Image: Lemon myrtle. Credit: wiccked.

Do you eat lilly pillies off hedges in the street? Or sprinkle lemon myrtle in your cooking?

Australian bush foods possess unique flavours, have exceptional antioxidant properties (see CSIRO) and reduce our toll on the environment. Yet many of us know little about how to find or use them.

Barbara Barlin at her Barbushco stand at Ekka 2013. Credit: Ursula Skjonnemand.

Barbara Barlin at her Barbushco stand at Ekka 2013. Credit: Ursula Skjonnemand.

Barbara Barlin has been growing Australian native bush foods for 18 years.

She and her husband have 27,000 trees on their mid north New South Wales coast property and run the business Barbushco. They dry their own spices, distill their own oils, and educate students and the community about native foods.

Barbara says native spices can replicate all the the flavours we import and are far better suited to weather the harsh Australian climate than imported crops.

“I don’t understand in a country with the driest climate in the world why we would be growing rice and wheat and things like that. People should be growing things that would naturally occur here,” says Barbara.

She believes the trend towards native foods is growing (the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation has a native foods sub program) and the next generation of chefs will use Australian natives regularly.

CSIRO’s list of benefits to cultivating Australian native foods:

● Conserves wild resources and helps protect biodiversity
● Utilises Aboriginal knowledge and values traditional lore
● Contributes to combating salinity problems by introducing more perennials
● Encourages farmers to diversify from traditional crops
● Creates incomes and jobs for Aboriginal and rural communities

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC, an Australian government department) has identified the following natives as priority species (for researching ways to maximise food production potential) for the next five years:

1. Lemon myrtle (leaf and oil)
2. Mountain pepper (leaf and berry)
3. Bush tomato
4. Anise myrtle (leaf and oil)
5. Finger limes
6. Kakadu plum
7. Desert limes
8. Quandong
9. Muntries
10. Wattleseed
11. Riberry
12. Davidson plum
13. Lemon aspen

Access the full RIRDC 2013-2018 priorities and strategies report here.

Spotlight on a few bush foods

Lemon myrtle. Credit: wiccked on Flickr.

Lemon myrtle. Credit: wiccked on Flickr.

Lemon myrtle

Scientific name: Backhousia citriodora

Also known as: lemon-scented myrtle, lemon ironwood, sweet verbena tree

This has a lemongrass/lemon lime flavour and can be used as a spice, tea or essential oil. It makes a great cheesecake flavouring.

Lemon myrtle has excellent antioxidant (see Konczak, et al. Food Chemistry vol. 122 issue 1 September 1, 2010. p. 260-266 and Bentham Science), antibacterial and astringent qualities and is used in beauty products (by brands including JurliqueSwisse and Bareskin Beauty).

Lemon myrtle comes from the central and south-eastern rainforest areas of Queensland and can be grown as an ornamental.

Recipes for lemon myrtle can be found at:

Australian Native Food Industry Limited (lemon myrtle cheesecake with macadamia crumble)

Lemon Myrtle Australia (recipes include rainforest roast chicken, crispy barramundi with coconut and lemon myrtle rice, bush tucker muffins, native honey and fig biscuits)

Bushfood Bush Tucker Taste Australia (recipes include laksa, sauce, mayonnaise and dips)

SBS (lemon myrtle prawns)

Kidspot (lemon myrtle and macadamia biscuits)

Kurrajong Australian Native Foods (lemon myrtle pancakes)

Ecobotanica (Linda’s lemon myrtle cordial)

Best Recipes (lemon myrtle cheesecake)

Aniseed myrtle. Credit: Tony Rodd on Flickr.

Aniseed myrtle. Credit: Tony Rodd on Flickr.

Aniseed myrtle

Scientific name: Syzygium anisatum

Also known as: anise myrtle, ringwood, aniseed tree

As it’s name suggests it this leaf has an aniseed flavour and can be used in place of star anise or French tarragon. Aniseed myrtle can be used as a spice, tea or essential oil. It’s young leaves can also be eaten fresh.

It has excellent antioxidant qualities (see Konczak, et al. Food Chemistry vol. 122 issue 1 September 1, 2010. p. 260-266).

The essential oil is said to be good for relaxation and useful as an air freshener (see Essentially Australia).

Aniseed myrtle is an ornamental tree from the rainforest areas of north-east New South Wales. It is rare in the wild but is popular in the horticulture industry.

Recipes for aniseed myrtle can be found at:

Bush Tucker Recipes (recipes include kale and parsley pesto, rich aniseed chocolate tart with Davidson plum topping, aniseed myrtle shortbread)

Oz ingredients (scrambled eggs smoked salmon burger with cinnamon myrtle and aniseed myrtle)

Lifestyle Food (pumpernickel with creamed aniseed myrtle)

Wattleseed. Credit: Renée S. Suen.

Wattleseed. Credit: Renée S. Suen.


Scientific name: (There are many species, the most common of them used for spice include:) Acacia aneura, Acacia pycnantha, Acacia retinodes, and Acacia longifolia var. sophorae

Wattleseed flavour is similar to chocolate, hazelnut and coffee and works best in sweets such as cakes, biscuits and ice-cream. The flowers can also be used in pancakes, omlettes and scones.

Recipes for wattleseed can be found at:

Barbushco (wattleseed bread)

Footeside Farm (wattleseed tiramisu)

All Recipes (wattleseed crocodile with riberry confit)

SBS (chocolate and wattleseed self-saucing pudding)

ABC Indigenous (wattleseed cheesecake)

Poh’s kitchen (muesli maple crunch with wattle seeds)

One of the lilly pilly varieties, riberry. Credit: wiccked on Flickr.

One of the lilly pilly varieties, riberry. Credit: wiccked on Flickr.

Riberry (lilly pilly)

Scientific name: Syzygium luehmannii

Also known as: riberry, lilly pilly, small leaved lilly pilly, clove lilly pilly

A versatile and refreshing tart fruit that can be used in jams, sauces, syrups and sweets, or eaten fresh. Riberries freeze well.

There are several species of lilly pillies that produce edible fruits, which are either red, purple or whiteish.

Recipes for lilly pilly can be found at:

ABC Perth (pikelets topped with apple and riberry sauce)

All Recipes (wattleseed crocodile with riberry confit)

Andrew Fielke (rich chocolate and riberry cake)

Towards Sustainability (lilly pilly jam)

Links to more bushfood recipes

Bushfood Sensations (through NSW)

Recipes include blue lilly pilly strudel, oysters with finger lime avocado mousse and carrot foam, chicken and wattleseed curry, wattleseed pavlova, saffron and dorrigo pepper snaps, and aniseed myrtle lamb shanks

A Taste of the Bush (NSW)

Recipes include vegetable dukkah frittata, and mushrooms with blue cheese

More information about the Australian native food industry:

Australian Native Food Industry Limited (peak body for the industry)

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) (Australian government research department)

Health benefits of Australian native foods (research report by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Australian Government, 2009)

Australian Native Plants (book specific to Western Australia, edited by Mark Webb)

Australian native bush food businesses:

Barbushco (producer and distributor based in northern New South Wales)

Oz Ingredients (producer and distributor based in central Queensland)

Lemon Myrtle (producer and distributor based in Brisbane, Queensland)

Australian Produce (distributor based in Brisbane)

Basically Wild (distributor based on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland)

Andrew Fielke (Tuckeroo) (distributor, guest chef and bush foods educator based in South Australia)

Galeru (cooperative of four growers based in Queensland and New South Wales)

Pipers Creek Grove (certified organic producer based on the mid-north coast of New South Wales)

Rainforest Bounty (producer based in northern Queensland)

Australian Desert Limes (producer based in Roma, Queensland)

Bush Food Australia (producer based in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia)

Ooray Orchards (producer of Davidson plums based in far northern New South Wales)

Footeside Farm (producer and distributor based in mid-north South Australia)

Australian Rainforest Products (producer and distributor based on the far north coast of New South Wales)

Desert Garden Produce (a wholly Indigenous research-based producer based in the Northern Territory) – contact Macka 08 8956 0621

Woolgoolga Rainforest Products (producer based in New South Wales)

Eden Bushfoods (producer based in south-east Queensland) –

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6 Comments Leave a comment
  • Cas Allan

    Wow! I will have to find this stand at Ekka and try some of the products. Great story Ursula.

  • Cristina Masci

    We love using Australian native extracts in our skin care products. Especially Kakadu Plum which has the highest source of vitamin C than any other ingredient. A great antioxidant for the skin. Also Lemon Myrtle in our cleanser, Australian Native Daisy in our Night Cream, Macadamia Oil in our moisturiser to mention a few.
    I wish more Australians would know about the powerful properties of these ingredients readily available in our own ‘backyard’ instead of reaching for imported products

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