According to the non-profit organisation behind the international campaign World Localization Day which promotes a systemic shift away from dependence on global oligopolies and monopolies towards decentralised, regional economies, the global food system is inefficient, unfair, unsustainable and unhealthy.
“From climate change to species extinction, from pollution to plastics, the global food system is the single largest contributor to the destruction of our planet,” said Helena Norberg-Hodge, director of Local Futures and World Localization Day.
Returning to local food systems, the organisation asserts, is one of the most important things we can do for the wellbeing of people and planet. It strengthens local communities, is more secure and productive, revitalises cultural and biological diversity and is more sustainable.
As World Localization Day is fast approaching, we’ve curated a list of native Australian foods, sometimes referred to as bush tucker, to encourage a love of native foods, help you connect with country, honour the knowledge of Australia’s First Nations peoples, and encourage resilience in Australia’s local food system.
1. Bunya nut
The bunya nut comes from the tall towering bunya pines, a coniferous tree species native to south-eastern Queensland. Ancient Bunya pines can be found in Bunya Mountains National Park. It is also found in northern Queensland. The long, heavy, brown-green bunya pine cones contain many seeds, which are roughly four centimetres long. Indigenous Australians revered Bunya pines, eating the nuts raw, roasted or boiled.
2. Davidson’s plum
A small, slender rainforest tree with a sweeping canopy native to New South Wales and Queensland, its purplish fruits have red, juicy flesh that are sour and tangy. Davidson’s plum fruits can be eaten as is and makes a tasty ingredient in jams and sauces.
3. Finger lime
Finger lime trees are endemic to northern New South Wales and south-east Queensland and have slender and rounded citrus fruits that contain tiny ‘caviar pearls’ that are tangy and acidic. These native limes can be used for salads, drinks and cocktails and even marmalades.
4. Kakadu plum
Kakadu plum or “billygoat” plum is a unique edible fruit endemic to Northern Australia, found in Kakadu National Park and across the Kimberley and Cape York regions. The tree also oozes a gum eaten by Indigenous Australians. The Kakadu plum also has one of the highest vitamin C levels of any citrus fruit, 50 times the vitamin C content of oranges, which has propelled it into the ‘superfood’ category of foods.
5. Lemon myrtle
A rainforest tree native to sub-tropical Queensland, lemon myrtle leaves have a refreshing, citrus-lemon aroma which makes it a useful essential oil and can be used as a herb in cooking, or in teas and cocktails and even desserts.
6. Lilly pilly
There are roughly 60 different varieties of lilly pilly in Australia and nearly all have edible berries in shades of white, red, blue, black and purple. The tree species can grow up to 20 metres but in urban landscapes are grown as shrubs and hedges. The fruits have a tart taste and can be used in salads, desserts, jams and preserves.
Macadamia nuts is a small rainforest tree endemic to southern Queensland and is only native to Australia. Its outer shell is tough to crack but once you get to the smooth nut, it can be eaten raw, used in various dishes and desserts, and can transformed into nut milk.
Also known as mountain pepper, pepperberries have fruits that are sweet but the purplish-black seeds are hot and peppery, having a flavour similar to that of conventional peppercorn. These plants grow in the cooler climates of Tasmania, Victoria and southern New South Wales.
A tall majestic rainforest tree found in arid zones of southern Australia, from Tasmania right through to Queensland, the blue fruits of the quandong, or native peach, is high in vitamin C while the kernel seeds can be used to make jewellery.
10. Red bush apple
Also known as lady apple, Australia’s red bush apple is an under-storey tree or shrub found in open forests and woodlands of northern Australia. Its red or dark pink ribbed fruits are fragrant, have a spongy texture and a unique tangy flavour which can be eaten as is or thrown into salads or mixed in drinks.
Found in northern Australia, the native rosella plant has pretty white or yellow flowers that look like hibiscus flowers and its red buds have a sweet and tart flavour which are often used to make jams while the edible leaves and flower petals can be used in salads.
12. Ruby saltbush
The ruby saltbush is one of the most common shrubs found in outback Australia and across rural properties. It is known by a variety of different names such as creeping saltbush and Sturt’s saltbush. It features greyish-green leaves and grows up to 1.5 metres tall though some varieties grow to 30 centimetres only. The orange or red fruits are edible raw or dried, and the leaves can be eaten as is or boiled. The leaves are saltier than the fruit which is sweeter in flavour.
Samphire is a genus of plant native to Australia that is sometimes referred to as chicken claws because that’s what this succulent looks like, with its jointed leafless stems. It is also known as sea asparagus as this wild vegetable can be found in many coastal areas of Australia, from Tasmania, New South Wales through to north-Western Australia. Eaten as a pickle it can also be blanched and used in salads to add saltiness.
14. Sea purslane
This bush tucker plant has pink flowers and long stems and grows along Australia’s coasts and mudflats. A fast-growing ground cover, this vegetable is similar to samphire in that it can be eaten raw and is a little salty.
15. Warrigal greens
Also known as New Zealand spinach as it is found along the coasts of the island nation, Warrigal greens are a short-lived perennial shrub found in Australia’s arid plains and sheltered beaches. It is one of the few native Australian vegetables cultivated for its fresh leaves which are can be served in salads and eaten raw or cooked. Can be used as a replacement for conventional spinach.
Need some recipe inspiration and tips on how to use Australian native foods in your cooking? We recommend the book ‘Warndu Mai (Good Food): Introducing native Australian ingredients to your kitchen‘ by Damien Coulthard and Rebecca Sullivan which offers over 80 recipes complete with illustrations that will help you incorporate these foods in your everyday meals.
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Cover photo by Sabino Parente.