As one of the 150 documented species of native grasses in Australia, kangaroo grass has been a key crop for Indigenous and broader Australian agriculture for thousands of years and is one of the most widely distributed grasses in the country!
Originally considered to be one of two species of Themeda triandra, kangaroo grass, previously known as T. australis, is also found in Africa, the Pacific, and Asia, where it is known as red grass. While kangaroo grass mostly grows in grasslands and open woodlands, it is also used as an ornamental plant in rockeries, as a lawn substitute, and even in cooking.
Faiths and Cultures:
Kangaroo grass has mostly been used for its practical applications in Australian and African cultures. In Uganda, the hollow stems, or culms, of kangaroo grass are used as a thatch to build huts, as well as for making paper-pulp, while Indigenous Australians used the leaves and stems to make cords and string, especially for fishing nets. Colonial Australians also considered kangaroo grass as an valuable plant for cattle grazing, and was used as cattle feed from the 1780s.
While limited in its medicinal uses, kangaroo grass has been used in some treatments. In West Africa, the root are heated to create a decoction that can be used to treat dysmenorrhoea, or painful periods. However, in Australia it has been found that kangaroo grass can be more beneficial to the health of horses than introduced grasses, especially in alleviating obesity, insulin resistance, and foot inflammation. This is because native grass such as kangaroo grass contain lower amounts of carbohydrates that can cause these health problems, such as sugar, starch, and fructans (large molecules made up of chains of fructose), than introduced grasses.
Kangaroo grass is primarily used in making flour, and has been an important food for Indigenous Australians for thousands of years. As a crop, kangaroo grass grains were harvested and ground into flour and porridge. The flour was then used to make damper, which is said to have a nutty flavour, while the seeds are also said to taste like fresh green peas. However, as kangaroo grass matures it becomes loses its pleasant taste so it is best to harvest seeds just as they begin to ripen.
Historically, Indigenous Australians were grinding seeds and grains such as that from kangaroo grass more than 30,000 years ago, with grinding stones found in archaeological sites in Cuddie Springs and the Darling River. These grains were especially relied on in arid areas and were considered to be a staple food.
Recently, Australian researchers have been re-discovering and developing techniques to harvest kangaroo grass grains, especially techniques that mimic Indigenous practices by using heat to separate the grains.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the culinary revival of kangaroo grass and what that could mean for the future sustainability of Australian agriculture, you can check out and buy tickets for Breaking Bread- The Panel! FoodFaith is partnering with Good Food Month to share how bread is at the forefront of environmental and food change in Australia, and will feature panelists from charity kitchens, food journalists, and one of the researchers investigating the uses of kangaroo grass and other native grasses. For more information, click here.
Kangaroo grass is a prolific seeder and unlike grasses introduced by European settlers,is deep-rooted and perennial, so it doesn’t need to be resown every year. Growing up to 1.5 m tall, kangaroo grass is a tall, drought-tolerant grass that can grow in full sun to partial shade, in sandy or clay soil, and doesn’t need a lot of water once it has established.
With grey-green leaves in winter that turn reddy-brown in summer, kangaroo grass can also be planted to attract butterflies, birds, and lizards to your garden, and is eaten by several caterpillar species. Kangaroo grass seeds ripen and it also flowers in summer, and the flowers have a strong perfume that smells like lacquer.
Main image from One Bend In The River