According to Narelle Happ, a well-known educator on bush tucker, many people don’t realise that native plants can be used in all aspects of their cooking. “I think people don't know a lot about Indigenous foods,” she says. “They think it's still quite a novelty.”
A well-known educator on bush tucker and chief horticulturist at A Garden for Life, Narelle’s workshops and presentations in pre-schools, schools and community groups are always popular and inspire with their useful and practical tips.
Narelle gives some examples of plants to illustrate how they can be readily used: The little known Indigenous plant, Lemon Aspen, for example, bears a tart fruit that can be dried and used in a similar way to citric acid or where lemon flavours are needed.
Lemon Myrtle, a beautiful shrub that grows in the coastal regions of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, is a versatile herb that adds a citrus flavour to fish and dessert recipes. The leaves can also be infused in boiling water to make a highly aromatic tea.
The seeds of the ubiquitous wattle are likewise an all-round kitchen ingredient that can be used to season meat, thicken sauces and lend a nutty coffee-like taste to cakes and desserts. Not all wattle species, however, have edible seeds.
A recent trip to one of her workshops attracted a number of keen beginner gardeners. Said Gillian Duggin, an attendee: “I was surprised to learn that it is actually possible to grow native plants for food on a balcony. I live in an apartment so I don’t have that much space.” Gillian was one of several participants at Narelle Happ’s Bush Tucker Garden workshop at Pocket City Farms in Camperdown Commons. The workshop is one of several events that Sydney’s first urban farm hosts on Saturday mornings. “I always assumed the plants wouldn’t thrive,” said Gillian, “but Narelle has told me that they will do pretty well.”
Narelle Happ, who is also a native landscape specialist, travels around Australia running educational sessions and advising homeowners on garden designs.
To attend the Pocket City Farm event in August this year, Jenni Harding and Sue Tait made the trip to Sydney from Parkes in Central West NSW. They are setting up a bush tucker garden in the childcare centre where they work.
“We got some information today on where we can actually go, (and) the nurseries available that will send the plants to us,” says Jenni.
Sue looks forward to making pesto from the plants that they will grow in their bush tucker garden. Warrigal Greens, one of the first Australian native plants to be cultivated by the European settlers, is great for making pesto. It is typically found in coastal areas but can also flourish in the Brigalow Belt.
Narelle’s workshop has taught Jenni and Sue how to identify edible species as well as how to grow, harvest and cook the plants.
“We needed to gain knowledge of what foods are edible and what's available because we're very limited where we live to get information,” says Sue. “We'll go back and we'll have our meeting with our director and she'll be asking us questions on how we can establish [the garden].”
For more information on Pocket City Farms: http://www.pocketcityfarms.com.au
BUSH TUCKER PLANTS TO TRY
Most native plants are easy to grow because they are well suited to the local climate. To establish a low-maintenance bush tucker garden, find out what species grow in your area. Narelle Happ, a trained horticulturalist and permaculture designer, says that these plants do well in Sydney:
1. Midyim Berries (Austromyrtus dulcius). Plant them in the sun or shade. The small growing edible berries will thrive either way.
2. Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora). Who would have thought that this large tree could also be grown in a pot?
3. Warrigal Greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides). Nothing beats a plant that grows under any conditions.
4. Muntries (Kunzea pomifera). This small shrub bears sweet berries in summer.
5. Finger Lime (Citrus australasica) This has a delicious flavour that goes well with fish and desserts.
TIPS FOR GROWING BUSH TUCKER IN A SMALL SPACE
Did you know that you can grow bush food plants even if you live in an apartment?
According to Narelle Happ “you can actually produce a whole food forest on your balcony”. She says that growing native plants in pots is actually very simple. Here are some key hints for cultivating a thriving garden in a small space:
Work out your balcony’s aspect. Some plants need plenty of sunlight while others prefer the shade. A lot of native bush foods love the shade which is great for balcony gardens that don't get full sun.
Use high quality native soil and potting mix in the pots.
Mulch the top of the pots. Keeping the soil well drained and mulching the plants are a must in our variable climate.
Consider the wind. You may have to create a wind-break and put some plants behind it if you live in a windy area.