The Home Herbalist

Archived Articles


Warrigal Greens – Wild Plant Food and Medicine

Warrigal GreensIt’s amazing how things happen sometimes. For quite a while now I’ve been hoping to find Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides) growing on our 6 acre property but it was nowhere to be seen.¬† A few days ago I decided that it mustn’t grow in this area so gave up any thoughts of gathering this plant to use as vegetable.¬† As I was walking back to the house I saw a plant that looked like it but only had the time to check it out today. To my sheer delight I found that it is Warrigal greens.

This lovely wild food and medicine plant is growing quite near our house – after living here for just over two years I find it incredible that I have been hoping so much to have it growing here and then after searching for it for such a long time it turns up almost on my doorstep!

Warrigal greens, also known as Warrigal cabbage and New Zealand Spinach, is a member of the pigface family and is native to New Zealand, Australia and Norfolk Island where it grows in arid woodlands and plains, and in salty coastal soils. It also grows in other regions of the Pacific from Japan to South America. It has escaped from cultivation  in Asia, the United States, Africa and Europe.

During Captain Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769 the ship’s botanist, Joseph Banks, recognized its value. Cook tried to get his crew to eat the plant as a vegetable to protect them against scurvy but they refused until they realized his officers were eating it. It became so popular among them that the supply had to be rationed. Not only did this incredible green vegetable protect the crew from scurvy but it also cured those who already had it.

During this first voyage Cook also discovered Warrigal greens along the shores of Botany Bay, Australia. After European settlers arrived on the continent the plant was gathered and eaten as a popular and easily obtained source of green vegetable.

This wild plant that can also be cultivated contains properties with sedative effects and anti-inflammatory chemicals. It’s also anti-scorbutic and may be effective in preventing the formation of ulcers.

Warrigal greens is a perennial creeping plant with thick stems that grow to one or two metres long. Leaves are thick, bright green, alternate, and are two to eight centimetres long. Small yellow flowers appear in late spring to summer and the green seed capsules are hard and long with three to six small ‘horns’.

Because the leaves contain oxalates, which can be harmful when consumed in large quantities, they should be blanched for three or more minutes then rinsed with cold water before cooking them or using them in salads.

Until next time,


3 comments to Warrigal Greens – Wild Plant Food and Medicine

  • […] tells that when he discovered Australia, Captain Cook also discovered Warrigal greens and fed them to his crew, effectively stomping on an outbreak of […]

  • Myles

    Friends of my family brought the seeds into Australia from Burma in the 1950s.
    My Father planted the seeds and my mother used to pick the leaves to steam and prepare a special dish to add to her curry.
    We always referred to it as “English Spinach”, because that is where it came from.
    As I have subsequently discovered Joseph Banks took seeds back to England and they were then taken by the British to Burma.
    Now hence back to the country of origin.
    Amazing story I think you will agree.

  • Hi Myles, Your story certainly is amazing – what an incredible journey this plant has had, to be taken from Australia to England, to Burma and back to here. Thanks so much for sharing. If you have your mother’s recipe for her special dish that she added to her curry, it would be greatly appreciated if you could share it here.