BUSH TUCKER PLANTS

 

There are many Australian plants that are edible; and even some that are in very high demand as foods throughout the world.

 

The Aborigines lived off the land before white civilization came to Australia. Plants contributed significantly to their diet. Many of these native plants are worthwhile growing ‑ others might not be.

 

The only food plant well established as a large commercial scale crop, which is native to Australia is the Macadamia (see section on nuts).

There are many different types of Bush Tucker foods:

  • nuts and seeds (eg. Acacia, Macadamia, Bunya nuts)
  • drinks (eg. hot teas, infusions of nectar laden flowers, fruit juices)
  • flavourings (eg. lemon scented myrtle)
  • berries (eg. Astroloma, some Solanum species)
  • fruits (eg. Quandong, Ficus macrophylla, Syzygium)
  • vegetables 
  • wattle seeds ground to produce "flour"
  • plant roots ground to produce a paste or flour

IS IT EDIBLE?

How can you tell whether a plant is edible or poisonous? It isn’t easy, unless you know that it is a particular species and that species is edible. A third or more plants in your average garden are poisonous, and it is not unreasonable to assume that a similar proportion of Australian native plants may be toxic. Some plants contain toxins that are destroyed through cooking or some other treatment. Other plants contain parts that are edible, and other parts that are poisonous. There are yet other plants that contain very low levels of toxins that the body can cope with, provided you do not eat large quantities of that plant.

 

Some plants may be edible, but they are not palatable (they don’t taste good). If you observe animals eating a plant (eg. fruit or berry), this can indicate that this is an edible plant; but such an observation can never be seen as an acid test. There are plants that animals eat, which can still be toxic to humans.

 

NUTS

Macadamia (Macadamia integrifolia and tetraphylla)

Grows in most parts of Australia, but are best suited to the warmer climates of coastal south Qld and northern NSW. Macadamias are native to this part of Australia, and were first discovered in 1857 by an expedition to Queensland's Pine Riverdistrict. They are also grown on a large commercial scale in Hawaii. Slow to grow and crop in cooler climates, though trees are known to crop well in Melbourne.  Grow from seed, cuttings, budding, grafting and layering.  Seed needs to be planted fresh (as soon as mature).

 

Macadamias require good drainage but moist soils. The trees have a definite requirement for nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium fertilizers - best applied in small amounts several times a year. Care should be taken with applications of phosphorus as the plants have proteoid roots. Micronutrients such as iron, zinc, manganese, are also needed in Hawaiian orchards under certain conditions.

The trees will require ample soil moisture throughout the year from rainfall (a minimum of 1524 mm annually) plus supplementary irrigation in dry periods to induce flowering and good fruit set. Macadamia trees have a shallow poorly anchored root system and may need protection in windy areas. The introduction of honey bees at blossom time is believed to promote fruit set. The crop is susceptible to attacks from Botrytis and Phytophthora fungi and may require spraying with approved fungicide sprays. Mites can attack the flowers at all stages but can be controlled by sulphur sprays and other approved miticides. Crops should start fruiting at about 5 years, and are harvested over a period of several months. The crop is harvested by simply picking the crop up from the ground as the nuts drop. The 'in-shell' nuts are dried to 1.5% moisture and then cracked. The nuts are then cooked in coconut oil, cooled, inspected and then salted and vacuum packed in cans or glass jars.   Demand is well in excess of supply. Macadamia tetraphylla may be more successful in southern gardens than Macadamia integrifolia. M.integrifolia is better suited to roasting.

 

Macadamia Recipes

Macadamia Ice Cream.

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 2 and 1/2 cups milk - heated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups thickened cream - whipped
  • 1/4 cup rum
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts - chopped.

In the top of a double boiler - over gentle simmering heat - whisk the egg yolks with the sugar till light and fluffy. Whisk in the hot milk gradually, and continue stirring until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, strain and cool. Fold through the vanilla and whipped cream. Place the in the freezer in a shallow container. Wait around 45 minutes until the edges have started to harden then take it out to vigorously beat it with a fork, spoon or electric mixer to break up any frozen areas. Return the ice cream to the freezer, wait another 45 minutes and repeat one or two more times (for maximum creaminess). Fold through the Rum and chopped macadamia nuts and freeze till ice cream is firm. Serve with seasonal fruit, e.g. thinly sliced Chinese gooseberries, or fresh raspberries. 

Macadamia Zucchini.

  • 6 medium sized black zucchini – grated
  • 6 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup macadamia nuts - halved brown nuts in moderate oven 1800C till golden
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

When ready to serve meal, melt butter in a large frying pan and simply toss in zucchini. As soon as they are steaming, stir through the macadamia nuts and serve with a pinch of salt and a good grinding of fresh black pepper. Do not grate zucchini too early as they contain an incredible amount of water. Serves 6.

 

Araucaria

Seeds of A. bidwilli. (Bunya Pine) were a prized food of Aborigines in south-east Queensland who would make a seasonal exodus to the Bunya Bunya mountains to feast on these nuts. This is a tall, erect tree to 40 m. Branch arrangement is very symmetrical; bark is rough and dark coloured.  Cones are very large, 30cm x 20 cm. Seeds are edible. Natural distribution is coastal districts in Queensland.

An imposing tree for coastal plantings, although care needs to be taken in choosing planting positions as the tree sheds prickly leaves and branchlets which can be a nuisance, and the large cones can be dangerous when they fall. It is frost hardy.

 

VEGETABLES

Native Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides)

Family: Tetragoniaceae

Common Names: New Zealand spinach, Warrigal greens.

Growing conditions: sunny position. Has a somewhat sprawling habit and may benefit from a trellis. Well drained sandy soils preferred. It is a good coastal plant and will tolerate extremes of summer heat. Hydroponics is also used on a commercial basis for the culture of this native vegetable.

Nutrient requirements: keep well fertilised with nitrogen rich organic products to encourage plenty of foliage growth.

Planting: seeds are normally sown directly into garden beds throughout warm months. Pre-treat seeds with 24 hours in refrigerator, or soak seeds in water for 24 hours to stimulate germination.

Harvesting: fresh leaves are harvested when required. Native spinach is a substitute for cabbage or spinach when cooking.

Problems: similar to those of beetroot.

 

Pigface (Carpobrotus sp.)

Family: Aizoceae

Also known as Karkalla

Growing conditions:  full sun in sandy soils; will not tolerate wet conditions. Dislikes root disturbance; prefers coastal sand dune environments.

 

Nutrient requirements: Grows without fertiliser; in the wild it may receive extra nutrients except by native animals and chance. Mild fertilisers based on natural products will encourage further leaf development.

 

Planting: stem sections develop roots when planted in moist, but well drained soil. Close spacing is advised to achieve good ground coverage.

 

Harvesting: plump fleshy fruits are harvested when ripe. Succulent leaves are picked when required.

Problems: no significant problems reported, when grown in the right conditions.

 

Longleaf Mat Rush (Lomandra longifolia)

Family: Xanthorrhoeaceae

Growing conditions: very hardy and adaptable as to conditions, ranging from full sun to almost full shade, and wet boggy soils to dry stony ground.

Nutrient requirements: grows well without fertiliser applications, but better growth will be achieved if fertiliser is applied.

Planting: seeds germinate freely. Mature plants can be divided. Each plant can spread to almost 2m width so spacing should be considered.

Harvesting: tufts of leaves can be pulled out and the white leaf bases can be eaten raw. Flowers of some species of Lomandra are believed to be eaten by Aborigines. 

Problems: no notable known problems. Minor leaf damage can be caused by grasshoppers.

Varieties:

Many species of Lomandra exist, many of which Aborigines have used in some manner.

 

Solanums (bush tomatoes or kangaroo apple)

Several common vegetables (ie. eggplant, tomato, potato and capsicum) are in the genus - Solanum (though not native to Australia). There are around 80 species of Solanum that are native to Australia

The fruits of some Solanum species are edible, however others are poisonous.

Two edible species are Solanum ellipticum and Solanum aviculare. Poisonous species include S. cinereum and S. quadriculatum. The fruits of edible species can be used for sauces or added to meats (eg. in tomato based pasta sauces, as a spice in gourmet sausages or meat patties).

Family: Solanaceae

Number of Species: 1,700 (80 native to Australia)

Natural Habitat: Varied but often dry areas

Flowering: White, purple or blue

Habit:  Herbaceous shrubs

Foliage:  Often poisonous, often have spines on stems

Growth: Usually fast

Lifespan: Often short-lived

Culture: most are hardy, some are weeds. Prefer full sun and good drainage. Most grow easily from cuttings.

 

Species                                 


Height

Flowers  

Comments

S. aviculare  (Kangaroo apple)                          

1‑2.5m

Blue‑mauve

Needs moist drained soil and prefers semi shade

S. ellipticum     

0.2m    

Purple

Groundcover for arid areas

 

FRUITS

Lilly Pilly (Eugenia sp. and Syzygium sp.)

Commonly called "Lilly Pilly", these plants are mainly from warm climate rainforests. Lilly Pilly belong to a number of different genera. They range from large shrubs to large trees.

Their fruits are smooth skinned berries which are commonly edible. Trees can be very productive and the berries can be messy and slippery on pavements and other areas for walking. Berries can be eaten fresh, but are more commonly used for juices, purees or jams. Once picked fruits generally don't store longer than a few days.

 

Syzygium        Family: Myrtaceae

Number of Species: approx 450, many Australian but most overseas

Natural Habitat: east coast rainforests

Flowering: four or five petals, red to bluish fruit

Habit:  evergreen trees - mainly warm climates

Foliage: not divided, opposite

Growth: medium to fast in ideal conditions

Culture:

  • mainly prefer shade
  • moist, well drained soil
  • respond to mulching
  • propagate easily  (but germinate slowly) from fresh seed

Species                                                         


Height

Flowers 

Fruits 

Comments

S. australe

To 8m

White

Dark red


S. fibrosum

4-8m

Apricot

Bright red


S. luehmannii   

5‑30m   

White  

Red

Weeping foliage

S. moorei       

10‑20m 

Pink

White

Very attractive tree

S. oleosum      

10m

White

Blue

Highly scented leaves

S. paniculatum

To 8m

White

Magenta


S. wilsonii   

3m

Rich red  

White 

Weeping foliage

 

Other species documented as having edible fruits include: S. aqueum, branderborstii, erythrocalyx, erythrodoxum, forte, kuranda, malaccense, minutuliflorum, tieneyanum, wesa.

 

Note: S. australe and S. paniculatum are frequently considered to be the same species. There are however differences between the two. (S. paniculatum has green stems and seeds that separate in to distinctive embryos; S. australe has red young stems and a single seed).

 

Many new cultivars and varieties have been developed recently. The new forms are generally smaller and more compact making them better suited to gardening in smaller allotments. The value of these for edible fruits may be questionable.

 

Heights may vary dramatically. Wild forms grown in garden situations may be dwarfed by half due to exposure to sunlight. For example, S. alatoramulum may only grow to 3m in the average garden.
 

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