Indigenous Australian ingredients have been part of our First Nation's diet for generations. However, in recent years we've seen the country's bush foods appear more and more on restaurant plates and cooking shows.?
Aside from the fact they're a hardy bunch that have long been adapted to our climate, Australia's bush foods are packed with nutrition and flavour.
If you're thinking about growing your own bush foods garden, luckily it's easy and requires minimal space.
Christian Hampson, the cofounder of Indigenous social enterprise Yerrabingin, had a handful of bush foods growing in pots at his townhouse in Sydney's inner south when COVID-19 struck - but he and his partner thought they should have more. Nine months later, they have 20 pots across two courtyards. Hampson says, "One courtyard is shaded while the other has lots of sun, so we can have a variance of species.
He thinks before COVID, many people weren't cooking as much because they were travelling to work. "But with more time to make meals at home, they might be thinking about where to find the freshest produce, and growing their own."?
If you're thinking to create your own bush-food garden too, Hampson suggests planting a few flowering natives alongside edibles to nurture the environment and attract pollinators.
"What a lot of people might not realise in the city is that even four or five pots on every balcony is adding to the biodiversity," he says.?
Start with saltbush
If you're new to gardening, Hampson recommends the silvery and robust saltbush. "Saltbushes are really good for people who struggle with plants as they're very easy to look after," he says. "They're also perfect for those who are only growing herbs, as you can simply combine them with your normal herb garden."??
Hampson says saltbush works particularly well with Asian cooking – Kylie Kwong uses it in several of her dishes – though the leaves tend to have a strong chlorophyll taste and are best when dehydrated or heavily cooked.
"I would normally fry them before baking with fish," he says. "You can use it in lots of different ways, and you don't need to add salt because it has that strong salt flavour," says Hampson.
Grow some warrigal greens?
For fresh and nutritious salads, Hampson advises planting some antioxidant-rich warrigal greens. "They're a native spinach that grow very easily, you'll probably want to have them contained as they can really take off," explains Hampson. "They are highly resilient and are found in coastal areas of Australia that get a lot of salt, sun and heat."
Hampson suggests keeping warrigal greens in a planter and cutting them back regularly. "Warrigal greens have massive amounts of vitamin C, however, they're high in oxalates, [which can lead to kidney stones in some people] so blanch them well before eating," says Hampson. "They have quite a peppery taste and make an awesome pesto."?
Myrtle and midgenberry
Most of us are familiar with lemon myrtle, while cinnamon and curry myrtles are lesser-known culinary varieties. "Fully grown, they're a four or five-metre tree, but contained to a large pot you'll get a decent-sized bush," says Hampson, who loves the strong flavour of lemon myrtle and uses it to make a syrup for cocktails and cordials. "One bushel can make a few litres," he says.
Also a member of the myrtaceae family, the midgenberry makes a flavourful and attractive addition to a any garden.
"It grows blueberry-sized berries that are speckled like a quail’s egg," says Hampson. "They're quite delicate, but the plant itself is very hardy."
Hampson describes the midgenberry as having a "cinnamon latte" taste, and its fruit is often used in preserves and sauces. "They're also really nice to eat straight off the bush," says Hampson.
Shade vs sun
Hampson says his Davidson plums love the shady side of his house. "They also don't mind living indoors, just be careful the air con isn't too crazy as it can dry them out," he says. But Hampson notes that they'll need to go outdoors from time to time for pollinating.
For your home's sunnier spots, try a finger lime – typical citrus: they like plenty of water? – while areas of dappled sun are ideal for a macadamia tree. "I've got one in a pot and I've tried it on both sides; they're a forest species but they don't mind some sun," says Hampson. "Just be mindful of reflective heat from concrete in courtyards and balconies."?
Hampson says the relationship between growing plants and eating not only aids cooking but supports mental health. He adds it can also help generate a better understanding of the cultures of our First Peoples.
"It can make you get off your computer and water your garden, and maybe think about what you can trim off to add to your dinner that evening," says Hampson. "It can also be a great connector for people who want to understand Indigenous culture."??
National NAIDOC Week (8 – 15 Nov 2020) celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Join SBS and NITV for a full slate of?NAIDOC Week content. For more information about NAIDOC Week or this year’s theme, head to the?official?NAIDOC Week website. #NAIDOC2020 #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe
Bush tomato is also known as desert raisin, Kutjura and Akudjura. ?When dried on the bushes, the fruit look similar to raisins and have a strong sun-dried tomato, caramel and tamarillo flavour and aroma.?