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Santalum Acuminatum or the Quandong
The Quandong is a truly unique native Australian fruit. Found in the arid and semi-arid regions of all Australian mainland states , Quandong trees have been classified as belonging to the santalum genus of plants. Ideally adapted to arid environments, the Santalum Acuminatum species is known to be a semi-parasitic plant. Quandong trees can tolerate high soil salinity levels and often rely for their complete water requirements from the root systems of host plants. Across their native distribution range, Quandong trees typically grow 2 to 3 metres in height, with a dense leathery crown of leaves perhaps 2 metres wide.
Aboriginal Bush Tucker
Traditionally the Quandong was an important food source for Australian Aborigines. Amongst male members of central Australia's Pitjantjara people, Quandongs were considered a suitable substitute for meat - especially when hunting game was in short supply. Around the Everard Ranges, Quandong gathering and food preparation was considered Pitjantjara women's business. Ripe red Quandong fruits would be eaten raw or dried for later use. Typically Everard Ranges women would collect Quandongs in bark dishes, separate the edible fruit from the pitted stone, and then roll the edible fruit into a ball. The Quandong ball was then broken up for consumption by the tribal group.
Medicinal Uses of the Quandong
Amongst Australian aborigines Quandongs were much valued for their medicinal properties. Specialised uses of the Quandong included a form of tea which was drunk as a purgative. Quandong tree roots were also ground down and used as an infusion for the treatment of rheumatism. Typically Quandong leaves were crushed and mixed with saliva to produce a topical ointmnet for skin sores and boils. Encased within each Quandong seed is an oil rich kernel which was also processed in a similar fashion to treat skin disorders. Quandong kernels could also be eaten and some tribal groups were known to employ crushed kernels as a form of "hair conditioning oil". Ingeniously Australia's aborigines appeared to be aware that Quandongs were a preferred food source of emus, and that a ready supply of Quandong seeds could be found in their droppings.
European Use of the Quandong
Australia's early pastoralists also discovered their own unique uses for the Quandong. Away from homesteads for weeks at a time, stockmen would often bake dampers infused with Quandong leaves. The result was apparently a refreshing change from the usual damper. When in season - between October and February - many farmers would also take their families out for a Quandong picnic. After gathering Quandongs the peeled fruit was used to make a variety of jams, chutneys and Quandong pies. Such treats were often the only delicacies to be had - especially during drought and depression years when money was short. Today successive generations of rural Australians continue with their Quandong picking traditions. They often do so however, in contravention of state laws that prohibit the harvesting of wild Quandongs. In all truth it seems old habits die hard, and for many people the forbidden fruit is all the more tasty because of it.
Domestication of the Quandong
During the past 30 years the Quandong has become a firm favourite of Australia's burgeoning bush food industry. Commercial Quandong plantations are now an economic reality. True domestication of the Santalum Acuminatum species remains some way off however - not altogether surprising given that established fruit varieties such as apples have been undergoing continuous selection and development for thousands of years. Since 1973 Australia's CSIRO has been actively conducting scientific research into developing improved commercial Quandong cultivars.
The aim of such research has been to produce a bright red Quandong with good eye appeal, improved flesh texture, and a palatable mix of Quandong flavours, tannins and food acids. To date the quest for the perfect Quandong has proven elusive. Should CSIRO be successful however, then the Quandong will have become only the second Australian food plant species to have been successfully domesticated. Bring it on CSIRO!
Queer Quandong Facts