The term ‘bush tucker’ refers to Australian native foods – the huge variety of fruit, nuts, seeds, leaves, birds, mammals, roots, bark, fungi, herbs, spices, flowers, reptiles, insects, aquatic plants and fish. ‘Wild foods’ is another way to describe these, and includes non-native but often abundant food sources.
Wild foods are the ultimate in spray-free, packaging-free local food. So long as they are harvested in moderation from clean environments, they are a very low impact food source. These were once the only means of food and medicine for indigenous Australians – they are a valuable and viable resource worth learning about.
Our family have been discovering over many years and though each change of season, native and wild foods on our small farm and in the surrounding areas in Far North Queensland, Australia. Some we have found include red and yellow guava, lilly pilly, Atherton nut, lemon aspen, native ginger, pipturus and melastoma (berries), bush lemon, millaa vine, woolly pear, Davidson plum, banana fig, two types of wild raspberry, fungi, lemon aspen, sorrel, dandelion, gotu kola, day lilies, an avocado tree, taro, and various rambling passionfruit vines. We’ve also seen edible grubs, snails, larger animals, and wattle, but haven’t tried these yet! We hesitate to take too many fish from our creek, because it is a small waterway. When we lived on the Herbert River, backyard-caught fish was regularly on the menu!
To find out about bush foods, we’ve firstly been keen observers. We’ve then utilised our neighbours, books, the internet, the local info centre, and Queensland Parks publications. The Wet Tropics Management Authority has published a poster and fact sheets to educate about local rainforest food plants. At the local info centre, indigenous guides do regular information walks through some nearby forest. It is vital to get good information before you try uncultivated foods, including clear pictures and details of any processing required before eating. Old wives tales about fruit being edible if birds eat it, or telling by colour of the berries or the sap, or shape of the leaves can’t be trusted. Please source a good field guide or other means of identification before you do the taste test!
It's fantastic to walk with the children and hear them point out edibles from a very young age as the details of each plant imprints on their curious minds. Children should know to check with us before eating food from the wild.
By knowing about native and wild foods, and incorporating these less common species when we plant trees and gardens, we’ve greatly expanded the volume of food we can harvest from the farm. For others, their source might be riverbanks, footpaths, public parks, roadside scrub (but not close to the road’s edge which is likely to be polluted) or the neighbour’s yard - with permission.
Some of the foods we found are so prolific that the kids delivered buckets and buckets to me - but wouldn’t eat any! From the sour Davidson plums I made jams, jellies and syrups. The jelly worked out at less than 30c per jar, even using organic raw sugar. Fruit syrups can be used as a cordial, or mixed with natural yoghurt for a flavoured treat. They can also be made with honey. Davidson Plums, Guavas and other local wild fruit are exceptionally high in Vitamin C and produce fantastic colourful preserves for the pantry shelves. To eat the high-mineral, protein-rich bitter green leaves that seem too strong on their own, I add them to stir fries, soups or mixed salad without anyone noticing.
Foraging for food can be enjoyable and is good for you. It’s an educational, fresh-air activity that links your family to the changing seasons. Supplement your diet and enjoy the savings and the flavour.
Bush Tucker Field Guide – Les Hiddins, 2001. ABC Books. ISBN 0 14 028986 0
How Can I Use Herbs In My Daily Life – Isabell Shipard, 2004. ISBN 0 646 42248 0
Wet Tropics guide to Bush Tucker
*adapted from an article by Belinda Moore originally published in 2008