Kangaroo Apples (Solanum aviculare and S. laciniatum)

Almost ripe Kangaroo Apples. Pick them at this stage.
Almost ripe Kangaroo Apples. Pick them at this stage.

Common names: Kangaroo Apple, New Zealand Nightshade

Taxonomic names: Solanum aviculareSolanum laciniatum

Family: Solanaceae

Habitat: Forest margins, woodland edges

Form: Bush to 3 metres

Flowering Time: Spring and Summer

Ngarrindjeri name: Mookitch

Description and uses:

Kangaroo Apple is one of the amazing Solanum family which gives us so much of our food and lots of our medicines.

There are two closely related and very similar plants, S. laciniatum and S. aviculare. They’re pretty similar except that S. laciniatum has notched lobes on the flowers and the seeds are larger (2 – 2.5 mm long compared to S. aviculare which has seeds 1 – 1.5 mm long). S. laciniatum has flowers that are more of a dark purple colour. They’re both bushy plants that grow to around 3 metres tall down this way but may be bigger elsewhere.

Kangaroo Apple flowers.
Kangaroo Apple flowers, (Solanum laciniatum).

Kangaroo Apple has deeply lobed or toothed leaves and purple flowers in the familiar Solanum shape.

The most interesting part of a Kangaroo Apple plant is the fruit which changes from green to light brown to red/orange as they ripen.

It pays to make sure they're ripe
It pays to make sure they’re ripe.

Note: only eat the ripe, orange fruit. Unripe or green ones will get you pretty sick.

When the fruit is orange it’s ready to eat. I have been recommended allowing it to ripen to the point where the skin splits before eating too. The fruit tastes very bitter before it is ripe and it’s a taste that stays with you for a while.

They fruits go off quickly, so it’s best to pick them at the stage shown in the first picture on this page, then leave them to ripen until they are at the stage of those in the photo above.

Besides being a tasty bushfoods, Kangaroo Apple leaves and fruit have some interesting medicinal properties.

They leaves and unripe fruit contain a toxic chemical called Solsadine which is used for the production of cortisone based contraceptives, so don’t take it when you are pregnant or trying to conceive. That explains one traditional use – contraception.

There are also compounds in the plant that act as corticosteroids and one is a building block for cortisone production.

One traditional use was to crush the fruit and apply the pulp as a poultice for inflammations, particularly in joints. The steroidal components of the plant help to reduce inflammation and rashes.

Reminder: only eat the ripe, orange fruit. Unripe or green ones will make you pretty sick.