Get your taste buds across the native bush tucker plants that grow in NSW national parks and find out how these incredible ingredients can be used in your kitchen.
Before you say it, yes, you’re right – we don’t want budding chefs collecting or picking plants from a national park as their own personal produce supply. These special plants need to stay where they are so biodiversity isn’t disrupted. Think of it like a perfectly balanced curry: if the national park is missing one of its flavours, everything is thrown out.
We’ll let you in on amazing native ingredients, which you can find at local produce markets, from online specialist sellers or try growing in your own garden to turn into a dish to impress. Better still, learn from the experts on a bush tucker tour in one of our NSW national parks.
Ready? Yes, chef!
Did you know: ‘Bush tucker’ is any plant or animal native to Australia and traditionally used as sustenance, or food, by Indigenous Australians.
Growing in the desert plains of western NSW, like Kinchega, Sturt, and Paroo-Darling national parks, as well as on the coastline, saltbush tastes salty and herby and was added to damper for flavour. Its saltiness meant it was also useful for cleaning wounds. In the kitchen, add the fresh silvery-green toothed-edge leaves to salads, stir-fry, and meat marinades, or try them dried, crushed like a herb, and sprinkled on your dish as a fancy salt.
Know Your Stuff: Never pick a plant outdoors unless you’re sure of what species it is. Some plants may look very similar to bush tucker but aren’t safe to eat.
The Davidson Plum tree grows dark purple-blue fruits with blood-red flesh in the rainforests of north-eastern NSW around Border Ranges and Nightcap national parks. Davidson Plum is a superfood packed with antioxidants and nutrients and was traditionally eaten raw, with a sharp, tangy-sour flavour. Top tip: adding sugar and cooking the plum down into a sweet jam or sauce brings out a softer, more rhubarb-like rich flavour.
Finger limeView this post on Instagram
The finger lime is native to rainforests of south-east Qld and northern NSW, particularly the northern rivers area including Bundjalung National Park. The Bundjalung People used the pulp to treat wounds, as well as for eating. The finger lime is shaped like a small finger and unlike regular limes, has tiny pearls or beads inside (sometimes called ‘lime caviar’) which burst with a zesty lime hit when bitten! The pearls are great with seafood or sashimi, or sprinkled over your next guacamole or avo toast for an exotic kick. If you fall in love with this small but mighty citrus, finger lime trees are available at nurseries and are easy to grow in your backyard or in a large pot.
These are the edible seeds from any of 120 species of Australian Acacia, which grow in areas like Blue Mountains National Park, and all over NSW. A diet staple for Indigenous people for over 40,000 years, wattleseed was ground to make a type of flour and was a source of protein and carbohydrate in droughts because it can survive tough weather conditions. Give wattleseed a go by roasting it to release a nutty, fresh roasted coffee-type flavour and adding to an espresso martini, or mixing into desserts like this nutty wattleseed cheesecake.
Did You know? Around 31 wattle (or acacia) species are threatened in NSW. After the 2019/2020 NSW bushfires, there were fears that one species, Gordon’s Wattle, was wiped out when 50% of its shrubs in Blue Mountains and Wollemi national parks were burnt. Instead, the intense heat of the fire actually helped seed pods to crack open and the plant bounced back with a remarkable recovery.
From a Dharug language word for ‘wild’ and sometimes called ‘Botany Bay Greens’ this leafy plant was one of the first native plants eaten by European settlers to fight scurvy. You’ll find it in Kamay Botany Bay National Park, but this is another bush tucker plant you can grow at home, even in a hanging basket, although beware: the leaves lose their salty flavour the further away they are from the ocean’s salt air! The leaves have a slightly bitter flavour making them perfect for salads, any dish you would put spinach into, or to make an interesting pesto. Whip up this recipe for stir-fried native greens for a quick side dish.
Traditionally crushed and made into a paste with water to treat sore gums and toothaches, as well as for eating, the Dorrigo pepperberry and its cousin the northern pepperberry are rainforest shrubs native to Dorrigo National Park. Their dark bluish to mauve berries have a woody-cinnamon and peppery taste, which are great crushed and added to a gin and tonic. Try this steak with pepperberry as a twist on a classic pepper steak.
While they have been used in inventive ways for thousands of years, bush tucker ingredients can still feel quite new in your kitchen. NSW national parks has bush tucker tours where you can learn more about native plants alongside an Aboriginal guide. Get hands-on with an expert, as these flavours will soon be your go-to favourites, and along the way you’ll connect with Country and gain a new insight into the wisdom of the world’s oldest living culture.
Tours in our NSW national parks:
- North Coast: Gumbaynggir tour in Dorrigo National Park, or the Mululman or Yun yi barragay tours in Sea Acres National Park.
- Sydney & Surrounds: Bouddi guided Aboriginal heritage tours in Bouddi National Park, Wollombi Aboriginal culture tours in Yengo National Park or the Sustainable toolkit tour in Blue Mountains National Park.
- South Coast: Aboriginal culture tours in Eurobodalla National Park.