MOST of the food plants that we grow and eat originate in places other than Australia. But Australian native species sustained Aboriginal people for many thousands of years. It has been estimated that Australia has more than 5000 different edible plant species, so there's much to learn.
Of course, the most widely known and widely produced Australian native food is the macadamia nut. The delicious and nutritious nuts grow on a tree that can be up to 20m tall at maturity, so this is not something to grow in a small backyard. The trees can take 10-15 years to reach full production.
There are more than 50 species of lilly pillies and most of these produce edible fruit. Syzygium 'cascade' is one of the most popular ones for the garden because it only grows to about 4m tall. It's a very attractive shrub, great for screening, and has lovely pink, juicy fruit. Many native fruits have a tart flavour, and experts often recommend that we use them in jams and conserves.
The flavour of finger limes is exquisite, and the flesh is made up of a collection of small balls resembling caviar. These balls are full of juice and bubble around beautifully if dropped into a gin and tonic, or soda water. Try tossing them into salads too. Finger limes produce fruit from a young age and are hardy, easy to care for, and can be grown in pots or garden beds.
Other trees that produce edible fruit include Randia fitzalanii (native gardenia, also called yellow mangosteen), Podocarpus elatus (also known as Illawarra plum, plum pine, or brown pine), Davidsonia pruriens (Davidson's plums), and Acronychia imperforata (Fraser Island apple).
Diploglottis campbelli (small leaf tamarind) is endangered, with only approximately 30 trees left in the wild in their natural habitat of Northern NSW. It will grow 7-8m in an open garden situation, with a beautiful spreading crown. The fruit is tangy and can be eaten raw or used in conserves and chutneys.
If you want an edible ground cover, you could try Carpobrotus glaucescens (native pigface), with its succulent stems and red fruit that taste like salty strawberries, or Tetragonia tetraganoides (Warrigal greens or native spinach).
And then there are the plants that produce aromatic leaves used for flavouring, such as Prostanthera (native mint bush), Backhousia citriodora (lemon myrtle), and Alpinia caerulea (native ginger).
Of course, please ensure that you know exactly what you are harvesting before you start snacking on it, or serving it in creative ways to your friends and family.
Not all fruits or plants are safe to eat, and the consequences of eating the wrong things can be most unpleasant.
Got a gardening question? Visit www.edenatbyron.com.au
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