October 2014 event – Bush Foods


The October 2014 Goldfields Sustainability Group event was a presentation by Wendy van Dok on Bush Foods. Some 16 people gathered in London House Talbot around a table spread with bush foods that included: sandalwood nuts, packets of wattle seeds, roasted ground wattle seed, dried quandongs, lemon myrtle leaves and pots of sandalwood and acacia seedlings, an interesting variety of books and acacia plants “roots and all” to show the nitrogen fixing nodules.

Wendy explained the laborious work for aborigines in harvesting bush foods since there are no large bush fruits and grinding small seeds would be time consuming. Wendy pointed out that Australia may have missed an opportunity by not understanding more about the special food plants aborigines used and Australian food plants have never been bred to improve their productivity as has happened with “bush foods” elsewhere in the world. We forget that corn and wheat have been bred from ancestral plants that look very little like the modern varieties and have been repeatedly bred and selected over time to become useful as food.

Wendy quoted from a RIRDC publication “Functional properties of Australian Bushfoods” which has tested bush foods and reported on the antioxidant and other properties of 19 Bush foods. http://www.ausbushfoods.com/reports/Other/Functional%20properties-07-030.pdf

Other research reports Wendy mentioned have studied macronutrients and vitamins in bushfoods and for example found that Kakadu plums and quandongs are relatively high in vitamin C compared to blueberries.

There is potential for food supply in Bush foods but it will be difficult to expand the market beyond the current niche markets due to low production quantities and difficulties in producing a consistent product. Acacia are the most likely source of income in this area for the small scale farmer but to harvest an economically viable quantity of seed producers would have to combine their harvest in some form of cooperative manner.

Acacias are also nitrogen fixers and may be able to help reduce farm emissions of the green house gas N2O and contribute in a less harmful way to the nitrogen cycle than does incorrect fertiliser use on farms. Acacias may have potential for biodiesel production.

The talk finished by mentioning the anti-nutritional properties of bush foods. Just as Aborigines knew how to process bush food to avoid illness we must be aware of the complexity of the chemicals that form in plants that might inhibit our ability to digest the nutrients. More research and education is needed on this. Just as we have all learnt to avoid the solanine toxin found in green potatoes.

After tasting quandong, sandalwood nuts, noting the aroma of various ground acacia seeds and listening to some detailed and informed responses from the people attending, the meeting concluded and most present moved next door to Bryce’s Bistro for non bush food and to sit on the veranda and chat and admire the espaliered fruit trees pruned at a previous GSG event (August 2013).

Thanks go to Wendy for a most informative workshop and also for stimulating lots of sharing of knowledge about Bush foods amongst those attending.