“Local native species conservation takes on a new and more immediate meaning. Some bushfoods are amazingly productive, with the added advantage of being packed with intense, wild flavours. It’s just the beginning of a rediscovery process” – Peter Hardwick
Meeting Peter Hardwick, leading researcher into sub-tropical bushfoods and Bundjalung etho-botany, ten years ago revolutionised the way I saw bushfoods and their potential to be an integral part of the garden and everyday cuisine. This article provides a brief glimpse into some of my discoveries from working with Peter and fellow pioneers inventing a whole new Australian cuisine and exploration of rainforest-foods in the landscape and permaculture design.
I love cooking and using fresh herbs and spices from the garden – spices are the soul of fine food. The fruits and aromatic leaves of the tropical and subtropic rainforests where I live in Eastern Australia provide a whole new palette of spices, fragrances and flavours for the adventurous cook. These uniquely Australian flavours, merged with the creativity of a multicultural society, give rise to an endless array of culinary innovations.
Breakfast: Wattle seed pancakes with Atherton Raspberries, a generous serve of Macadamia cream and scattering of Midyen-berries, a cup of fresh brewed Wattle coffee
Lunch: Bunya nut gnocchi with Warrigal Green and Macadamia Pesto, – ‘pass the Dorrigo Pepper please’ – garden salad tossed in a vinaigrette of Macadamia oil and Davidson Plum vinegar, and a cup of refreshing Lemon Myrtle tea
Dinner: Steamed Australian bass wrapped in Palm Lily leaves and Lemon Myrtle, served with Avocado and Finger lime salad and baked Dum-dum yam, accompanied with a glass of Small-leaf Tamarind wine. For desert; Macadamia icecream topped with Davidson Plum sauce and a nip of Anise Myrtle liqueur to round off the evening
The best news is that a lot of the culinary delights of the sub-tropic rainforests can be easily grown in the backyard – and you don’t have to live in the sub-tropics to grow many of them if you have a mild microclimate. A little thoughtful planting and you could forage the backyard to lay a sumptuous meal for a tropical bushfoods dinner party…
The potential for integrating bushfood plants in your garden landscape can be most rewarding – and not only for the taste buds. A bushfoods garden will naturally attract native birds, butterflies and many beneficial insects. The diversity of trees, shrubs and herbacious plants provide endless possibilities for creating visual interest in the garden landscape with their unique foliage, form and colour.
Here are some of my favourite bushfoods for the home garden and some tips for using them in the kitchen.
Small-leaf Tamarind Diploglottis cambellii
This endangered species from Northern NSW is an attractive hardy small-medium sized tree producing 3-lobed pods containing a bright red fruit. The clean tangy juice is perfect with seafoods, Indian and Asian dishes and makes a delicious salad dressing.
Lemon Myrtle Backhousia citriodora
A small rainforest tree, Lemon Myrtle can be pruned to shrub size. The leaves contain aromatic oils, similar to lemon grass but richer. Great in Asian dishes and as a herb tea it’s aromatic flavour is unsurpassed. Lemon Myrtle has become my favourite herb for fish. It makes a zesty herb vinegar for salad dressings and can be used to flavour deserts.
Anise Myrtle Backhousia anisata
Keep pruned as a medium to large shrub. The rounded aniseed aroma of the leaves makes a delicious herb tea, hot or iced. Peter Hardwick makes an exquisite liqueur by seeping the leaves in spirits with a little sugar.
Riberry Syzygium luehmannii
A small rainforest tree, it bears prolifically in full sun. Riberries are ripe around Christmas and can be frozen fresh for future use. The small red fruits have a unique aromatic flavour with undertones of cinnamon and clove. They make great conserves; jam, jelly, chutney and relish. I like using the fruit in poultry and other savory dishes.
Macadamia Macadamia spp.
Needs no introduction as a superb nut but I recommend grafted varieties for the home garden. To make Macadamia cream simply blend the nuts with some water in a vitimiser as a luscious topping for a whole range of sweet and savoury dishes.
Davidson Plum Davidsonia pruriens var. jerseyana
This slender rainforest plant will grow and bear in the tiniest garden space. It prefers a shady location. The fruit grows on the stem early summer. The flavour is intense and too tart to eat as a fresh fruit. A little Davidson plum goes a long way to colour and flavour icecream and sweet sauces. It gives kangaroo goulash a rich fruity tang and can be steeped in brandy and sugar as a liqueur.
Fingerlime Microcitrus australasica
A small thorny shrub well-loved by finches as a nesting site, the small oblong fruit contains caviar-sized round globules of exquisite lime juice – perfect with avocado and seafood. A versatile plant it can handle full sun or shade and even some frost.
Broad-leaf Palm Lily Cordyline petiolaris
An essential plant for that real rainforest feel, the leaves are traditionally used for wrapping food – similar to Asian use of banana leaves. Soften the leaves in hot water for a few minutes before wrapping your fish parcels, a Lemon Myrtle leaf on each side of the fish, and tie with string or secure with toothpicks then simply steam, bake or pop onto the B-B-Q.
Native Ginger (Dargahn) Alpinia caerulea
An attractive understory plant, the seed pods provide an interesting spice to experiment with. Try chewing a pod as a breath freshener.
Atherton Raspberry Rubus fraxinifolius
This variety of native raspberry is a delicious table fruit. Suitable for the larger garden, it needs management so it won’t take over or grow it in a large tub. The fresh fruit freezes well and makes a great garnish and sauce.
Midyen-berry Austomyrtus dulcis
An attractive shrubby ground cover, popluar in native landscapes. The pale fruit is small and lightly freckled with a subtle hint of vanilla and cinnamon. Delicious fresh and makes a superb bushfood muffin.
Warrigal Greens Tetragonia teragoniodes
Known to many gardeners as New Zealand Spinach, it makes an attractive ground cover and bears best in partial shade. Once established it will readily self-sow year in and out. Use the same as silverbeet and spinach. Blanched and chilled it makes a delectable salad or cold side-dish, especially with a serve of Macadamia cream.
Scrambling Lily Geitonoplesium cymosum
This delicate rainforest vine has attractive leaves and dainty white flowers. The young tender shoots are delicious, somewhere between asparagus and French beans in flavour and texture, making a tasty garnish and a delight to simply munch on fresh in the garden.
© Robyn Francis 2003
Robyn Francis is known internationally for her permaculture work in education, design and consulting, as writer, presenter and founder of Permaculture International. The designer of Jarlanbah, NSW first eco-village, she continues breaking new ground in eco-village and community development. Robyn ‘walks her talk’ at Djanbung Gardens, a 2ha permaculture cornucopia and training centre in Nimbin where bushfoods permeate the gardens, course menus and cottage craft selection. She has worked extensively with Peter Hardwick developing Bushfood courses, workshops, landscapes and culinary creations over the past 10 years.
Bushfoods Cookbook for the Gourmet Gardener – Robyn Francis
24p booklet with lots of tips and fantastic recipes – available mail order