Eurocentric gardeners might find this country a hostile place for growing food, but for more than 30,000 years Aboriginal people lived off the land’s natural cuisine.
In recent times these bush foods have come to the fore of fine dining, with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver using samphire in his seabass, and Antonio Carluccio pairing with elder Richard Walley to embrace indigenous foods in SBS show Carluccio’s Corroboree.
We’re lucky to live in Perth because many of these gourmet delicacies grow right on our sandy doorstep.
You can easily add some new flavors to your kitchen garden by growing these native bush foods: for NAIDOC week, we thought we’d take you through some of our favorites...
Popular for their caviar-like appearance and their zesty juice, finger limes – Citrus australasica –have gained recognition world wide, and come in a variety of fruit colours.
The plant requires very similar conditions to other citrus fruits: they’ll like a sunny spot protected from wind, well-draining and slightly acidic soil, and regular fertilizer every three months.
Beware of citrus gall wasps and chewing or sap-sucking insects, the finger lime’s major nemeses.
The beautiful, shimmering silver Old Man Saltbush is good for more than just visual appeal and grazing sheep.
The plant’s leaves are versatile as a kind of seasoning, and can be either dried and crushed into flakes to sprinkle over savory dishes, or kept whole and used to wrap meats or in salads and garnishes.
This plant is incredibly hardy and can be planted directly into sandy soil once a tablespoon or so of native slow-release fertilizer is added to the bottom.
Once planted, generous and deep watering twice a week will encourage the plant to establish its roots.
Quandong, or Santalum acuminatum, is one of Australia’s most-loved bush foods.
The tart fruit is used in both sweet and savory dishes, and makes an ideal cheese-board flavour in preserve form.
Being hemiparasites, Quandongs need a host plant, so put them into soil nearby nitrogen-fixing plants like wattle or sheoak.
Like the saltbush, they have evolved in nutrient-poor, well-draining soils, and should be planted with just a bit of native slow-release fertilizer in a sunny spot.
This coastal equivalent to spinach, Tetragonia tetragonioides, was favoured by early settlers to stave off scurvy, and can do the same for your family.
The self-seeding plant can be consumed in stir-fries, green smoothies, salads, pastas and more, but the leaves need to be blanched for at least three minutes before consuming, as they contain oxalates.
Grow it as a leafy ground cover in full sun and water well.
The bush tomato, Solanum centrale, is a staple of the people of Central Australia, and is eaten for its high vitamin C content and its roasty, savory flavour that could be compared to sundried tomatoes.
Seed require a sprinkling of smoked vermiculite or smoke water to germinate, but the plants themselves have very low water and nutrient requirements.
Collect the sun-dried fruits from the plants late in Autumn: under-ripe fruits are still toxic so avoid any with a green tint.
The Mandurah Mail does not endorse eating any unidentified, found plants: it is illegal to take any part of plants growing in the wild.