Words By Lily Alice & Thomas O’Quinn Illustration By Dixon Patten
Considered a godsend by many a weary outback traveller, the bright scarlet-coloured fruit of the quandong tree – also known as the desert peach – has many beneficial uses.
Quandong (Santalum acuminatum) trees are widely dispersed throughout the arid inland and coastal regions of southern Australia including Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory, Victoria and New South Wales, with remnant communities in remote areas. A relative of the sandalwood, the quandong grows to a shrubby tree between four and five metres tall. It has long, narrow olive-coloured leaves which taper to a point and its golf-ball sized fruit turns from a greeny-yellow to a bright crimson when ripe.
Germination requires patience, but having a productive quandong in your garden is well worth the effort. Seal a one-year-old quandong seed – along with a handful of damp peat, ash and sawdust – in a plastic bag and store in a warm place until it sprouts. This could take up to 12 months, so don’t give up on it.
The sprouted seed can be potted up and planted out in either spring or autumn once it’s between 15–30 centimetres tall. Alternatively, it can be planted directly into sandy soil, bearing in mind it needs a host plant. A young quandong tree depends on a nearby perennial plant for its nutrients, so plant next to native grasses or other shrub trees. It’s drought tolerant once established and it should start producing fruit within four or five years.
Traditionally used to ward off sickness due to its high concentration of vitamin C, Indigineous Australians also mixed the quandong’s crushed kernels and leaves with saliva to use as a topical treatment for skin ailments. The root was ground and boiled into a tea that was drunk to treat inflammation and joint pain. The flesh of the quandong was considered a suitable substitute for meat and the decorative round seed was used to make necklaces and game pieces.
While the magnesium, iron, zinc and antioxidant content of the quandong flesh is more than enough to justify its superfood status, the kernel, which contains complex oils and antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, is a superfood in its own right.
Sweet and slightly sour, quandongs are often compared to an apricot and make a fantastic jam, relish or dessert sauce. Quandongs are most commonly sourced frozen or dried, with the seed removed. The commercial marketability of the edible and nutrient-dense kernel, however, has yet to be realised.
In dried form, quandongs have an exceptionally long shelf life. To dry your harvested fruit, cut the quandong in half and remove the seed. Arrange the halves on a wire rack and leave in a warm spot for up to a week. Storing dried quandongs in the freezer will significantly increase their shelf life, remaining flavoursome for up to eight years.
This is an edited extract from Lily Alice and Thomas O’Quinn’s book Australian Bush Superfoods (Hardie Grant Travel 2017).