Discovering native herbs

April 3, 2017

Karen Sutherland investigates the unique flavours and aromas of many little-known native herbs. 

Australian bush herbs
Photo: Kirsten Bresciani

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:

Victoria

Ceres Bushfood Nursery 

Kuranga Native Nursery 

St Kilda Indigenous Nursery Cooperative 

New South Wales

Muru Mittigar Provenance Nursery 

Burringbar Rainforest Nursery 

Daleys Fruit Tree Nursery 

Queensland 

Witjuti Grub Bushfood Nursery 

Yuruga Nursery 

Tasmania

Plants of Tasmania 

Wildseed Tasmania 

South Australia

Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden Port Augusta

Western Australia 

Zanthorrea Nursery

 

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!

 

Related topics

Organic Gardening, All Gardens, native herbs, bush food, lemon myrtle, native thyme, native mint, native sage, native pepper, Issue 94 – May/June 2017, Herbs & spices