A Change in Diet and
By Nicola Keane
Bush Food or Native Produce is an emerging industry. It could be the
saving grace for many small communities and country towns across rural
Australia. Aboriginal people have been using native plants for food and
medicine for thousands of years. We have to thank them for selecting the
best varieties. They knew about the plants that thrived in their
The foods are mainly divided into two main groups: those from the
inland drier regions of central Australia and those from the eastern
coastal rainforest/temperate region.
Australian bush foods have been gaining worldwide popularity for the
past twenty years when an interest in eating traditional food such as
kangaroo emerged. This prompted people to begin researching exactly what
aboriginal people were eating and what these traditional foods taste like
within the emerging Australian novelle cuisine.
Market demand for products of consistent high quality has seen some
plant species go into limited horticultural production. For this reason
the CSIRO have undertaken a series of trials based on a range of different
varieties of the more popular foods used.
The majority of the sites are located in South Australia with one trial
site in Victoria and NSW. The trials which began in spring 2001, cover a
range of soil types and rainfall and will be monitored closely over the
coming years. Early reports are very encouraging. Based on the success of
the trials, farmers will be able to integrate bush food production into
their normal farm practices, and consequently will enhance diversification
on the farm and biodiversity for the region.
Muntries or Kunzea pomifera is a spreading coastal ground cover
plant with small berries that have a greenish tinge, the berries taste a
little like apples and are used for jams and chutneys.
Quandong or Santalum acuminatum is a small tree also
known as the native peach. It has a large red fruit, which tastes a little
like plums when dried. The fruit can be used for jams and liqueurs.
Elegant wattle or Acacia victoriae is a small tree, which
grows readily in the drier regions of Australia. The seed is roasted to
produce flour, which has a nutty flavour. Aboriginal people ground the
seed and this formed a staple component of some tribes' diets. Other
species of Acacia were used in a similar way across the drier regions of
Native limes and blood limes Citrus australasica
(sp) are small trees producing fruit similar to the limes we are
familiar with. They are used in sauces and toppings and have a wonderful
citrus flavour. Blood limes have a deep red skin and flesh and are
striking in appearance when used whole in cooking.
Bush tomato Solanum centrale is a small shrub, which produces a
yellowish fruit, it is also known as the bush raisin as the fruit is not
big but resembles a large raisin as it dries to a brown colour. The fruit
is used in sauces and chutneys and was a very important Aboriginal
There are a number of plants, which are being used mainly as spices and
flavourings, they are: lemon aspen Acronychia oblongifolia
and lemon myrtle Backhousia citriodora, and there is also a
native pepper Tasmania lanceolata.
Finally riberry, Syzygium Luehmanii is a rainforest tree
with striking bright purple fruit that can be made into a very good jam
and topping. This tree grows very well in the Adelaide Hills.
One community in Central Australia has developed an Australian salad
based on the bush tomato, leafy greens and conga berries. Commercial
production has already begun and expansions are planned due to its
success. Most of the produce is shipped down via Adelaide and distributed
Bush food as an industry, could have enormous benefits if combined with
integrated revegetation plans for regional farming areas. Preserving local
bush food species while developing revegetation strategies that enhance
local biodiversity, is an exciting, progressive and sustainable move. Lets
hope this idea grows.
Nicola Keane is a Horticulturist/Botanist who works for the National
Parks and Wildlife SA.
This article first appeared in Environment
South Australia, Vol 9 No 1 - October 2002. The whole or part of this
journal may be reproduced without permission provided that acknowledgement
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