The Daintree is the oldest living rainforest in the world, so it’s no surprise that it has one of the most diverse and complex ecosystems.
The Kuku Yalanji people have spent thousands of years utilising the plants of the Daintree Rainforest for medicinal purposes, to make tools and of course for food. This ancient knowledge is worth preserving, especially where there are some fruits that look alike, and yet one will be highly toxic and the other benign.
To ensure plants are safe to eat, the Kuku Yalanji people have developed culinary arts that sometimes involve long and complex procedures. For example, the seeds of Cycads (one of the most primitive plants dating back to the time of the dinosaurs) must be prepared by cooking, scraping and leaching in running water. The result is an energising meal with high carbohydrate and fat content – worth waiting for!
Here are just a few of the Daintree Rainforest’s extraordinary plants and some of their uses.
Soap Tree (Alphitonia Excelsa)
The soap tree has a smooth grey bark, rich green leaves with a pale underside, and small sweet scented flowers. It can grow up to 35m high and is often found near creeks.
One of the astonishing properties of this tree is that the leaves can be crushed and rubbed vigorously together producing a soap like lather that contains anti-bacterial properties.
The crushed leaves mixed with water can also be used to treat headaches and insect bites, and the bark and root can relieve muscle ache in a similar way to deep heat or tiger balm.
As if that wasn’t enough, the leaves can also be used for fishing! The saponin inside the leaves breaks down the surface tension of the water, leading to deoxygenation. This effectively stuns the fish, causing them to float to the surface.
Davidson’s Plum (Davidsonia pruriens)
The Davidson’s plum produces large blue-black plum-like fruit on the bark of the tree, which can grow 5 to 8m tall.
The most amazing fact about this fruit is that it contains 100 times the amount of vitamin C found in an orange! It is also a source of magnesium, zinc and lutein – a compound that plays a major role in maintaining healthy eyesight.
The fruit has quite a bitter taste when it’s raw but makes a delicious jam. And if jam isn’t your thing, you can also get a plum liqueur, which has won awards from as far afield as San Francisco and Germany.
Candlenut Tree (Aleurites moluccanus)
The candlenut tree can grow to a height of 15-25m. You can recognise it by its pale green leaves and round nuts, about 5cm in diameter.
The seed inside has a very hard coat and a high oil content, which allows the nuts to be burned as candles (hence the name). This is especially useful if you’re trying to start a fire in wet conditions. The oil can also be used to fix ochre on paintings.
The raw nuts have been known to cause stomach upsets and are avoided by some aboriginal groups, but others roast the nuts in a fire to make them edible.
Miracle Fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum)
The miracle fruit is a shrub that grows between 2 and 5m, has dense leaves and carries two long red fruits.
These red berries have a mild sweet tang; but they are better known for the effect they have on our tastes buds in causing sour foods such as lemons to taste sweet and vice versa. These effects can last up to 30 minutes.
An attempt was made to commercialise miracle fruit in the USA for its ability to turn sour foods sweet without increasing the calories! However the Food and Drug Administration classified the berry as an additive, which stopped the process.
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