Over the last few years gardens (and gardeners) have undergone a revolution of sorts. Water
restrictions, climate change and rapidly disappearing native habitats has prompted a resurgence in
native gardens. While rising food and petrol prices (amongst other things) have seen gardeners
returning to home produce gardening. But, how to combine the two successfully?
Well, just like parmas and pots, Sonny and Cher, pies and footy, John and Yoko (ok, maybe not), it is
possible to grow both native and food gardens in perfect harmony. Welcome to the wonderfully tasty
world of bush foods – fun with flora for the whole family!
Think about it this way – locally native (indigenous) and non-invasive native plants are perfectly
adapted to our climate, soils and rainfall. So much so that there is very little (if any) need for added
inputs like pesticides and fertilisers. Sustainable enough on their own but wait, there’s more!
Native plants (especially those indigenous to our local area) create much needed habitat for a huge
array of displaced native critters (both large and small), contribute to the unique local character of
an area, look fantastic and, if we plant the right mix, can provide the gardener with a bounty of
beaut bush food.
So, what to plant, where to put it, what to do with it, and, most importantly, what does it taste like?
Indigenous Australians traditionally had a massive smorgasbord of bush foods to choose from, many
of which required the entire plant to be removed in order to get to the tubers and roots. This is
obviously not ideal for many home gardeners but, for the adventurous, some of these are definitely
worth a crack!
The other point I’d best raise here is that many of the traditional bush food staples taste pretty
ordinary to our 21st century, multicultural and additive-addicted food palates. I don’t mean to sound
like Gordon Ramsay here (they’d never publish me if I did!), but I’ll admit that for me some bush
food offerings are an acquired taste. Traditional owners of this land appreciated these foods on an
entirely different level and they thrived on them.
As home gardeners though, we tend to grow bush foods that look good, taste good and add that little
“something special” to a meal. So, prepared for you is a platter of possible plants to whet your
Grasses and Wildflowers
Wahlenbergia communis (Tufted Bluebell)
Pictured Right (All mainland states) Small perennial wildflower to 30cm. Needs well-drained soils,
will tolerate semi-shade. Light blue to lilac flowers are edible, and fantastic in salads.
Arthropodium strictum (Chocolate Lily)
(Tas, SA, Vic, NSW) Grass-like seasonal wildflower, 70cm x 50cm. Needs well-drained soils. Purple
chocolate scented flowers are an excellent addition to salads. Indigenous Australians ate the tubers.
Dianella longifolia (Pale Flax Lily)
(All States) Hardy, easily maintained grass-like wildflower. 80cm x 50cm, needs well drained soils.
Clumping. Dark blue to purple berries are edible when ripe. Berries sweet and juicy (slightly gritty).
Great addition to fruit salad.
Dianella revoluta (Black Anther / Flax Lily)
(All States except NT) Hardy, easily maintained grass-like wildflower. 80cm x 50cm, needs well
drained soils. Clumping. Dark blue to purple berries are edible when ripe. Berries sweet and juicy
(slightly gritty). Great addition to fruit salad. Leaf base (white) also edible, starchy in taste.
Groundcovers and Herbs
Carpobrotus rossii (Coastal Pigface)
(Vic, Tas, SA, WA) Hardy, succulent groundcover. Needs dry, well-drained soil. Full sun Round,
sweet, purplish fruits eaten raw in summer. Leaves also eaten, but are often salty.
Kennedia prostrata (Running Postman)
Pictured Right (All states except NT) Prostrate ground cover to 2m wide. Hardy, needs dry, well
drained soil. Scarlet pea-type flowers sucked to extract sweet nectar.
Rubus parvifolius (Native Raspberry)
(Vic, Qld, Nsw, Tas, SA) Scrambling ground cover to 2m wide. Needs well-drained soils, full sun.
Small, sweet, deep red berries from Dec – April. Leaves, when made into tea, said to treat diarrohea.
Tetragonia tetragonoides (Warrigal Greens)
(All States except NT) Leafy ground cover to 1.5m wide. Moist, free draining soil, part shade. Should
be controlled in gardens to monitor invasiveness. Leaves are edible raw or cooked. Young leaves are
less bitter, and an excellent spinach substitute.
Viola hederacea (Native Violet)
Pictured Right (Vic, Qld, NSW, Tas, SA) Creeping, mat forming groundcover. Needs a moist spot,
and some shade. Delicate white and purple flowers are edible, and make salads look amazing!
Shrubs and Climbers
Austromyrtus dulcis (Midgen Berry)
(Qld, NSW) Spreading shrub to 2m tall. Needs moist, well-drained soils. Partial shade, protect from
frost. One of the best! The white berries (with purple spots) are deliciously sweet, and melt in the
Billardia scandens (Climbing Apple Berry)
(Vic, Qld, NSW, Tas, SA) Soft climber, but will become bushier in open positions. Tolerates a range
of soils, from well-drained to moist. Grows well under large trees. The small green fruits are edible,
and are surprisingly sweet and refreshing. Would be great in fruit salad.
Coprosma quadrifida (Prickly Currant Bush)
(Vic, NSW, Tas) Upright, spiny shrub to 2m x 1.5m. Needs, moist, well-drained soil, protected site
with partial shade. Tiny red fruit is edible, with a sweet, slightly tart taste. Can be eaten raw or
Einadia nutans ssp. nutans (Climbing or Nodding Saltbush)
Pictured Right (All States except WA) Spreading, low growing shrub to 1.2m. Prefers warm, dry
position. Full sun. Attractive small red berries are incredibly sweet. Leaves can also be eaten, boil
first to remove salt.
Hibiscus heterophyllus (Native Rosella)
(Qld, NSW) Attractive, rounded shrub to 2m. Needs well moist, drained soil. Partial shade. Protect
from frost. Buds cooked and made into rosella jam. Buds can be eaten raw in salads or boiled as a
vegetable. Petals can be eaten in salad.
Prosanthera ovalifolia (Oval Leaf Mint Bush)
(Qld, Vis, NSW, SA) Dense, rounded shrub to 2m. Moist, well drained soils. Some shade. Leaves have
delightful mint aroma, excellent in jams, jellies and as a tea.
Backhousia citriodora (Lemon Myrtle)
(Qld, NSW) Small, low branching tree, 3m – 8m. Needs warm, well-drained soil. Full sun to part
shade. Protect from frost. Intense lemon flavoured leaves. Excellent in teas, or as a lemongrass
substitute. Great in cheesecakes. Dry and ground for cakes and biscuits.
Citrus australasica (Native Finger Lime)
(Qld, NSW) Small tree, 4m – 6m. Full sun to part shade, moist, fertile, well-drained soil. Great in
pots. Finger shaped fruit is filled with edible caviar sized balls. Delightful lime taste, excellent in
Asian dishes and cocktails. A real winner!
Macadamia integrifolia (Macadamia Nut Tree)
(Qld, NSW) Rounded tree, generally to 12 – 15m. Can be slow growing. Grafted varieties available in
many parts Aus and NZ, and are preferable for quality and growth habit. The nuts borne on this tree
are absolutely delicious, and many a Queenslander has memories of summer days spent cracking
nuts on the back verandah! They must be tried to be believed!
Syzygium luehmannii (Riberry)
(Qld, NSW) Small bushy tree to 8m. Well drained fertile soil. Full sun to semi shade. Sweet purple
berries with tart aftertaste. Excellent in jams, as a sauce for meat or as a cordial.
Tasmannia lanceolata (Mountain Pepper)
(Tas, Vic, NSW) Bushy shrub to 3m, needs deep rich soil, some shade. Protect from wind. Leaves and
berry are both edible as a hot, hot, hot substitute for black pepper. Can be used fresh or dried. Great
for seasoning meat and casseroles.
This list is, of course, just a small selection of Aussie bush foods, many of which are readily available
from your local indigenous and native nurseries (or really good garden centres). Check out some of
the links below to see what you can grow (and where you can track them down) in your part of
One final thought – I often get asked how our Indigenous Australians knew what they could and
couldn’t eat… the short answer is “trial and error”. With that in mind, don’t go chowing down on
every berry, leaf and the like you see on your next bushwalk. While heaps of stuff is perfectly safe to
eat, there is a fair bit that will make you pretty sick… or worse! So play it safe when you’re in the
bush… take a cut lunch instead!!
Australian Plants Society of Maroondah (2001), Flora of Melbourne, 3rd Edition, S.G.A.P
Smith, K & Smith, I (1999) Grow Your Own Bushfoods. New Holland, Sydney NSW.
CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems Australian Native Foods
Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation The New Crop Industries Handbook
State Flora Belair Nursery: Belair National Park, South Australia www.stateflora.com.au
CERES Permaculture & Bushfood Nursery, Brunswick, Victoria www.ceres.org.au
Goldfields Revegetation Nursery, Bendigo, Victoria www.goldfieldsrevegetation.com.au
St Kilda Indigenous Nursery Co-Op, St. Kilda, Victoria www.skinc.com.au
Witjuti Grub Bushfood Nursery, Kenilworth, Queensland www.witjutigrub.com.au
Neilsens Native Nursery, Loganholme, Queensland www.nielsensnativenursery.com.au
Allora Gardens Nursery, Darwin, NT www.alloragardensnursery.com.au
Habitat Plants, Liffey, Tasmania habitatplants.com.au