Story By Claire Bradley. Pictures by Warren
Flip through a bushfoods classic like
Issac's Bush Food or Cherikoff's The Bushfood Handbook
and you may be left with the impression that pickings
are slim in the southern half of the nation. With
increasingly limited rainfall and frosts to contend
with, attempting to grow native food plants in southern
Australia may seem like an unlikely proposition. Not so!
A number of South Australian growers are successfully
cultivating a range of plants traditionally associated
with rainforest regions and/or high water
One such grower is Warren Jones, of Tumbeela Native
Foods in Verdun, South Australia. Situated in the
western Mount Lofty Ranges, this area receives
approximately 800mm of rainfall a year, higher than the
Adelaide Plains, but in a different, and more variable,
pattern than the eastern states. Further, this region is
subject to some blinding, dry heat in summer (in excess
of 40oC) coupled with frosts in winter. At Tumbeela,
however, Warren has successfully established a number of
rainforest bushfood crops including lemon myrtle
(Backhousia citriodora), and riberries
(Szygium leuhmanni). Growing amongst these is a
significant number of Tasmannia lanceolata
With the plants now in their
eighth year, Warren has been happy with the yields so
far and supplies his produce to some of Adelaide's top
restaurants, food processors and local businesses. Farm
gate sales, gourmet stores and a presence at local
markets service the retail sector. Warren also takes his
role as an educator seriously; taking the time to
discuss his products with customers and leading tours
around Tumbeela for interested
However, the winter of 2006 brought
some punishing weather to the Adelaide Hills; rainfall
was slight and some devastating frost appeared to
decimate some of Warren's trees. While the mountain
peppers took the sharp burst of the Tasmanian weather in
their stride, the lemon myrtles suffered greatly, far
more so than the riberries and aniseed myrtles
(Anetholea anisata). It was a truly dismaying
sight. By the time the worsts of the frosts were over,
Warren had discovered that not only the outer leaves
been burnt away, but that the inner 30cm of each lemon
myrtle was severely damaged also. Without any
information on how to rescue his crops, if in fact this
was necessary, Warren could only wait and see how the
plants coped with their climatic beating 1.
It was worth the wait! With the warm spring
weather, although still little rain, all of the lemon
myrtle trees have bounced back in unbelievable health.
The frost damage has dropped away and appears to have
acted to self-prune the trees. New growth is prolific,
with the lemon myrtles growing back into dense, verdant
So good news, southern growers of bushfoods crops! If
trees are protected when young, and Warren recommends
the use of robust plastic cones over seedlings,
established rainforest plants are able to survive
unusually harsh weather conditions. Not only this, they
seem to thrive from the shock!
Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia
* Natural distribution: subtropical Queensland.
* Habit: small, bushy tree to 6m in cooler
* Aspect: requires warmth and well-drained, fertile
soil. Sun to semi-shade.
* Water: Natural rainfall > 800mm per year.
* Hardiness: usually described as frost-sensitive.
Protection is recommended for younger plants but as
Warren has found, established trees appear to cope with
heavy frosts quite well (after temporary damage).
* Uses: lemon myrtle is a versatile lemon flavouring.
Use either the fresh or dried leaves as a substitute for
lemongrass in Asian dishes or steep as tea. Lemon myrtle
is also great in sweet dishes, such as cheesecake and
Aniseed Myrtle (Anetholea
* Natural distribution: northern (subtropical) New
South Wales to southern Queensland.
* Habit: a taller tree than B. citriodora; up to 25m
in ideal conditions but more like 10m in cooler
* Aspect: as for B. citriodora: requires warmth and
well-drained soil, sun to semi-shade.
* Water: Natural rainfall > 800mm per year.
Hardiness: again, aniseed myrtle is usually described as
frost-sensitive however Tumbeela's established plants
didn't appear to suffer as greatly as B. citriodora
during the recent frosty winter nor have they
experienced the lush new spring growth of the affected
* Uses: as for star anise in Asian foods, marinades
for meats or seafood, or steep as
* Natural distribution: southern New South Wales
through northern Queensland (temperate to
* Habit: small, bushy tree to 8m in domestic
situations and/or cooler climates.
* Aspect: rich, well-drained soil, sun to
* Water: Occurs in areas with annual rainfall >
* Hardiness: can tolerate mild frost once
established, but protection for younger plants in
advised. Warren reports that his riberries didn't appear
to be severely affected by the heavy frosts this
* Uses: eat fresh from the tree! Also,
riberries are great in desserts, jams and puddings. Try
in savoury dishes such as dressings and sauces for
* Natural distribution: cool
temperate Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales.
Habit: bushy shrub to 4 or 5 metres in ideal conditions,
* Aspect: naturally distributed in
cool, high-altitude forests (800-1200m), T. lanceolata
grows best in rich soil and a shady aspect (though
tolerates a fair amount of sun with enough water).
Water: Natural rainfall > 1000mm.
extremely frost-hardy, protect from hot drying
* Uses: Both the berries and the leaves of
mountain pepper can be used in place of common black
pepper, either fresh or dried. However, use judiciously!
The heat of just a few mountain pepper berries can be
quite over-powering. Mountain pepper is an excellent
seasoning for native meats.
* Tips: Home gardeners
need to be aware that native peppers are dioecious and
both a male and female plant is required for fruit
(berry) production. The leaves from a single plant can
be used as a spice and the species is easily propagated
J (1996) Wild Lime: cooking from the bushfood garden.
Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW.
Smith, K &
Smith, I (1999) Grow Your Own Bushfoods. New Holland,
CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems Australian
Native Foods http://www.cse.csiro.au/research/nativefoods/index.htm
Accessed 10th Nov 2006.
Rural Industries Research and
Development Corporation The New Crop Industries
Accessed 10th Nov 2006
Agrobest Australia Envy:
information sheet http://www.agrobest.com.au/files/P37_infosheetenvy.pdf
Accessed 24th Nov
(1987) Bush Food: Aboriginal food and herbal medicine.
Weldons, MacMahons Point NSW
Cherikoff, V (1989) The
Bushfood Handbook: How to gather, grow, process &
cook Australian wild foods. Bush Tucker Supply Australia
Tumbeela Native Foods:
Beaumonts Road, Verdun. South Australia. http://www.adelaidehillsfood.com.au/tumbeela/index.html
08 8388 7360
State Flora Belair Nursery: Belair
National Park, South Australia. http://www.stateflora.com.au/index.html 08 8278
Australian Alpine Nursery: Bogong High Plains
Road, Falls Creek. Victoria http://www.rambles.com.au/nursery.html 03 5758
Growers may be interested to know that Agrobest
Australia Pty Ltd produces a frost protectorent and
anti-transpirant called Envy. A water emulsifiable
polymer, it is claimed that Envy can increase frost
tolerance by up to 4oC, however neither Warren nor the
author have experience using this