Bush Food

A Change in Diet and Direction

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 communities.

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 Australia.

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 food.

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 Australia wide.

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 is made and provided the reproducer agrees to provide gratis a right of reply in the publication or medium in which the reproduction was published or broadcast, and in a form similar to the reproduction should the Conservation Council of SA or its agents desire to make such a reply. Views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the Conservationn Council of South Australia. Non-sexist and non-racist language is a policy of Environment South Australia.

ęCopyright of the Conservation Council of SA.
Back to top