Native Australian plants have been used for centuries by Aboriginal people for food, medicine, tools and shelter. While some traditional uses have been documented, sadly much ancient knowledge has been lost along with its holders. Luckily, there are still Aboriginal people around with knowledge, bolstered by the work of ethnobotanists who have researched and recorded the traditional uses of indigenous plants.
Although edible native plants have been mostly ignored by mainstream Australia, the native food industry is beginning to flourish, as chefs and foodies alike discover what is on offer and how to use the produce.
Similar to their European counterparts, native herbs can be used as medicine or food – here we focus on the latter. There are an amazing variety of Australian herbs that are easily grown in pots or gardens, full sun or semi shade. Native varieties offer tastes and aromas unlike any other and can be used fresh or dried, in teas, drinks, baking and a range of sweet and savoury dishes.
Provenance is important when sourcing native herbs. It relates to where a plant comes from and will determine the levels of essential oils in plant cells and the flavour. Provenance can also determine climatic tolerance, so that some lemon myrtles may be naturally more cold tolerant than others due to the microclimate in which they occur. It is good to check provenance when buying plants.
To avoid depleting our natural landscapes, it’s always better to buy plants from reputable nurseries and grow your own rather than wild harvest. If you do choose the latter, you must ensure correct identification.
Sourcing native herbs
Look for specialist native nurseries or others that carry a good range of natives. Here are some suggestions:
New South Wales
For the full story on native herbs, including detailed growing advice and tips on how to use native thyme, sage, pepper, mint and lemon myrtle, get your copy of Organic Gardener Issue 94 OUT NOW!
First published: April 2017