The Mushroom Plant
Edible plants are becoming more and more popular in the Australian market place. Some grow their own to save money, some for the pleasure of doing so and others to be more organic. Whatever it is they are always looking for extra plants that can broaden the choice of flavours they put on the table. At the same time we are finding many plants that ‘taste like another’.
Sometimes the new flavoured food is easier to use or grow than the original. Sometimes the flavour is slightly different making it useful for new dishes. I think the lemon herbs are often more lemon than lemons. Some of the other common matches are garlic and society garlic, coriander, perennial coriander and Vietnamese coriander and basil and basil mint. The latter being great for that basil flavour in the middle of winter. However one of the more unusual ones is the Mushroom Plant.
The Mushroom Plant, or Rungia klossii is a leafy green vegetable that has the most surprising mushroom like flavour. It is fascinating to see the look on peoples faces as they try this dark green leaf and realise “It really does taste like a mushroom”.
It is an almost native in that it comes from our close neighbour, Papua New Guinea. In its native habitat it is used as a green leafy vegetable that is rich in many nutrients. It has been domesticated there with quite reasonable yields and is a part of their regular vegetable palette.
It naturally grows in rich mountain soil with very good drainage preferring part to full sun although it may burn in the harsh Australian summer sun. It likes regular moisture and plenty of organic matter to perform at it best. Once the plant is established it will tolerate a range of conditions but does not like drying out, anything more than a light frost or wet feet.
It is a thick clumping perennial with deep green glossy leaves. They are ovate and about 4-5 cm long and heavy attractive yellow veins. The flowers are shy in cooler climates and are intermittent when they do appear. They are bight blue and about 2-3 cm long. It will branch well from the base forming a thick low shrub to 90cm tall and 1m wide. In cooler parts of the country it will generally grow only 40cm tall. In the very cold it may drop all its leaves and even some of its branches but will regrow once the warm weather comes back. A medium to heavy frost will most likely kill the plant.
Leafy green vegetables are good for us and this one is even more so and it really does taste like mushrooms. The leaves are very high in chlorophyll which is good for the blood and building up the body. They also have a high protein level (3%), are rich in calcium (higher than soybean and kale), iron and vitamin C. It is surprising how realistic the mushroom taste is. This is excellent for all those people who are unable to eat fungi (due to presence of candida and thrush) but love the taste of mushrooms.
In the warmer regions it should be planted in amongst the garden or veggie beds where it has good rich soils. Its deep foliage and tight form make it a an attractive plant in its own right. It is an attractive indoor plant or patio plant as it does well in large pots. Can also be used as a small hedge for the veggie garden where the regular trimming will keep it compact and tight. In the cool climates the pot option is best so that it can be moved clear of winter frosts.
It is these unusual plants that make the garden centres an interesting place to visit. The trends are moving back to flowering plants with an emphasis on those that are also good ornamental forms.
How to use:
Add leaves to soups, stews, stirfries and salads for a mushroom flavour. Also go well in sandwiches. High in chlorophyll, a good source of protein, calcium, Vitamins A and C and other nutrients. Mushroom flavour increases with cooking, but leaves will lose their bright colour.