Sunday, 12 April 2009

Bush Tucker and Wild Food

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

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’ are the non-native but often abundant foods of the same types.

Bush tucker and wild food are the ultimate in spray-free, packaging-free local food. So long as they are harvested in moderation from clean environments, these 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.

We moved here two years ago so have been discovering, with each change of season in this new locale, native and wild foods on our small farm. So far we have found red and yellow guava, lilly pilly, Atherton nut, bush lemon, millaa vine, woolly pear, Davidson plum, banana fig, blue quandong, wild raspberry, lemon aspen, sorrel, dandelion, gotu kola, day lilies and a rambling old passionfruit vine. We’ve also seen various edible grubs, snails, larger animals, fungi and black wattle, but haven’t tried these … yet! We have had no luck with our few fishing ventures, but when we lived on the coast, 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 (libraries often have books on bush tucker), 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 bush tucker. At the local info centre, an indigenous guide does weekly 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.

Our regular vegie garden includes a lot of unusual tropical and native plants amongst the regular beans, tomatoes and lettuce varieties. I’ve planted warrigal greens, kang kong, ceylon spinach, cress and other “weed” type greens because they are less prone to pests and disease. They also tend to be perennial so there are no gaps in production like with the normally cultivated annual green vegetables. I supplement the potato and sweet potato crop with yam, yacon, taro and jerusalem artichokes, which are all much more fond of our high rainfall. Fruits such as cape gooseberries and rosellas produce in a short period of time while I wait for the orchard trees to grow.

In the orchards and revegetation areas, I’ve included natives such as lemon-scented tea tree, lemon myrtle, Davidson plums, macadamias, creek cherries, native olives and a few lilly pilly varieties (and dozens more!) I’ve also included numerous tropical fruits and edible bamboo, which are abundant producers. The jaboticaba, for example, fruits up to six times per year. This, to me, is a real mixed orchard.

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 and abundant yellow guavas I made jams, jellies and syrups. The jelly worked out at less than 30c per jar, even using organic raw sugar. The syrup can be used as a cordial, or mixed with natural yoghurt for a flavoured treat. These fruit are often exceptionally high in Vitamin C and produce fantastic colourful preserves for the pantry shelves. With the high-mineral, protein-rich bitter green leaves that seem too strong on their own, I simply add them to stir fries, soups or the mesclun mix salad without anyone noticing.

I'd still love to learn more about identifying and collecting honey, fungi, fish and more native fruits and vegetables. Hopefully our family can become further acquainted with our forest area and come to fully appreciate the resources which the original inhabitants relied upon for survival.

Foraging for food can be enjoyable and is good for you. It’s an educational, fresh-air activity that links you 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
How Can I Be Prepared With Self-Sufficiency and Survival Foods? - Isabell Shipard, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9758252-3-5
Wet Tropics guide
Further reading

* I'm in tropical North Queensland, Australia. Please feel free to add a favourite bush tucker or wild food resource suitable for your area to the Comments of this post.