Aboriginal people have lived across Australia for thousands of years subsisting on indigenous plants and animals. Their diet was rich and varied, demonstrating a great understanding of their environment. In spite of this long history of human subsistence in Australian environments, few native animals and plants are used in agricultural pursuits today. Unfortunately much of this knowledge has been lost and further research is required.
In recent years there has been a growing interest in bush foods. Some local bush foods are outlined below and can be grown in local gardens.
Many Acacia seeds were staple foods for inland Aboriginal people. Some were eaten green; others were roasted, steamed and ground. Local wattles with edible seeds include Acacia decurrens (Early Black Wattle), Acacia floribunda (Gossamer Wattle), Acacia longifolia (Coastal Wattle) and Acacia fimbriata (Fringe Wattle). Wattle seeds and Wattle seed flour are now marketed as a bush food with recipes for delicious desserts including Wattle Seed Creme Brulee and Wattle Seed Ice Cream. They add a pleasant nutty flavour to cakes, bread and can also be used as a coffee substitute.
Baeckea (syn. Sannantha) virgata
Leaves can be steeped in water to make an aromatic tea that has a sedative effect
Lemon Myrtle leaves have a distinctive lemony flavour and have been used to make essential oils as well as flavouring syrups, preserves, teas and seasonings.
The sweet nectar of Banksia flowers can be obtained by sucking the flower or by soaking the flowers in water to make a sweet drink. The sweet drink of the Banksia flowers is sometimes mixed with wattle gum. The Aboriginal people also make a weak form of alcohol, which is called “Bull” or “Bool” from the Banksia, leaving the liquid to ferment.
Kurrajong coffee made from roasted Kurrajong seeds was popular amongst early European settlers and Aborigines ate the toasted seeds. Bush foods made from Kurrajong seeds today include flour used in breads, pancakes and muffins and lightly roasted seeds that can be cooked with rice.
Bottlebrush flowers have a sweet nectar which can either be consumed by sucking on the flowers or by soaking the flowers in water to make a sweet drink. Callistemon citrinus, Lemon-Scented Bottlebrush, leaves can be used to make a refreshing tea that can be sweetened using the nectar from the flowers.
The starchy stems of Rock Orchids can be roasted and eaten and the flowers can be used to make a spectacular edible garnish.
The blue berries are edible and have a sweet flavour which becomes nutty once the seed is chewed. The roots can also be eaten after pounding and roasting.
Gymea Lily roots can be harvested, roasted and made into a cake. The young flower spikes can be roasted and eaten or the sweet nectar produced by the flowers can be consumed.
The flowers of most Grevillea species can either be sucked or soaked in water to produce a sweet drink
The leaves can be steeped in water to make a tea.
The white bases of the leaves are edible and the flowers and seeds can be eaten, taking care to avoid the spikes! The leaves can also be used to weave baskets.
The flowers of Paperbarks produce a sweet honey nectar which can either be sucked from the flowers or soaked in water to make a sweet drink
Geebung fruits are edible after they fall to the ground a ripen. Usually the skin and seed are discarded before eating.Podocarpus elatus
Illawarra plums have tart ‘fruits’ (actually the swollen stems of the seeds) which can be eaten fresh when they fall from the tree or used to make jam, chutney, sauces or as a pie filling. They are high in Vitamin C.
The leaves of the Native Mint Bushes can be used to make an aromatic tea or as a mint substitute in dishes.
Syzygium, Acmena species
Brush Cherry, Riberry, and Lilly Pilly fruits can be used, with flavours varying from sweet to acidic depending on the species. Can be eaten raw or used to make jam.Tasmannia lanceolata
Pepper Bushes have berries that can be dried dand ground for a hot, sharp spice. Their fresh or dried leaves can also add flavour to casseroles (but for the last half hour of cooking and should be removed before serving). Flower buds are a spicy addition to salads.
The flowers can be used in salads.
Plants for Medicinal or Other uses
Plants were also used for myriad medicinal and other purposes by Aboriginal people. These are some useful native plants.
The bark of the Blackwood can be used to make a solution to relieve aching joints.
The roots of the Hop Bush can be used to soothe toothache and chewed leaves relieves stings.
The leaves of the Drooping She-Oak can be chewed to ease thirst.
The leaves of the Lemon-Scented Tea Tree contain citronella to repel insects such as mosquitoes and can also be soaked to make a tea.