seedling Tubers

  1. Thanks for posting about this! I’ve been wondering about trying the tubers but haven’t taken the plunge yet. I’ve found the nuts sweeten just sitting in a breathable bag in my garage for almost 2 weeks (have not tried keeping any longer) and thought planting the tubers could be a good way of stopping some from going to waste while not taking up much garden real estate. I’ll definitely be giving this a go this January.

    I’ve also heard the stories about letting them turn into something reminiscent of blue cheese. Never much formed an appreciate for blue vein so haven’t felt compelled to try that.

    I’ve got some Brachychiton acerifolius seeds I’m going to plant out and see if their taproot is any good as I’ve heard Kurrjongs can be decent root vegetables when young. The seeds are edible from Brachychiton acerifolius so the young plants may be as well. We’ll see how they fair. I chatted with Leigh Nankervis form Fair Dinkum seeds and he had tried foraged Brachychiton populneus and found them somewhat fibrous. Slightly kinder growing conditions may yield better results. Going to try them at various stages up to 1 year old.

    Have you considered or tried any Brachychiton species?

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    1. Interesting work on the brachychitons. The glassy spines in the seedpods put me off working with them (along with the pretty red bugs that suck the seeds dry most seasons), though hearing their young roots are edible might get me interested again. Baobab are meant to likewise have edible seedling tubers. I would be interested to see if you come up with any interesting findings.

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