Tasmannia lanceolata - native or mountain pepper
Tasmania's native 'pepper' is a lovely rainforest shrub growing to 5 metres high with dark green leaves, black berries and distinctive crimson stems. Found from sea level to mountain tops in Tasmania, and the south eastern Australian mainland, it belongs to a family of plants from the ancient Gondwanan supercontinent, now found in the countries around the south Pacific rim.
The leaves and fruit of Tasmannia lanceolata contain a hot tasting compound (polygodial) which, together with many of the aromatic compounds common in many other Australian plants, gives an unusual fragrant, spicy taste and a 'bushy' rainforest feel.
Many members of the family have been used in traditional medicine in the regions in which they are found, and during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, Tasmannia species were used as a pepper or allspice substitute.
The leaves and berries of the plant are now used to give a 'wild, natural and spicy' taste to foods of the Australian native cuisine, and are finding their way onto menus and into pantries all around the world.
The aromatic compounds in the foliage, fruit and bark of Tasmanian native pepper have prompted several investigations of the chemistry of the plant. Many interesting compounds have been identified, but the most unusual and interesting of these is a sesquiterpene dialdehyde ‘polygodial’.
The presence of polygodial in extracts of T. lanceolata, was first reported in 1962. Since then the compound has attracted considerable scientific interest for its unique biological properties, - antimicrobial and antifungal, insect antifeeding and a hot taste for humans and browsing mammals.
The effectiveness of polygodial in reducing growth in cultures of Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans
even at low concentrations is enhanced by the synergistic effect of the addition of other antimicrobial agents such as actinomycin B and D and the natural compound anethole.