Herb: Cabbage Tree

Latin name: Cordyline australis

Synonyms: Dracaena australis

Family: Agavaceae (Century-plant Family)

Edible parts of Cabbage Tree:

Root - baked. It can also be brewed into an intoxicating drink. Pith of the trunk - dried and steamed until soft. Sweet and starchy, it is used to make porridge or a sweet drink. The root and stems are rich in fructose, the yields compare favourably with sugar beet (Beta vulgaris altissima). Edible shoots - a cabbage substitute. The leaves are very fibrous even when young, we would not fancy eating them.

Description of the plant:


15 m
(49 feet)

August to


Habitat of the herb:

Forest margins and open places. Abundant near swamps. North, South and Stewart Islands.

Other uses of Cabbage Tree:

The leaves contain saponins, but not in commercial quantities. The leaves contain a strong fibre, used for making paper, twine, cloth, baskets, thatching, rain capes etc. The whole leaves would be used for some of these applications. When used for making paper, the leaves are harvested in summer, they are scraped to remove the outer skin and are then soaked in water for 24 hours prior to cooking.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - pre-soak for about 10 minutes in warm water and sow in late winter to early spring in a warm greenhouse. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 3 months at 25C. There is usually a good percentage germination. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant out in late spring after the last expected frosts and give the plants some protection in their first winter outdoors. Stem cuttings - cut off the main stem just below the head and then saw off 5cm thick blocks of stem and place them 3cm deep in pure peat in a heated frame. Keep them moist until they are rooting well, then pot them up into individual pots. Plant out in late spring after the last expected frosts. Suckers. These are best removed in early spring and planted out in situ. Protect the division from wind and cold weather and do not allow the soil to become dry until the plant is established. Divisions can also be potted up and grown on until established, planting them out in the summer.

Cultivation of Cabbage Tree:

Forest margins and open places. Abundant near swamps. North, South and Stewart Islands.

Medicinal use of the herb:

None known

Known hazards of Cordyline australis:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.