YamDaisy seemed the perfect name for this project. Yam signifies comfort food to many people, and it also sounds like ‘yum’. It has been a sweet pleasure when people call this community food project ‘YumDaisy’. Daisy has all the connotations of a bright little flower: common, but well loved. YamDaisy puts these two lovely images together. I’ve been wanting to share more information about them.
This week, NAIDOC Week, is the perfect time to write about them, because Yam Daisies are a local indigenous plant, and a staple food for people living here before white settlement.
The botanical name is Microseris lanceolata it is well known as murnong, one of its native names.
I have been asked several times about yam daisies on the menu. There has been disappointment that the cafe won’t have a menu based around this food! Sadly, it won’t be easy to get them onto the YamDaisy menu, but we can try! And there are other possible ways we can celebrate this wonderful plant.
“Of all the plants we talk about in our lifetime this was the most important.
Although old man weed was the best known, this little plant was by far the
most important as far as Aboriginal people were concerned. They didn’t
need any thing else to survive because as long as this one was close they
didn’t starve. If the men couldn’t get any meat when they went hunting, they
relied on the Murnong for food.
The yam daisy produced little tubers under the ground. When cooked in
an oven they produce a sweet syrup and are beautiful to eat.”
Murnong was once widespread across Victoria, particularly on the open plains,
but is now rare. The tubers could be dug up easily and eaten raw or cooked. (See link below, speaker not identified)
The flowering of the murnong indicates the tubers are ready for eating. Drawing by Karina H McInnes
“Microseris lanceolata was the one most often mentioned as a preferred staple food in Victoria (Gott, 1983). Prior to the onset of grazing, to which it was particularly vulnerable (Curr, 1883), Major Mitchell described the open view down from the Grampians as “a vast extent of open downs — quite yellow with Murnong” and “natives spread over the filed, digging for roots” (Mitchell, 1839). In 1841, George Augustus Robinson, the Protector of Aborigines, noted that the basalt plain known as Spring Plains was covered with millions of Murnong (Presland, 1977a), and described women “spread over the plains as far as I could see them — and each had a load as much as she could carry” (Presland, 1980).” Beth Gott
The species has edible tuberous roots and was once an important source of food for peoples of Australia. The introduction of cattle, sheep and goats by immigrating early–colonialist Europeans led to the near extinction of Murnong, with calamitous results for first Australians’ communities who depended upon Murnong for a large part of their food. Murnong was prepared by roasting or pit baking; the taste is described as “sweet with a flavour of coconut”. Wikipedia.
Don’t they sound delicious! But Melbourne and its surrounding grazing land has covered so much of its growing area. There are native nurseries that do sell the plants. I was given one by my lovely neighbour Melanie, and I kept it alive for a couple of years, but sadly I lost it and I am not sure why. To have them growing in quantity to make meals for many will take lots of time and work and ingenuity, but I hope the day will come when we can put yam daisies on the YamDaisy menu!
We at YamDaisy do discuss ways we could develop and promote this wonderful plant. We would love to have projects around growing them, supporting people who grow them, and nurseries that stock them. Maybe in years to come we could help celebrate NAIDOC week with sales of yam daisies, or hold a project to grow enough yams to make a communal feast! Or have yam daisies growing out the front of every YamDaisy Cafe! Do you have any ideas of ways we could celebrate our namesake?
UPDATE: Since 2005 in North Coburg MECCARG (Merri and Edgars Creek Confluence Restoration Group) have been rejuvenating dwindling stocks of murnong, once the staple food of south-eastern nations of Australia. They meet on the first Saturday of every month and work together to plant, weed and nurture indigenous plants creek side. They are always looking to welcome new people into their group. Check out their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/meccarg
* It was easy for me to research this: I just had to google Beth Gott, the wonderful ethno botanist. As well as NAIDOC week, it is a great time for this article because it also coincides with Beth’s work being honoured by the AASV .
Here are the links to where I found information.
Aboriginal Food and Medicinal Plants in Victoria (no longer available!)