The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
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Bush Tucker in Permaculture

Lena Panov shares her interest in exploring Bush Tucker and including it in Permaculture designs

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), devil’s 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 Australia’s 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

• leaves

• 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.

Future Prospects

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 Freeman’s 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