Native Herb Index
(Cucumis melo – Agrestis species, Cucurbitaceae Family)
This annual vine occurs in isolated areas of western Queensland and south-east Northern Territory. Like its cousins in the melon family, bush cucumbers enthusiastically climb up and along rocks, logs and low shrubs. This was a favourite fruit of indigenous people of the desert as it not only tastes great, but the fruit keeps in a cool dry environment for many months. They can be used in salads and dressings, or pickled for use in relish.
(Eremocitrus glauca – Rutaceae family)
This small slender and spiny tree grows naturally over the inland dry areas of south-western Queensland and western NSW, with a small pocket of habitat in the Southern Flinders Ranges in South Australia. The fruit, like true citrus, are like tiny lemons with a porous rind and juicy but sour centre. Desert limes were eaten raw by indigenous people, but most Europeans found them too sour and tended to use them for summer drinks or marmalade jam. Experts in the field have introduced them to fish sauces, salad dressings, flavoured butter and a multitude of desserts, including desert lime sorbet.
Kutjera – Desert Raisin
(Solanum centrale – Solanacea Family)
Kutjera (Kampurarpa – Pitjantjatjara language) is a small desert plant, which grows naturally throughout the central deserts from Tennant Creek, Northern Territory to Marla, South Australia. It is part of the tomato family, which includes potatoes and capsicum. There are more than 100 species of solanums (wild tomatoes) in Australia, but only six are edible. Kutjera – desert raisins, are the most well known and certainly the most consumed species of the so-called “bush tomatoes”. They have a distinct raisin/caramel introduction with a strong spicy aftertaste, making the fruit ideal for use when chopped into curries, salsas and as a crust on meat. Ground kutjera is the easiest form to cook with.
Lemon Myrtle Leaf
(Backhousia Citriodora – Myrtaceae Family)
A beautiful Australian shrub naturally occurring in wetter coastal areas of northern NSW and southern Queensland, lemon myrtle grows up to three metres high and has a graceful hanging branch of soft green leaves.
Used fresh, the leaf is a most versatile and refreshing herb. They can also be dried and ground, and compliment dishes of fish and chicken, and desserts such as ice cream and sorbet.
(Marsdenia Australis – Asclepiadaceae Family)
This extraordinary vine grows on Acacias in most parts of arid Australia, from Kalgoorlie to the far east coast. In fact, the name Kalgoorlie was derived from the local indigenous name for this plant – Kurgula. Around Alice Springs it is called Langkwe, and in the Flinders Ranges it is Myakka.
Marsdenia, or “bush banana” as they have been called are really the “pantry of the desert”, as they have four different edible parts. The fruit is shaped like a small avocado and has a wonderful flavour not unlike crunchy snowpeas and zucchini when small, that becomes woody and fibrous when fully grown. The plant exudes a sweet white sticky sap when fruit or leaves are plucked from the stem, and the fruit contains high levels of thiamine. The flowers are quite spectacular and can be eaten straight from the vine, in fruit salad, or as a garnish. The fresh young leaves are great in salads and the yam (or tuber) in the ground at the base of the vine ensures they immediately respond after a bushfire. The Marsdenia fruit are a wonderful green vegetable, boiled or microwaved with butter, lemon juice and mountain pepper, or sliced raw into salads, stir fried or used whole in casseroles.
Mountain Pepperleaf & Native Pepperberry
(Tasmania Lanceolata – Winteraceae Family)
The native pepperberry plant is naturally found in the cold high country in Southern NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. This attractive five-metre high tree has shiny dark green pointed leaves with scarlet stemlets. It has small cream waxy flowers that develop into dark charcoal brown pepperberries, only borne by female plants. Mountain pepper plants feature heavily in indigenous traditional uses for both cooking and medicinal purposes.
Although pepperberry can be used in the same way as conventional pepper, it has an added herbal dimension, especially towards the end of the palette. The dark pepperberries also infuse a rich plum colour to sauces.
(Kunzea Pomifera – Myrtaceae Family)
The Muntries or Muntharies are a ground-hugging native plant of south-east South Australia, with radical branches spreading over sandy ground. Muntries hold a significant place in the historical diet of the Narrindjeri people of the Coorong in south-east South Australia. These fruits played a major part in the diet, not only when fresh, but also after being dried and stored for the winter. They were often traded between tribes, usually after being pounded into a paste, which was then dried – the original fruit bar! They taste like apple with a juniper essence, and make a wonderful addition to sweet savoury dishes, jams, chutneys or simply with ice cream.
(Plectranthus Graveolens – Lamiaceae Family)
This attractive aromatic plant naturally occurs on rocky ledges and ridges in Queensland, and the Northern Territory. Native basil is a hardy and useful decorative plant now found in gardens throughout coastal regions of Australia. Indigenous Australians used this plant for medicinal and ceremonial purposes, and early European settlers often called it the “Five Spice Plant” because of its delightful fragrant mix of basil, mint and sage.
It can be used in any dish where sweet basil would be used. It especially compliments any tomato, garlic or Mediterranean-based cuisine.
(Prostranthera Rotundafolia – Lamiateae Family)
This strongly aromatic bush is native to south-east NSW, eastern Victoria and Tasmania. The plant was used by Indigenous Australians for it medicinal properties. It is now a very popular garden plant and can even be used as a low hedge.
Use native thyme with chicken, turkey, pork and lamb dishes.
(Solanum Cleistogamum – Solanaceae Family)
This fruit is native to the central desert regions, and is another of Australia’s many and varied wild tomatoes. Passionberries are an amazingly sweet and aromatic fruit, and when ripe taste somewhere between banana, caramel and vanilla. Dessert passion syrup made from passionberries is Australia’s alternative to maple syrup, and is superb on pancakes, ice cream or in milkshakes.
(Santalum Acuminatum – Santalaceae Family)
This bright scarlet shiny fruit contains one large nut or kernel that sometimes is only marginally smaller than the fruit itself. Quandongs have been an important traditional Aboriginal food and whilst quite tart, they are highly nutritious containing twice the vitamin C of an orange. The kernel is also very nutritious but Indigenous Australians tended to mainly use this for medicinal purposes. Quandong fruit feature heavily in Aboriginal mythology across all desert regions of Australia.
Try quandong pie with ice cream, quandong sauce glazed over roast lamb or pork, scones with quandong jam and cream, quandong chilli dipping sauce with spring rolls or chicken wings…the list goes on.
(Mentha Australis – Lamiateae Family)
This rambling mint bush is found across south-eastern Australia in moist forests and around waterways. This is a subtle Australian native herb with the taste and aroma of spearmint, and was used by Indigenous Australians for medicinal purposes. It was also enthusiastically used by settlers with their lamb roasts, and is now commonly used in meat sauces, salads, fruit drinks, infused teas and desserts.
(Atriplex Nummularia – Chenopodiaceae Family)
Old Man Saltbush is a familiar sight over large areas of the dry inland of Australia. It is a sprawling grey/blue shrub up to three metres in height, sometimes spreading to five metres wide. In old times, Indigenous Australians mostly collected the minute saltbush seeds to grind and roast for damper.
Now, the large fresh blanched saltbush leaves can be used as a wrap around meat or fish, in salads or as a leafy bed for grilled meat or vegetables. The dried saltbush flakes are a wonderful addition to bread, grills & pasta, or as a potted herb.
(Apium Prostratum – Filiforme – Apiaceae Family)
Sea Parsley, or Sea Celery as it is sometimes called, occurs all along the southern coastline of Australia. Its leaf form and plant dimensions vary quite considerably from place to place, but most commonly it has an appearance of shiny dark green parsley, and in fact is closely related to European parsley.
It is the connection to Australia’s seafront, where it grows in composted seaweed and sand, that gives it its special flavour. It can be used in soups, dressings, flavoured butter, with seafood and white sauces.
(Solanum Chippendaleai – Solanaceae Family)
This robust and spectacular member of the bush tomato family is native to the central and western deserts of Australia. When the ripe fruit are cut in half they reveal a large number of black bitter seeds. Tanami apples taste somewhat like melon or zucchini and are a favourite of the indigenous people of Central Australia. These desert dwellers cut the fruit removing the bitter seeds with a flat stick, place the half fruits inside each other and thread them onto sticks to dry, making it perfect for storing or carrying long distances as travelling food.
When dried and course, ground Tanami apples make a great addition to duka. They are also particularly tasty when fresh and stuffed with small spicy meat balls, placed on skewers and then grilled on an open fire. Or fill them with chopped bacon and cheese, then grill til golden brown.
(Acacia species – Mimosaceae Family)
Wattleseed has to be the unsung hero of the Australian native food industry. Although not all acacias are suitable for human consumption, they have been the mainstay in the diet of Indigenous Australians for thousands of years. The wattle flower is the well-known emblem of Australia, and is represented in the green and gold worn by Australian athletes. Because of the protection from the hard outer casing, wattleseed has provided Indigenous Australians with a rich source of protein and carbohydrates in times of drought. The seed was crushed into flour between flat grinding stones and cooked into cakes or damper.
Roasted or ground, wattleseed has a diverse number of uses in the kitchen from baking to thickening sauces, and from use in casseroles to ice cream. By dark roasting wattleseed, the most delightful aroma of nutty fresh roasted coffee is released and can be used as a beverage or as an addition to chocolate or desserts.