I am always talking about the benefits of healthy eating and the virtues of including plant based foods grown in our native soils.
If we look at the traditional bushfood diet it actually contained all the nutrients to keep us in great physical condition and good health. Many of the bushtucker plants have lots of micronutrients and are low in sugars. Carbohydrates in most of the traditional plant foods have a low glycaemic index thus producing lower glucose and insulin levels. Also our native meats are high in protein and low in fats.
For those living the traditional lifestyle in the desert of Australia consumption of plant foods was approx 75 to 80%, whilst in the coastal areas plant foods made up approx half that.
The main bushfood groups are
(below are just a few examples of the traditional diet)
Kangaroos, Wallaby, Possum, Wombat
Most of these animals are low in total fat and extremely low in saturated fat whilst being fairly high in polyunsaturated fatty acids which includes long-chain highly polyunsaturated fatty acids of the omega-3 and omega-6 families, these protect against cardiovascular disease and other related conditions.
Mutton bird, Magpie Geese, Water fowl, Scrub fowl, Cassowary, Jabiru
Barramundi, Crayfish, Yabbies, Eels, Crocodile
Goannas, Lizards, Snakes and Frogs
Insects and Grubs
Moths, certain Ants, Beetles, Witchetty Grubs
Davidson Plums, Muntries, Lilli Pilli, Rainforest Tamarind, Kakadu Plum, Finger Limes, Quandong
Vegetables – a lot of the plant tubers were eaten as well as the leaves
Myrnong (Yam Daisy), Chocolate Lily, Vanilla Lily, Water Lily, Warragul Greens
Native Spices – these were used to flavour flood
Lemon Myrtle, Bush Tomato, Anise Myrtle, Peppermint Gum
Macadamia Nut, Bunya Nut, Sandalwood Nut
Seeds – these were often ground to a powder and used to make damper over the fire
Many types of grass seeds, wattleseed
Sweeteners and Nectar
Nectar-bearing flowers such as bottlebrush, grevillea, hakea banksia were often immersed in water for a sweet-tasting drink and sometimes just sucked directly for their beautiful sweet taste.
Traditional cooking and preparation of native food
Most of the cooking was generally done over an open fire, sometimes food was wrapped in paperbark or large leaves and buried in the ground. Even back thousands of years meat was tenderised by pounding with a rock before being cooked.
Fat soluble vitamins came from animal foods, organ meats. Vitamin C came from fruit, and in particular Kakadu Plums which contains 3150mg/100g of Vitamin C , an extremely high “C” content and probably the highest of any plant in the world! B group of vitamins are found in animal foods and greens.
Vitamins and Minerals
Insects, moths, as well as many of the plants and animals all had a healthy supply of vitamins and minerals.
The mangroves found in many of the marshy areas in Arnhem Land had salty leaves, these were also found on the Salt Flats in the desert. Pigface (a green succulent) is sodium-rich, and was often roasted and added to the meal. Some of the rushes and sedges also contained sodium, as well as seeds of the golden grevillea.
A lot of the animal foods also supply sodium, especially from the blood and certain organ meats, as well as goanna, shellfish, snails and worms.
Preparation is always a part of any meal and it was no different for those living the traditional life-style thousands of years ago. Soaking the food to make it soft, pounding with stones to break down seeds and grains. Grinding and mixing seeds, fruits and leaves for a variety of flavours and then cooking over an open fire.
With some of the foods careful preparation and rituals needed to be performed to rid the food of harmful toxins. For example nuts from the spiky pandanus palm required six weeks treatment before they could be eaten.
Many of Australia’s native herbs and spices, fruits and berries have extremely strong flavours and often are quite different to the herbs and spices that have been and still are used in this country. Australia’s multi cultural population; European, Asian, middle eastern and the pacific have been a dominant force in how we eat and flavour our food, cultural traditions from these countries have been a standard practice.
Because of this many of our native foods amazing flavours weren’t considered suitable for the current days diet, however…..thank goodness…..times have changed…. and now these strong flavours, distinctly Australian, are highly regarded by chefs, manufacturers, distillers and home cooks and we’ve become more and more in tune with what our native soils can provide and also how these flavours can still be used to enhance and give Australian foods it’s own individual style.
For the health conscious Australia’s native food ticks all the boxes with an abundant supply of vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy diet.
If we look at past bushfoods from other countries…..the not-so-humble potato and the strawberry for example, were both bushfoods of South America, both those items have since been bred to supply us with many different varieties and species that are now a part of everyday food throughout the world!
Australian bushfood has come a long way, and it’s still got a really long journey ahead of it, but potentially it could, and I believe will, become a major contender in our agriculture industry, feeding thousands and giving employment to many from regional, remote and city areas as we all work together and become part of the long chain, from harvesting through to preparation and onto our meal tables.