Getting into Bush Tucker
27 January 2023
pic: Royal Botanic Garden Sydney
Apart from gaining a great tasting harvest, growing an Australian Bush Tucker Garden will help provide food and shelter for local wildlife. These plants are naturally suited to the local environment and so will generally need less watering, no or very little fertiliser and not much in the way of soil improvement. Eaten and used by Indigenous Australians for centuries as a food source and in some cases as a medicinal aid, it is only fairly recently that these powerhouses of flavour and goodness have been considered as a regular addition to the home garden by most. Some plants, like Lily Pilli, Davidson Plum and Lemon Myrtle have enjoyed wider spread moments of popularity but there is so much more to discover and a whole banquet of Bush Tucker that you can plant and cultivate at your place to bring life to the environment as well as your table. Here is a sample of the plants that you can grow at your place right now. For more information I highly recommend the classic: ‘Wild Food Plants of Australia’, Tim Low and for a complete growing, buying and cooking guide, ‘First Nations Food Companion’, Damien Coulthard and Rebecca Sullivan is brilliant.
Warrigal Greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides)
Eat as you would English spinach but raw it can be a little bitter for most so blanch first. The tiny flowers are also edible and look pretty sprinkled on baked goods. Although tolerant of most soils, it will do far better in a moist loamy free-draining medium. Growing to only 20cm in height and spreading out to over 2m, it will do well in either full sun or part shade. Warrigal greens die back in winter and then come back in spring.
Finger Lime (Citrus australasica)
You will need patience as it can take up to 15 years until you are enjoying the caviar-like inner of this delicious fruit if grown by seed and although they can grow from cuttings, the success rate is very low. Most home gardeners fall back on grafted stock obtained commercially which also only attain a height of about 3m. Grow in a wind-sheltered location in full sun to part shade. Most soils are tolerated and fertilising requirements are minimal. Regular citrus feeding at half strength every 3 months will be sufficient for grafted varieties. Keep moist during fruiting and flowering times.
Old Man Saltbush – Tjilyi-tjilyi (Atriplex nummularia)
The seeds and the leaves are the harvestable part of this plant and as the name suggests, imparts a salty flavour to your cooking. Use the leaves like you would any leafy vegetable. A hardy shrub, it will grow 1 to 3m in height and 5m wide and prefers full sun to part shade. Tolerant of most soils and requires no feeding and only regular watering until established.
Midyim Berry – Midgen (Austromyrtus dulcis)
Growing up to 1m in height (sometimes 2m) and 150cm in width these easy to grow plants are gaining popularity as a super food with their high antioxidant properties. You will be harvesting delicious tangy berries after the first year. Does well in most soils and in full sun or part shade. Watering only required to established and when fruiting and flowering. Feed with a native specific fertiliser as per directions during fruiting and flowering.
Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens)
If you go down to the beach today, you will probably see these gorgeous bright flowers and their juicy foliage but you can easily grow Pigface at home as well. The leaves can be eaten raw or roasted and used as a salt substitute. Look out for the fruits that give this plant it’s ‘Pigface’ name as they are delicious with a salty strawberry flavour. The flowers too are edible and look fabulous in savoury-based dishes and drinks. It will grow up to 20cm in height and to around 2m in width so makes a fantastic rockery or edging plant. It can be easily propagated from cuttings, loves a well-drained soil and it will tolerate both full sun and part shade. Water until established and you can hold back on feeding.
Bush Tucker Foraging
I spoke with local Bushcrafter Jake Cassar about the possibility of foraging our own bush tucker. While it seems like a natural thing to do there are a few cautions to be aware of. “There’s heaps of Aussie Natives you can eat when you are out and about and there’s also a lot of introduced plants. As always, you need to be 100% sure of the identification of plants before you eat them as some can make you very sick or even cause death.” Although there are books, phone apps and websites that can assist with this identification process, mistakes can still be made, especially by the inexperienced. As Jake points out, a lot of plants, their fruit included, can look very similar to each other. Additional care must be taken to ensure plants have not been sprayed with chemicals and when collecting you have to be aware of spiders and snakes. Attending bushcraft training or foraging with a guide is a good way to educate yourself about plant identification and safety. “You have to be aware also that it is illegal to forage, even for food, in our national parks.” Jake also cautioned and while you can forage on private land, permission must be granted. With a passion for our environment, he prefers to focus on foraging for introduce species like blackberries, as this helps regenerate our local bush. Some of the local edible natives that are found across the Central Coast include Lilli Pilli, Sour Current Bush, Yams, and Native Raspberries. Jake as a lot of resources on his website and social media and his local bushcraft courses are a great way to learn more about experiencing our Australian bush safely. Find out more at: Jakecassarbushcraft.com
Our Garden and Flower Clubs need us. Many are in danger of folding as the average age of members now stands at 76. Without younger people joining it is feared that these once popular clubs will be a thing of the past. Garden and Flower Clubs are keepers of plant knowledge, a lot of it local and not found elsewhere so losing them will leave a huge hole in our resources. Most members spend no more than a couple of hours a month on club activities and all skill levels are always very welcome. To find out more about these clubs go to gardenclubs.org.au you might just find one that interests you!
Late Summer temperate areas of Australia
Funnel web spiders are on the move and we are expecting higher than average numbers due to weather patterns we have been experiencing. Shake those boots before you put them on and be aware when working in the garden. This week you could plant: culinary herbs, beans (dwarf and running), beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, carrot, cauliflower, celery, chicory, cress, cucumber, endive, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, marrow, mustard, onions (spring), parsnips, potatoes (tubers), radishes, rhubarb (crowns), salsify, silverbeet, swedes, sweetcorn, turnip, zucchinis, ageratum, alyssum, boronia, calendula, cineraria, cleome, cyclamen, forget-me-not, lobelia, lupin, marigold, nasturtium, pansy, poppy (Iceland), primula, stock, verbena, vinca, viola, wallflower
Cheralyn writes the 'DOWN IN THE GARDEN' page for the Coast News Newspaper each week and this originally appeared in The Coast News as below:
Cheralyn Darcey is a horticulture author and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘At Home with The Gardening Gang’ 8 - 10am live every Saturday on CoastFM96.3, on air locally or streaming by asking ‘play coastfm963’
Send your gardening questions, events, and news to: email@example.com