Easy Ways to Incorporate Australian Bush Natives in Your Cooking

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Have you ever heard of lemon myrtle, bush tomato, Davidson’s plum, or finger lime? Maybe some of these names sound familiar, or maybe they don’t. It’s quite common not to know much about the wide range of Australian bush natives, even though they’re all around us. These plants are more than just part of the scenery; they’re key ingredients in Australia’s food culture.

This blog is here to expand our understanding of these amazing ingredients. By using bush natives in our daily cooking, we can explore their unique flavours and health benefits. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or just love experimenting with food, this guide will show you how to start using these incredible ingredients to make your meals even better, adding new flavours and aromas, and boosting your cooking skills. We’ll also introduce some great swaps for everyday herbs and vegetables with bush native options that can really change up your cooking. Let’s get started, ask questions, and try these native wonders. This journey is all about learning more about the native foods in our own backyard and bringing a bit of Australian nature into our kitchens.

What Are Australian Bush Natives?

Bush natives, or native Australian plants, are a colourful bunch that includes various fruits, nuts, herbs, and spices found across the Australian landscape. Familiar names like lemon myrtle, wattleseed, and Kakadu plum might ring a bell. These plants aren’t just beautiful to look at; they carry a slice of Australia’s heart and history. 

Today, bush natives are well-known here and overseas for their unique flavours. Whether you’re making a meal for your family or just having a snack, adding some bush native ingredients can give your food a true taste of Australia’s natural heritage.

What Are the Benefits of Cooking with Bush Natives?

Cooking with bush natives introduces new, intriguing flavours to your dishes and offers several benefits:

  • Unique Flavours: Bush natives provide distinct tastes that can’t be found in other global ingredients.
  • Nutritional Benefits: Many bush natives are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and essential nutrients.
  • Sustainable Cooking: Using native plants promotes biodiversity and reduces the environmental impact associated with imported ingredients.

Tips for Incorporating Bush Natives in Your Recipes

  • Start Small: Add small amounts of bush natives to dishes you already know.
  • Be Creative: Incorporate bush natives in marinades, dressings, baked goods, and drinks.
  • Pair Wisely: Combine bush native flavours with complementary ingredients to enhance both their tastes.

Easy Swaps for Herbs

  • Regular Mint for Bush Mint: Swap your usual mint for bush mint in mojitos, lamb dishes, or fresh salads. Bush mint has a more intense, peppery flavour that adds a fresh, aromatic twist to these dishes.
  • Regular Basil for Bush Basil (Native Basil): Renowned for its strong aroma and peppery, citrus notes, bush basil adds a creative twist to the familiar classic. It’s perfect for those looking to infuse a distinctly Australian flavour into their cooking, ideal in dishes where you would normally use traditional basil to add an exciting and uniquely Australian touch.
  • Rosemary for Wild Rosemary: Known for its robust and earthy fragrance, wild rosemary contributes depth and complexity to culinary creations. It’s ideal for enhancing the flavours in a range of dishes, from roasted meats to flavourful marinades.
  • Oregano for Saltbush: Substitute saltbush for oregano in Mediterranean dishes, tomato-based sauces, or grilled vegetables. Saltbush has a salty, herbaceous flavour that complements meats and vegetables beautifully.
  • Lemongrass for Wild Lemongrass: Swap traditional lemongrass for wild lemongrass, an Australian variant that offers a citrusy and tangy flavour. It’s incredibly versatile, enhancing both savoury and sweet dishes with its vibrant taste.
  • Thyme for Native Thyme: Replace traditional thyme with native thyme in your recipes. With its delicate leaves and savoury taste, native thyme is a versatile herb that adds a subtle yet distinctive flavour to many dishes, making it a kitchen favourite.

Easy Swaps for Vegetables

  • Regular Sweet Potato for Native Sweet Potato: Native Sweet Potatoes are richer, nuttier, and a bit sweeter than regular sweet potatoes. They’re usually smaller and might not be as smooth in shape, with skin colours ranging from deep purple to rustic red and a vibrant orange or yellow inside. They’re great for baking, making smooth sweet potato fries, or adding something special to roasted veggies.
  • Spinach for Warrigal Greens:  Warrigal Greens, or New Zealand spinach, have a stronger and slightly salty flavour with an earthy feel, making them a great swap for regular spinach. Their thick, shiny green leaves handle salty coastal areas well, which adds to their unique taste. Use them to spice up salads, as a cooked side dish, or in quiches.
  • Potatoes for Murnong (Yam Daisy): Murnong, or Yam Daisy, tastes sweet and nutty with a touch of earthiness, making it a cool alternative to regular potatoes. These small, round tubers look like new potatoes but have rougher, golden-brown skin and creamy white, tender insides. They’re great mashed, in stews, or in potato salads to make your dish stand out.
  • Celery for Sea Celery: Sea Celery (or sea parsley)  is a stronger and more flavourful version of regular celery, with a salty and herby taste. It’s smaller and bushier with finely divided green to bluish leaves, showing it can grow well in salty places. It’s perfect for adding a bold taste to soups, stews, and stuffing.
  • Pumpkin for Desert Yam: Desert Yam is a sweeter and creamier choice than regular pumpkin, with a hint of nuttiness. These yams are smaller and harder on the outside, ranging from tan to brown with dense, smooth orange to yellow flesh inside. They’re great in soups and pies where they make a richer base, and they also do well in roasted veggie dishes.
  • Regular Tomatoes for Bush Tomato: Bush Tomato, or Kutjera, changes up dishes with its deep, tangy flavour and touches of caramel and tamarind, making it more complex than regular tomatoes. These small, pea-sized fruits ripen to a deep brown and have a tough texture that softens when cooked or soaked. They’re perfect for adding depth to sauces, stews, and chutneys, and go well with meats and native spices for a truly Australian flavour in your cooking.

Where to Find and Buy Bush Natives

Bush natives are integral ingredients in a variety of products such as jams, sauces, teas, and as herbs and spices, all of which are becoming increasingly common in both specialty stores and online. Their unique flavours enhance everyday cooking, turning simple meals into gourmet experiences. Bush natives can be sourced from a number of places:

  • Speciality Grocery Stores: Look for these ingredients in stores that specialise in organic or native foods. These establishments often carry a range of bush native-based products like jams, teas, and spices, and their knowledgeable staff can offer guidance on how to use them in your cooking.
  • Online Retailers: Many online shops provide a broad selection of dried or fresh bush native ingredients. Shopping online is convenient, allowing you to access a variety of native ingredients from across the country.
  • Local Markets: Explore local farmer’s markets for fresh and ethically sourced supplies. These markets are fantastic for finding not only fresh produce but also artisanal products made from bush natives, such as sauces and jams.
  • Foraging Tours: Participate in foraging tours to learn how to safely gather your own bush natives. These educational experiences teach you about the natural habitat of these plants and how to harvest them sustainably.
  • Growing Your Own: For those interested in a more hands-on approach, consider growing bush natives at home. Seeds and young plants are available at many nurseries and online garden shops. Growing your own bush natives enriches your connection to the food you cook and eat, ensuring a fresh supply and supporting local biodiversity.

Incorporating bush natives into your garden or kitchen provides a sustainable way to explore and enjoy Australia’s rich botanical heritage. Whether you buy them or grow them, these native ingredients can transform your culinary creations.

Wrapping Up

Bringing Australian bush natives into your cooking is a fantastic way to connect with Australia’s rich culinary heritage while also adding some exciting and healthy twists to your meals. You can start with easy swaps and slowly explore the amazing array of flavours these natives have to offer. Whether you’re a pro in the kitchen or just starting out, using bush natives foods is a great way to add a bit of spice and a lot of heart to your cooking. Dive in, experiment, and enjoy the journey of discovering these unique tastes from our beautiful landscape. It’s all about making each meal special and savouring every bite with a smile!

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