The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
Bush tucker is the term given to Australian native plants that can be utilised as food sources. There is a growing awareness of bush tucker, as indigenous Australians try to maintain and/or recapture understanding of the practicalities of plants in the bush, and horticulturists, scientists and farmers seek to find new commercial uses for some of our unique botanical species, from aromatherapy to haute cuisine to pharmacology. In permaculture designs we can utilise bush tucker to increase the biodiversity and yield of a site. These plants can be used to take advantage of specific microclimates, to provide vertical stacking and multiple functions.
there are several thousand edible native species
incomplete knowledge of Aboriginal peoples diet
Aboriginal people did not eat everything that was edible due to cultural preferences
used by early European explorers, and later overland explorers
used by first convict settlement and later in the expanding settlement;
up to 80% of diet in desert areas, only 40% in coastal districts
efficient food foraging, enough so to support large gatherings
foods were sometimes stored
roasted, baked or eaten raw
life without agriculture would have been free and easy
Major Mitchell, 1848: the failure of all attempts to persuade the "uncivilised" people to convert to agricultural practices.
many wild fruits were named by early pioneers after vaguely similar cultivated foods, though most are not related to their names
true names are the native figs, raspberries, elderberries, bananas, passionfruit, melon, grapes, tomatoes, limes and cashew.
rainforest and coastal plant distributions are fairly accurately documented
desert plant distributions are less well known.
Seashores: dunes, rocky headlands, salt marshes, mangrove swamps
particularly rich in edible fruits and leaves
temperate coasts: tubers absent
tropics: tubers common, seeds also important.
Freshwater: rivers, streams, lakes, swamps, claypans, seasonally inundated hollows
plants produce starch and water-filled tubers to survive through drought conditions
rich in tuberous plants
Rainforest: tropical and subtropical: rich in fruits
temperate: only tree ferns and and a few fruits are edible
dry rainforest rich in edible fruits
mainly subtropical species of NSW and southern Qld.
understorey of shrubs( mainly wattles and native peas) and a ground cover of grasses and herbs
fruit-bearing canopy trees in northern Australia
often lacking in wild foods, apart from geebungs, native cherries, acacias, cycads and occasional heaths
tuberous lilies, orchids and murrnong, bracken and cranesbills where cattle and sheep have not grazed
tropics: large-leaved edible trees - cocky apple, lady apple, green plum, and billygoat plum
yams, Polynesian arrowroot and native grapes produce edible tubers.
Heaths: hard-leaved shrubs and small trees on infertile sandy soils in eastern and south-western Australia many plants also grow in Open Forests
very rich in wild foods, especially small fruits, though most are snack foods rather than staples
native cherries, heaths (epacrid family), devils twine, geebungs and currant bushes
also banksias, grasstrees, ground orchids, lilies and the native parsnip
alpine heath foods include ground orchids and many small red fruits.
Arid Zone: central Australias many different habitats with its own community of plants
desert Aboriginal people ate more plants foods than coastal groups, though some caught fish and water birds in rivers
seeds: grass, acacia, pigweed
fruits: quandong and wild tomatoes were sometimes dried only some tubers occur, and are absent in some areas.
Use of Bush Tucker Plants
Zone 1 - marginal rainforest and arid species that need close attention
Zone 2 - food forest -any of the bush tucker plants can be valuable here
Zone 3 - cropping and large animals - edible and fodder crops
Zone 4 - Harvest forests - commercial fruit trees, nut trees, acacias and plantings for reduction in land and water degradation.
Zone 5 - Natural forests - source of local genetic material.
Eleven core species that have the best potential for future development, according to ANBIC
Bush tomato (Solanum centrale)
Illawarra plum (Podocarpus elatus) Kakadu plum (Terminalia ferdinandiana) Lemon aspen (Acronychia acidula) Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) Mountain pepper (Tasmannia lanceolata) Muntries (Kunzea pomifera)
Quandong (Santalum acuminatum) Riberry (Syzgium luehmanii)
Wattle seed (Acacia spp. eg A. victoriae -elegant wattle)
Wild limes (Eremocitrus glauca, Microcitrus spp.)
Some additional notes
The following notes have been obtained in discussion with Francis Bodkin-Andrews (author of Encyclopaedia Botanica). Francis claims that virtually every plant in the Wollondilly/Nepean catchment area had a food use. She quotes Lomandra longifolia roots and stalks, Reeds (Typhas), Dianellas, Lilipillies, Banksias (for children, for travel and not for the hyperactive), Waratahs (these had special purposes), Boronia nectar and gum, some Eucalypts (the root bark was roasted and eaten, the seeds too). Acacias with ball-shaped flowers were eaten (flowers, seeds, gum and root nodules), the seeds require more complex preparation than that outlined by Tim Low. Acacias with rod-shaped flowers were used for hair-washing and stunning fish and other animals.
Mail Order Contacts
Seed Savers Network, Box 975, Byron Bay 2481 (02) 6685 6624
Rhys Freemans Native and Indigenous plant nursery, 21 Smith St, Thornbury,Vic3071. (03) 9484 7040 Australian Native Produce Industries, Box 163, Paringa SA, 5340. Ph (08) 8595 8008. Fax (08) 8595 8009
Australian Bush Tucker Supplies Online:
Conroy, F. (1996) Growing food from the bush. Rural Research 172, 9-10. Conroy, F. (1996) Bush peach becomes a commercial crop. Rural Research 172, 11-14.
Taylor, R. (1996) Sweet rewards for sharp-tasting fruit. Rural Research 172, 15-16.
Taylor, R. (1996) Lemon myrtle the essential oil. Rural Research 172, 18-19. Low, Tim (1991) Wild food plants of Australia. Harper Collins Publishers, Sydney.
ACRES Vol. 4, No 4. Bushfood on the march.
Bruneteau, Jean-Paul (1996) Tukka: Real Australian Food. Harper Collins Publishers, Sydney.
Bodkin-Andrews, Francis. Personal Interview
Stewart, Kathy & Percival, Bob (1997) Bush foods of New South Wales: a botanic record and and aboriginal oral history. Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney.
J25 Aut 99