Australia’s Edible Flora: Safe to Eat

Australia has loads of plants, snakes, insects, spiders and other creepies that could just kill you.

So, when it comes to edible plants, it’s entirely Gardenhood’s responsibility to share this edible plant safety information.

This article may just save you from poisoning yourself.

We’re proud of our indigenous (our Aboriginal) people and their ability to find a banquet in the bush.    Bush-cooking has some of the most surprising flavours you could come across.     With flavour comes cooks and chefs so it’s no wonder there’s been an increase in use from high-profile chefs on a range of Australian bush herbs and spices.

Australians are planting bush herbs and spices into gardens, even nurseries are taking an interest and some natural organic supermarkets and spice shops are picking up on the trend too!

Despite all this interest and while Australia’s indigenous peoples have long enjoyed the flavours and nutritional benefits of native plants, many Australians have yet to sample the smorgasbord on offer.    And oh boy are they missing out on the flavours some of which aren’t far removed from introduced ingredients but with greater health properties and less manufacturing and processing. 

Aniseed or lemon myrtle, mountain pepper or river mint are just a few of the species whose common names hint at similarities to the more familiar.   Others such as wattleseed, are becoming increasingly popular in gourmet dishes, where unique flavours are sought after and celebrated.

The plants themselves also make attractive and low-maintenance additions to backyards.   Some, such as acacia, and lemon and aniseed myrtle, are already popular garden plants. Others, like saltbush, are surprising gardeners with their versatility and beauty.

We thought we would pull together some of the native offerings, to help you get started on your native journey and to avoid picking up any of the poisoned ones!

Bush Tomato (desert raisin), Solanum centrale

A word of warning: there are more than 100 Solanum species in Australia, but only a half-dozen are edible — and the unripe fruits of these are toxic.

This is a small, arid-zone shrub whose ripe fruits have a savory, robust flavour similar to sun-dried tomatoes. It is most often dried and ground into a spice for use in casseroles, curries, and salsas.

Bush Tomato (desert raisin), Solanum centrale
Bush Tomato (desert raisin) Solanum Centrale 

Lemon Ironbark Eucalyptus staigeriana

Originating in northern Queensland, this 6m tree with small, grey-green leaves imparts an uplifting citrus flavour with rosemary overtones. It can be used in sweet and savoury dishes and herbal teas, or mixed with mountain pepper for a lemon-pepper sprinkle. The quality of its oil also makes it an ideal candidate for aromatherapy and perfumery.Lemon Ironbark Eucalyptus staigeriana

Lemon Ironbark, Eucalyptus Staigeriana 

River mint Mentha australis

This small perennial herb has scented leaves and diminutive, white and lilac flowers. It’s an adaptable and low-maintenance plant and its leaves can be used in much the same way as its exotic counterparts. Aboriginal people used the leaves to treat coughs, colds and stomach ailments. It’s named for its natural occurrence in shady areas near rivers and creeks.

River mint, Mentha australis 

River mint, Mentha australis

Aniseed myrtle Anetholea anisata (also Syzygium anisatum)

The leaves of this subtropical rainforest plant can be harvested year-round. When dried and milled, they impart a sweet liquorice flavour similar to star anise, and can be used in many of the same foods — such as cakes, biscuits, sauces and curries. Its purple flushes of growth, aromatic white flowers and ease of maintenance make it a popular garden tree.

Aniseed myrtle Anetholea anisata (also Syzygium anisatum)

Aniseed myrtle, Anetholea anisata

Cinnamon myrtle Backhousia myrtifolia

This myrtle produces leaves infused with a cinnamon flavour that can be used in sweet and savoury dishes and herbal teas. It belongs to the Myrtaceae, which includes the popular lemon myrtle and aniseed myrtle. Growing to a height of 7m, it’s a good candidate for the home garden: hardy, low maintenance and adaptable with masses of striking, star-shaped cream flowers.

Cinnamon myrtle, Backhousia myrtifolia.

Mountain pepper Tasmannia lanceolata

The leaves and berries of mountain pepper were popular among British settlers, who discovered it performed just as well as traditional pepper in dishes. The leaves are usually dried and then milled or ground; the berries, known as pepper-berries, are dried and crumbled or ground. This medium-sized tree occurs naturally in Tasmania and the wet forests of south-eastern Australia.

Mountain pepper Tasmannia lanceolata

Mountain pepper, Tasmannia lanceolata

Wattleseed Acacia victoriae

Grown in Africa since the 1990s to help sustain drought-stricken communities, many acacias produce a seed that can be roasted, ground and added to flour to bake breads and cakes. Its nutty taste, reminiscent of hazelnuts, has made it a popular addition to ice-cream, coffee, and cheesecake.

Several acacia species are used in cooking; however, Acacia victoriae (or elegant wattle) is widely recognised as the industry standard.

Wattleseed Acacia victoriae

Wattleseed, Acacia victoriae

Saltbush Atriplex nummularia

This plant’s ability to thrive in arid environments has imbued its leaves with a saltiness that lends itself to flavouring roast Iamb, seafood, vegetable dishes, casseroles, and stews. Saltbush is a hardy plant that requires little watering, and its silvery-grey foliage and pink new growth make it a distinctive, useful and low-maintenance addition to Australian gardens.

Saltbush, Atriplex nummulari

Saltbush, Atriplex nummulari

So there you have it, why not garden with natives and enjoy a bush tucker experience.

Love the Gardenhood Team