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Tuatara: Volume 9, Issue 2, November 1961

Food in the Bush

Food in the Bush

Some recent cases where people have been lost in the bush without sufficient food have prompted enquiries as to edible materials available to those hungry enough to be interested. The following may be suggested.

Freshwater crayfish are found in small streams (especially the headwaters) and ponds, under stones and banks. The flesh is excellent eating. Freshwater mussels are found buried in mud in lakes and rivers. Beetle larvae, including of course huhu, are edible and if roasted or fried are by no means unattractive, once the initial prejudice is overcome. The sophisticated aver that the full flavour is obtained only if they are eaten raw. The grubs are found in decaying timber.

T. H. Potts has recorded the following menu at a Hauhau feast which he attended in 1878: Jew's-ear fungus, that found on Karaka being most esteemed (the present writer has tried it and was not impressed); tawa fruits, the plum-like flesh eaten raw (the kernel, however, requires prolonged cooking); mamaku or black tree-fern, ‘large chunks about a foot in length, the mucilaginous pith … soft, very sweet to the palate’ (Buck says that the pith is taken from near the top of the trunk, under the leaf-spread, and cooked); nikau palm, pith from near the top of the trunk, eaten raw; root-stock of the ferns Marattia and Pteridium; sow-thistle (this is less bitter if cooked than it is when raw).

In lowland areas near the sea karaka is often present and its fruit in autumn is well known; only the outer flesh can be eaten raw. but page 86 the kernel is edible if thoroughly cooked. Cabbage-trees yield edible leaf-bases from the centres of the crowns, and the pith is edible. Roots and pollen of bullrush are edible products of swamps. Berries listed by Buck include nikau, titoki, poroporo, fuchsia, tutu (flesh only, the seeds are toxic), kahikatea, matai. hinau, kiekie. The croziers of tree-ferns are recommended by one botanist consulted, and probably those of smaller ferns are mostly palatable (Buck cites Polystichum). For those who known how to distinguish the non-poisonous fungi an additional source of food is available.

H. B. F.


Buck, P. (Te Rangi Hiroa). 1949. The Coming of the Maori, pp. 86-8.

Potts, T. H., 1878. Nature, 19, p. 21.