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Several native edible plants hanging from a branch
Explore the diversity of Australia’s native plant foods and be inspired to grow them in your garden.

 

Going bush

Native bush food plants (or ‘bush tucker’ plants) have been part of the First Nations diet and culture for more than 65,000 years, and now this ancient knowledge is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. However you won't find these culinary delights at your grocer! “To experience the flavours of our backyard, you need to grow them in your backyard,” says Mark Tucek of Tucker Bush (tuckerbush.com.au). It’s the easiest way to access a wonderful selection of edible goodies, and they’re great at attracting local fauna to the garden, too.

Nurture natives

Good soil is the key to growing edible natives. “The soil should be well-drained and enriched with plenty of organic matter,” says Samantha Martin, author of Bush Tukka Guide and founder of Tribal Voice Connections (facebook.com/thebushtukkawoman). If growing in pots, Mark suggests using a premium potting mix; “It does not need to be native-specific, but a premium mix with good drainage and other additives will benefit plants in the long run.” 

Your best bet for an easy-to-grow and thriving garden is to choose native edible plants that are suited to growing in your region. Once established, most will happily grow without too much fuss; to encourage more robust growth and intense flavours, feed regularly. “Use a native-specific fertiliser throughout the growing season – liquid fertilisers are fast-acting and will help boost growth quickly,” explains Mark. Once harvested, “don’t be afraid to experiment with bush flavours – use them as you would salt and pepper,” adds Samantha.

Here are 10 of our favourites. Note: due to seasonal availability, not all natives will be available in all stores year-round. 

1. Midyim berry (Austromyrtus dulcis)

This small shrub is around 1m tall and 1.5m wide, with edible white-and-purple-speckled berries. Choose a spot in full sun or partial shade with well-draining soil. Pick and eat the berries when ripe. “They are great in fruit salads, muffins and smoothies,” says Samantha. If this is your first time growing natives, check out our midyim berry planting and care guide for everything you need to know before you sow.  

Midyim berry (Austromyrtus dulcis) growing on a tree

2. Queensland Davidson’s plum (Davidsonia pruriens)

Also known as ooray, this slender-trunked tree can reach up to 20m in the wild, but remains smaller (4-8m) in the garden. The blue-black plum fruit has bright red flesh that can be quite tart, so it’s often used in jams or preserves. It grows best in warm climates where it thrives in full sun, but prefers part shade when grown in subtropical and tropical zones. 

ark blue Queensland Davidson’s plum (Davidsonia pruriens) fruit hanging from a tree branch

3. Red back ginger (Alpinia caerulea)

This perennial has lush green leaves, blue berries and rhizomes all taste of mild ginger. It grows best in warm climates in part or full shade. Wrap seafood parcels in the leaves, enjoy the berries when ripe (but do not eat the seeds!) and use the rhizomes like ginger.  

Red back ginger (Alpinia caerulea) berries growing on a stem

4. Macadamia ‘Beaumont’ (M. integrifolia x M. tetraphylla)

This hybrid evergreen tree produces one of the world’s most-loved nuts and grows 5-10m tall and 4-6m wide. Plant in full sun and well-drained soil enriched with plenty of organic matter. The nuts start forming after four years, so be patient. 

Harvesting tip: Macadamia nuts fall from the tree when ripe. 

Green, unripe Macadamia ‘Beaumont’ nuts on a tree branch.

5. Old man saltbush (Atriplex nummularia)

The silver-grey foliage on this shrub is highly ornamental, but the leaves are also perfect for imparting a strong salty flavour to salads and savoury dishes. It grows across various climates and is tolerant of most soil types. Once established, it is drought-hardy.

Close-up of Old man saltbush (Atriplex nummularia) leaves

6. Geraldton wax ‘Jambinu Zest’ (Chamelaucium uncinatum)

This variety was specially bred so that both the leaves and the flowers can be eaten – traditionally, only the leaves were used. Both have a zesty lemon flavour that can be added to desserts and savoury dishes. Find it in autumn, and plant in a spot in full sun or partial shade with well-draining soil. Love the look of these edible beauties? Our growing guide will help you through the process.

Pink Geraldton wax ‘Jambinu Zest’ (Chamelaucium uncinatum) flowers blooming in a field.

7. Finger lime (Citrus australasica)

Finger limes are a large shrub or small tree (up to 6m tall) with stubby, finger-like fruit filled with pearls of tangy lime juice. Branches are heavily thorned and make great nesting places. Grow in warm climates in full sun to partial shade.

Tip: Treat finger lime to a good citrus plant food each season, depending on the type used. 

Five green finger limes (Citrus australasica) on a timber board

8. Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides)

Warrigal greens are a perfect native spinach alternative with a fresh, grassy flavour and a mildly bitter aftertaste. “It’s absolutely delicious and is high in vitamin C and antioxidants,” says Samantha. It grows best in warm climates and prefers full sun to part shade. Plant it in pots or garden beds.

Leaves of Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides) plant growing in a garden patch.

9. Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)

The foliage of this beautiful shrub or small tree is used used around the world. “The leaves are enjoyed in both savoury and sweet dishes, but it’s also a highly prized medicinal plant,” says Samantha Martin. “Indigenous people used it to soothe sores, boils and cuts.” It grows in warm, frost-free temperate zones and subtropical areas. Choose a spot in full sun with well-draining soil.

White lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) blooming

10. Native lemon grass (Cymbopogon ambiguus)

The fine leaves of this tussock-forming grass are wonderfully lemon-scented and can be used in a variety of sweet or savoury dishes. It can grow up to 2m tall and prefers a spot with well-draining soil in full sun or partial shade. It's highly drought-tolerant once established.

Take advantage of our ultimate guide to growing native lemon grass. It includes everything from watering, feeding and soil requirements, to pruning and propagating tips.

Close-up of long native lemon grass (Cymbopogon ambiguus) leaves

Keep in mind...

  • After applying fertiliser to edible plants, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. 
  • If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. 
  • Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets. 
  • Some plants and their fruit are poisonous. Always do your research.

Looking for more edible garden inspiration?

Get ready to flex your green thumb with our handy guide on must-have herbs to help you cook up a storm.

Photo credit: GAP Photos/Brent Wilson, tuckerbush.com.au, Alamy Stock Photo and Getty Images. 

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