Bush tucker

Not to be confused with Bushmeat.

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 and/or medicinal purposes, regardless of the continent or culture. Examples of Australian native animal foods (meats) 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 aniseed myrtle. 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.

Traditional Aboriginal use

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 was made by males using many types of seeds, nuts and corns to process a flour or dough to make bread.

Aboriginal traditional native food use has been severely impacted 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. However, there are unresolved intellectual property issues associated with the commercialisation of bush tucker.

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.

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."[1] 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".[2]

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.[3] 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, spend 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.


Great Morinda
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 alata Purple yam
Dioscorea bulbiferaRound yam
Dioscorea transversaPencil yam, Long yam
Eleocharis spp.Spikerush
Ipomoea aquaticaWater spinach
Nelumbo nuciferalotus
Nymphaea macrospermawater lily


Cycas mediaCycad palm seeds (Require 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
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
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.


Acrotriche depressaNative Currant
Billardiera cymosaSweet Apple-berry
Billardiera longifloraPurple Apple-berry
Billardiera scandensCommon Apple-berry
Carpobrotus rossiiKarkalla
Exocarpus cupressiformisNative Cherry
Gaultheria hispidaSnow Berry
Kunzea pomiferaMuntries
Rubus parvifolius Pink-flowered Native Raspberry
Sambucus gaudichaudiana White Elderberry


Acacia longifolia Golden Rods
Acacia sophorae Coast Wattle


Eucalyptus dives Peppermint Gum
Eucalyptus olida Strawberry Gum
Eucalyptus globulus Tasmanian Blue Gum
Mentha australis River Mint
Prostanthera rotundifolia Native Thyme
Tasmannia lanceolata Mountain pepper
Tasmannia stipitata Dorrigo Pepper


Apium insulare Flinders Island Celery
Atriplex cinerea Grey Saltbush
Burchardia umbellata Milkmaids
Eustrephus latifoliusWombat berry
Microseris lanceolata Murnong

See also



  1. Maiden, J.H., The Useful Native Plants of Australia, 1889, p.1
  2. 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.
  3. Low, T., Wild Food Plants of Australia, Angus & Robertson, 1992, pp 199–202 ISBN 0-207-16930-6


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