Australian Native Food Plants: Neglected and Underutilised

Australia has never contributed a major food crop to the world. The only Australian native plant food developed and cropped on a large scale is macadamia nut. Though there are hundreds of Australian native plants that have been used as a source of food for a long time, none of these native sources are popular household names today. We have a plethora of popular cuisines and flavours from all parts of the world, but our own native plants based cuisines and flavours are not yet popular with the multicultural Australian community. The awareness creation about the native plants as food sources is poor and they are not a part of everyday diets in vast majority of the Australian homes and restaurants.

Consequently, the potential value of native food plants remains underutilised and underexploited commercially. We neglect plant species that have been traditionally recognised for their food value for thousands of years. Some examples of Australian native food plants include but are not limited to bunya nut, bush plum, bush tomato, lemon myrtle, mountain pepper, mulga apple, native yams, quandong, wild orange, wild passionfruit, and youlk. Some of these foods are high in vitamins and antioxidants and there are a number of them that have more than what it takes to be a regular item on food plate.

We must endeavour to enhance nurturing and profiling of our natural treasure of native food plants and share it with the global population. In this regard, community organisations such as WA Naturalists’ have an important role to play and make a difference by organising regular excursions to growing areas of these plant species to enhance community knowledge and familiarity with these plants. Some community organisation-led and government-supported initiatives that may help to explore, recognise value, and promote these plant species and their products include:

  • Organising Australian native food festivals to enhance community awareness.
  • Promoting consumption of native foods on special days such as the Australia Day.
  • Initiating projects to explore and map the distribution and diversity of food plant species.
  • Collecting, identifying, and characterising germplasm of all the native food plant species and establishing seedbanks.
  • Encouraging research and development projects to breed for high quality and high yields of promising plant sources.
  • Developing, creating, and popularising new recipes for native food plant products.
  • Encouraging initiatives for large-scale commercial production and trading of native food plant species.

Community organisations-led initiatives and support will be the tipping point for popularising and enhancing the consumption of products made from native plant species. We must remember that with our choices of what we eat, we can influence the priority for the type, quantity, and quality of foods to be produced and traded. We have the power to influence and help discover the potential of native food plant species to contribute to the food and nutrition security of the world.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Shashi Sharma