Bush tucker

Bush tucker, also called bushfood, is any food native to Australia and used as sustenance by the original inhabitants, the Aboriginal Australians, but it can also describe any native fauna or flora used for culinary or medicinal purposes, regardless of the continent or culture. Examples of Australian native animal foods include kangaroo, emu and crocodile. In particular, kangaroo is quite common and can be found in Australian supermarkets, often cheaper than beef. Other animals, for example goanna and witchetty grubs, were eaten by Aboriginal Australians. Fish and shellfish are culinary features of the Australian coastal communities.

Examples of Australian native plant foods include the fruits quandong, kutjera, muntries, riberry, Davidson's plum, and finger lime. Native spices include lemon myrtle, mountain pepper, and the kakadu plum. A popular leafy vegetable is warrigal greens. Nuts include bunya nut, and the most identifiable bush tucker plant harvested and sold in large-scale commercial quantities is the macadamia nut. Knowledge of Aboriginal uses of fungi is meagre but beefsteak fungus and native "bread" (a fungus also), were certainly eaten.

Aboriginal Australians have eaten native animal and plant foods for an estimated 60,000 years of human habitation on the Australian continent (see Indigenous Australian food groups, Australian Aboriginal sweet foods). Various traditional methods of processing and cooking are used. Toxic seeds, such as Cycas media and Moreton Bay chestnut, are processed to remove the toxins and render them safe to eat. Many foods are also baked in the hot campfire coals, or baked for several hours in ground ovens. "Paperbark", the bark of Melaleuca species, is widely used for wrapping food placed in ground ovens. Bush bread such as "Johnny cakes" were made by males using many types of seeds, nuts and corns to process a flour or dough. Some animals such as kangaroos, were cooked in their own skin and others such as turtles, were cooked in their own shells.[1]

Aboriginal traditional native food use has been severely affected by non-indigenous immigration since 1788, especially in the more densely colonised areas of south-eastern Australia. There, the introduction of non-native foods to Aboriginals has resulted in an almost complete abandonment of native foods by Aboriginals. This impact on traditional foods has been further accentuated by the loss of traditional lands which has resulted in reduced access to native foods by Aboriginals and destruction of native habitat for agriculture.

The recent recognition of the nutritional and gourmet value of native foods by non-indigenous Australians is introducing native cuisine to many for the first time.

Colonial use

Bush tucker provided a source of nutrition to the non-indigenous colonial settlers, often supplementing meager rations. However, bushfoods were often considered to be inferior by colonists unfamiliar with the new land's food ingredients, generally preferring familiar foods from their homelands.[2][3][4]

In the 19th century English botanist, J.D. Hooker, writing of Australian plants in Flora of Tasmania, remarked although "eatable," are not "fit to eat". In 1889, botanist Joseph Maiden reiterated this sentiment with the comment on native food plants "nothing to boast of as eatables."[5] The first monograph to be published on the flora of Australia reported the lack of edible plants on the first page, where it presented Billardiera scandens as, "... almost the only wild eatable fruit of the country".[6]

This became the accepted view of Australian native food plants until the late 20th century. It is thought that these early assessments were a result of encountering strong flavours not generally suitable for out-of-hand eating, but these strong flavours are now highly regarded for culinary use.

The only Australian native plant food developed and cropped on a large scale is the macadamia nut, with the first small-scale commercial plantation being planted in Australia in the 1880s. Subsequently, Hawaii was where the macadamia was commercially developed to its greatest extent from stock imported from Australia.

Modern use

In the 1970s non-indigenous Australians began to recognise the previously overlooked native Australian foods. Textbooks like Wildfoods in Australia by the botanist couple Cribb & Cribb were popular. In the late 1970s horticulturists started to assess native food-plants for commercial use and cultivation.

In 1980 South Australia legalised the sale of kangaroo meat for human consumption. Analysis showed that a variety of bushfoods were exceptionally nutritious.[7] In the mid-1980s several Sydney restaurants began using native Australian ingredients in recipes more familiar to non-indigenous tastes – providing the first opportunity for bushfoods to be tried by non-indigenous Australians on a serious gourmet level. This led to the realisation that many strongly flavoured native food plants have spice-like qualities.

Following popular TV programs on "bush tucker", a surge in interest in the late 1980s saw the publication of books like Bushfood: Aboriginal Food and Herbal Medicine by Jennifer Isaacs, The Bushfood Handbook and Uniquely Australian by Vic Cherikoff, and Wild Food Plants of Australia by Tim Low.

Bush tucker ingredients were initially harvested from the wild, but cultivated sources have become increasingly important to provide sustainable supplies for a growing market, with some Aboriginal communities also involved in the supply chain. However, despite the industry being founded on Aboriginal knowledge of the plants, Aboriginal participation in the commercial sale of bush tucker is currently still marginal, and mostly at the supply end of value chains. Organisations are working to increase Aboriginal participation in the bush tucker market. Gourmet style processed food and dried food have been developed for the domestic and export markets.

The term "bushfood" is one of several terms describing native Australian food, evolving from the older-style "bush tucker" which was used in the 1970s and 1980s.


TV shows made use of the bush tucker theme. Malcolm Douglas was one of the first presenters to show how to 'live off the land' in the Australian Outback. Major Les Hiddins, a retired Australian Army soldier popularised the idea of bush tucker as an interesting food resource. He presented a hit TV series called The Bush Tucker Man on the ABC TV network in the late 1980s. In the series, Hiddins demonstrated his research for NORFORCE in identifying foods which might sustain or augment army forces in the northern Australian Outback. 'NORFORCE' is a Regional Force Surveillance Unit of the Australian Army Reserve.

In early 2003, the first cooking show featuring authentic Australian foods and called Dining Downunder was produced by Vic Cherikoff and Bailey Park Productions of Toronto, Canada. This was followed by the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) production of Message Stick with Aboriginal chef, Mark Olive.

Ray Mears recently made a survival television series called Ray Mears Goes Walkabout which focused on the history of survival in Australia, with a focus on bush tucker. In the series, Les Hiddins was a guest in one episode, with the two men sharing their knowledge and discussing various aspects of bush tucker.

In the TV survival series Survivorman, host and narrator Les Stroud spent time in the Australian outback. After successfully finding and eating a witchetty grub raw he found many more and cooked them, stating they were much better cooked. After cooking in hot embers of his fire, he removed the head and the hind of the grub and squeezed out thick yellow liquid before eating.

Native Australian food-plants listed by culinary province and plant part

Australian bush tucker plants can be divided into several distinct and large regional culinary provinces. Please note, some species listed grow across several climatic boundaries.


Monsoonal zone of the Northern Territory, Cape York and North-western Australia.


Adansonia gregoriiboab
Buchanania arborescens
Citrus graciliskakadu lime
Eugenia carissoidesCedar Bay cherry
Ficus racemosacluster fig
Manilkara kaukiiwongi
Melastoma affineblue tongue
Mimusops elengitanjong
Morinda citrifoliagreat morinda
Physalis minimanative gooseberry
Terminalia ferdinandianakakadu plum
Syzygium erythrocalyxJohnstone's River satinash
Syzygium fibrosumfibrous satinash
Syzygium suborbicularelady apple


Dioscorea alatapurple yam
Dioscorea bulbiferaround yam
Dioscorea transversapencil yam, long yam
Eleocharis spp.spikerush
Ipomoea aquaticawater spinach
Nelumbo nuciferalotus
Nymphaea macrospermawater lily


Cycas mediacycad palm seeds (requires detoxification: see Bush bread )
Semecarpus australiensisAustralian cashew
Terminalia catappasea almond


Eucalyptus staigerianalemon ironbark
Melaleuca leucadendraweeping paperbark
Melaleuca viridiflorakitcha-kontoo
Ocimum tenuiflorumnative basil

Outback Australia

Arid and semi-arid zones of the low rainfall interior.


Capparis spp.native caper, caperbush
Capparis mitcheliiwild orange
Capparis spinosa
subsp. nummularia
wild passionfruit
Carissa lanceolatabush plum, conkerberry
Citrus glaucadesert lime
Enchylaena tomentosaruby saltbush
Ficus platypodadesert fig
Marsdenia australisdoubah, bush banana
Owenia acidulaemu apple
Santalum acuminatumquandong, desert or sweet quandong
Santalum murrayanumbitter quandong
Solanum centraleakudjura, Australian desert raisin, bush tomato
Solanum cleistogarnumbush tomato
Solanum ellipticumbush tomato


Calandrinia balonensisparakeelya
Ipomoea costatabush potato
Vigna lanceolatapencil yam
Lepidium spp.peppercresses
Portulaca intraterranealarge pigweed


Acacia aneuramulga
Acacia colei
Acacia coriaceadogwood
Acacia holosericeastrap wattle
Acacia kempeanawitchetty bush
Acacia murrayana
Acacia pycnantha
Acacia retinodes
Acacia tetragonophylladead finish seed
Acacia victoriaegundabluey, prickly wattle
Brachychiton populneuskurrajong
Panicum decompositumnative millet
Portulaca oleraceapigweed
Triodia spp.commonly known as spinifex


Eucalyptus polybracteablue-leaved mallee

Insects in gall

Eastern Australia

Subtropical rainforests of New South Wales to the wet tropics of Northern Queensland.


Acronychia acidulalemon aspen
Acronychia oblongifoliawhite aspen
Antidesma buniusHerbet River cherry
Archirhodomyrtus becklerirose myrtle
Austromyrtus dulcismidyim
Carpobrotus glaucescenspigface
Citrus australasicafinger lime
Citrus australisdooja
Davidsonia jerseyanaNew South Wales Davidson's plum
Davidsonia johnsoniismooth davidsonia
Davidsonia pruriensNorth Queensland Davidson's plum
Diploglottis campbelliismall-leaf tamarind
Eupomatia laurinabolwarra
Ficus coronatasandpaper fig
Melodorum leichhardtiizig zag vine
Pandanus tectoriusHala fruit
Pleiogynium timorienseBurdekin plum
Podocarpus elatusIllawarra plum
Planchonella australisblack apple
Rubus moluccanusbroad-leaf bramble
Rubus probusAtherton raspberry
Rubus rosifoliusrose-leaf bramble
Syzygium australebrush cherry
Syzygium luehmanniiriberry
Syzygium paniculatummagenta lilly pilly
Ximenia americanayellow plum


Apium prostratumsea celery
Commelina cyaneascurvy weed
Geitonoplesium cymosumscrambling lily
Tetragonia tetragonoideswarrigal greens
Trachymene incisawild parsnip
Urtica incisascrub nettle


Alpinia caeruleanative ginger
Backhousia citriodoralemon myrtle
Backhousia myrtifoliacinnamon myrtle
Backhousia anisataaniseed myrtle
Leptospermum liversidgeilemon tea-tree
Prostanthera incisacut-leaf mintbush
Smilax glyciphyllasweet sarsaparilla
Syzygium anisatumaniseed myrtle
Tasmannia stipitataDorrigo pepper (leaf and pepperberry)


Araucaria bidwilliibunya nut
Athertonia diversifoliaAtherton almond
Macadamia integrifoliamacadamia nut
Macadamia tetraphyllabush nut
Sterculia quadrifidapeanut tree

Temperate Australia

Warm and cool temperate zones of southern Australia, including Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria and the highlands of New South Wales.


Scientific name Common name Edible part of plant Use Details Citation
Acacia mearnsii Black Wattle Bark Tea Bark can be soaked to make a tea, which is claimed to be good for indigestion. [8]
Kennedia prostrata Running Postman Flower Garnish The nectar from the flowers is edible. [8]
Lomandra longifolia Sagg Flower Garnish Young leaves, flowers and seeds are ideal [8]
Wahlenbergia multicaulis Bushy Bluebell Flower Garnish [8]
Wahlenbergia stricta Flower Garnish [8]
Xanthorrhea australis Grass Tree Flower Garnish The nectar from the flowers is edible. [8]
Viola hederacea Wild Violet Flower Salad The flowers are edible and can be used in salads. [8]
Astroloma humisifusum Native Cranberry Fruit Fruit The berries can be consumed, when ripe. [8]
Astroloma pinifolium Pine Heath Fruit Fruit The berries can be consumed, when ripe. [8]
Billardiera longiflora Mountain Blue Berry Fruit Fruit Edible fruit when ripe [8]
Billardiera scandens Apple Dumplings Fruit Fruit The berries can be consumed, when ripe. [8]
Coprosma nitida Mountain Currant Fruit Fruit The berries can be consumed, when ripe. [8]
Coprosma quadrifida Native Currant Fruit Fruit Edible berries - raw or stewed [8]
Dianella brevicaulis Shortstem Flaxlily Fruit Fruit The berries can be consumed, when ripe. [8]
Dianella revoluta Spreading Flaxlily Fruit Fruit The berries can be consumed, when ripe. [8]
Dianella tasmanica Blue Flax Lily Fruit Fruit The berries can be consumed, when ripe. [8]
Einardia nutans Climbing Saltbush Fruit Fruit The fruit can be consumed, when ripe. [8]
Solanum laciniatum Kangaroo Apple Fruit Fruit Only the very ripe fruit is edible....Note: the green fruit is POISONOUS. [8]
Tasmannia lanceolata Native Pepper Fruit Fruit If the berries are dried, they can be consumed. [8]
Acmena smithii Lilly Pilly Fruit Jam/compote Berries can either be eaten raw or made into a jam or compote. [8]
Carprobrotus rossii Native Pigface Fruit Jam/compote The ripe fruit eaten raw or made into a compote. [8]
Acacia mearnsii Black Wattle Gum Condiment [8]
Eucalyptus gunnii Cider Gum Gum Condiment The gum is sweet and edible. [8]
Lomandra longifolia Sagg Leaf/shoot Salad Consume the young leaves [8]
Phragmites australis Common Reed Leaf/shoot Salad [8]
Suaeda australis Seablite Leaf/shoot Salad [8]
Tasmannia lanceolata Native Pepper Leaf/shoot Salad Dry the leaves before consumption. [8]
Xanthorrhea australis Grass Tree Leaf/shoot Salad The young leaves can be consumed. [8]
Ozothamnus obcordatus Native Thyme Leaf/shoot Seasoning When the leaves are dried, their taste resembled that of thyme. It can be used as a seasoning. [8]
Correa alba White Correa Leaf/shoot Tea The leave may be used to prepare a tea. [8]
Hardenbergia violacea Sarsparilla Vine Leaf/shoot Tea In order to make a tea, the leaves need to be initially boiled, then dried. [8]
Kunzea ambigua White Kunzea Leaf/shoot Tea A refreshing tea can be made from the dried leaves. [8]
Atriplex cinerea Grey Saltbush Leaf/shoot Vegetable In order to remove some of the salt from the leaves, the leaves need to be thoroughly soaked in water. After rinsing, the leaves can be used as a type of vegetable / salad. [8]
Tetragonia implexicoma Bower Spinach Leaf/shoot Vegetable The leaves are edible in both a raw or cooked state. [8]
Triglochin procera Water Ribbons Leaf/shoot Vegetable The leaves are edible in both a raw or cooked state. [8]
Typha domingensis Bulrush Leaf/shoot Salad Consume the young shoots from the plant. [8]
Typha orientalis Broad-leafed Bulrush Leaf/shoot Salad Consume the young shoots from the plant. [8]
Arthropodium milleflorum Vanilla Lily Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable The tubers can be consumed in both a raw or roasted state. [8]
Arthropodium strictum Chocolate Lily Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable The tubers can be consumed in both a raw or roasted state. NOTE: the chocolate scented flowers are NOT edible, however. [8]
Bolboschoenus caldwellii Sea Clubsedge Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable The roots are edible once they've been roasted. [8]
Bulbine bulbosa Golden Rock Lily Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable The bulb of the plant can be consumed after it has been roasted. It is particularly nutritious. [8]
Burchardia umbellata Milk Maids Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable The tuber of the plant can be consumed once it has been roasted. [8]
Clematis aristata Travellers Joy Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable Once the taproot has been roasted, it is edible. [8]
Clematis microphylla Small Leaf Clematis Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable Once the taproot has been roasted, it is edible. [8]
Convolvulus angustissimus Pink Moonflower Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable Once the taproot has been roasted, it is edible. [8]
Eleocharis sphacelata Tall Rush Spike Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable The roots are edible [8]
Geranium solanderi Southern cranesbill Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable Once the taproot has been roasted, it is edible. [8]
Microseris lanceolata Yam Daisy, Murnong Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable The tubers can be consumed in both a raw or roasted state. [8]
Phragmites australis Common Reed Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable [8]
Xanthorrhea australis Grass Tree Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable The young roots are edible [8]
Typha domingensis Bulrush Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable [8]
Typha orientalis Broad-leafed Bulrush Root/tuber/bulb Vegetable [8]
Dodonaea viscosa Native Hop Seed Alcohol Seeds can be used instead of hops to brew beer [8]
Acacia melanoxylon Blackwood Seed Nuts [8]
Acacia retinodes Wirilda Seed Nuts Both the seeds and green pods can be consumed. [8]
Acacia sophorae Boobyalla/Coast Wattle Seed Nuts The seeds can be consumed in both the raw or roasted state. [8]
Brachychiton populneus Kurrajong (Tas prov) Seed Nuts The seeds of this plant are particularly nutritious. The seeds can be consumed in both the raw or roasted state. [8]
Lomandra longifolia Sagg Seed Nuts [8]
Phragmites australis Common Reed Seed Nuts [8]
Acacia mearnsii Black Wattle Seed Nuts [8]
Sarcoconia quinqueflora Samphire or Glasswort Stem Fibre Consumption of the younger stems of the plant is suggested [8]
Phragmites australis Common Reed Stem Fibre [8]


Acrotriche depressanative currant
Billardiera cymosasweet apple-berry
Billardiera longiflorapurple apple-berry
Billardiera scandenscommon apple-berry
Carpobrotus rossiikarkalla [9]
Exocarpus cupressiformisnative cherry
Gaultheria hispidasnow berry
Kunzea pomiferamuntries
Rubus parvifoliuspink-flowered native raspberry
Sambucus gaudichaudianawhite elderberry
Enchylaena tomentosaruby saltbush [10]


Acacia longifoliagolden rods
Acacia sophoraecoast wattle (All Acacia seeds can be ground into a bush flour.)


Eucalyptus divespeppermint gum
Eucalyptus olidastrawberry gum
Eucalyptus globulustasmanian blue gum
Mentha australisriver mint
Prostanthera rotundifolianative thyme
Tasmannia lanceolatamountain pepper
Tasmannia stipitataDorrigo pepper


Apium insulareFlinders Island celery
Atriplex cinereagrey saltbush
Burchardia umbellatamilkmaids
Eustrephus latifoliuswombat berry
Microseris lanceolatamurnong


Neptune's necklace (the beady seaweed) - the beads are pierced to get rid of the salt water before being cooked [11]
Warrigal greens - tastes like spinach, pest-resistant and spreads easily
Coast sword-sedge – the leaf bases can be eaten raw or roasted[12][13]

See also



  1. Hiddins, Les (2003). Bush Tucker Field Guide. Australia: Explore Australia Publishing. pp. x. ISBN 1741170281.
  2. Newton, John (2016). The Oldest Foods on Earth. Sydney, Australia: NewSouth Publishing. ISBN 9781742234373.
  3. O'Brien, Charmaine (2016). The Colonial Kitchen. USA: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781442249813.
  4. Newling, Jacqui (2015). Eat Your History, Stories and Recipes from Australian Kitchens. Sydney, Australia: Sydney Living Museums and NewSouth Publishing. ISBN 9781742234687.
  5. Maiden, J.H., The Useful Native Plants of Australia, 1889, p.1
  6. Smith, J E (1793). Spec. Bot. New Holland. James Sowerby. AMID all the beauty and variety which the vegetable productions of New Holland display in such profusion, there has not yet been discovered a proportionable degree of usefulness to mankind, at least with respect to food.
  7. Low, T., Wild Food Plants of Australia, Angus & Robertson, 1992, pp 199–202 ISBN 0-207-16930-6
  8. http://www.wildseedtasmania.com.au/bush_food.php
  9. "Edible Pigface Australian - Sustainable Gardening Australia". Sustainable Gardening Australia.
  10. "Enchylaena tomentosa - Ruby Saltbush - Nurseries Online". 10 July 2016.
  11. "Neptune's necklace - Seaweed (Hormosira banksii)".
  12. "Coastal Sword Sedge" (PDF). sercul.org.au. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  13. "Coast Sword-sedge | Lepidosperma gladiatum". scnaturesearch.com.au. Retrieved 24 October 2018.


  • Bruneteau, Jean-Paul, Tukka, Real Australian Food, ISBN 0-207-18966-8.
  • Cherikoff, Vic, The Bushfood Handbook, ISBN 0-646-15496-6.
  • Isaacs, Jennifer, Bushfood, Weldons, Sydney.
  • Kersh, Jennice and Raymond, Edna's Table, ISBN 0-7336-0539-7.
  • Low, Tim, Wild Food Plants of Australia, ISBN 978-0-207-14383-0
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