• Having your own Indigenous bushfood garden at home can benefit your cooking, wellbeing, and local biodiversity. (Christian Hampson)Source: Christian Hampson
Yerrabingin cofounder Christian Hampson shares what produce he grows in his Sydney courtyard and how you can do the same.
Samantha van Egmond

9 Nov 2020 - 12:38 PM  UPDATED 26 Jan 2021 - 9:44 AM

Indigenous Australian ingredients have been part of our First Nation's diet for generations. However, in recent years we've seen the country's bush foods appear more and more on restaurant plates and cooking shows. 

Aside from the fact they're a hardy bunch that have long been adapted to our climate, Australia's bush foods are packed with nutrition and flavour.

If you're thinking about growing your own bush foods garden, luckily it's easy and requires minimal space.

Australia's first Indigenous rooftop farm is not just about bushfood
This Indigenous-run enterprise in Sydney's inner-city suburb of Eveleigh is a community gem.

Christian Hampson, the cofounder of Indigenous social enterprise Yerrabingin, had a handful of bush foods growing in pots at his townhouse in Sydney's inner south when COVID-19 struck - but he and his partner thought they should have more. Nine months later, they have 20 pots across two courtyards. Hampson says, "One courtyard is shaded while the other has lots of sun, so we can have a variance of species.

He thinks before COVID, many people weren't cooking as much because they were travelling to work. "But with more time to make meals at home, they might be thinking about where to find the freshest produce, and growing their own." 

If you're thinking to create your own bush-food garden too, Hampson suggests planting a few flowering natives alongside edibles to nurture the environment and attract pollinators.

"What a lot of people might not realise in the city is that even four or five pots on every balcony is adding to the biodiversity," he says. 

Christian Hampson is the co-founder of Indigenous social enterprise start-up Yerrabingin, which maintains a rooftop native garden.

Start with saltbush

If you're new to gardening, Hampson recommends the silvery and robust saltbush. "Saltbushes are really good for people who struggle with plants as they're very easy to look after," he says. "They're also perfect for those who are only growing herbs, as you can simply combine them with your normal herb garden."  

Hampson says saltbush works particularly well with Asian cooking – Kylie Kwong uses it in several of her dishes – though the leaves tend to have a strong chlorophyll taste and are best when dehydrated or heavily cooked.

"I would normally fry them before baking with fish," he says. "You can use it in lots of different ways, and you don't need to add salt because it has that strong salt flavour," says Hampson.

Kylie Kwong’s top tips for using Australian bush food in Asian cooking
Australia's bush foods are a brilliant match for Asian cooking.

Grow some warrigal greens 

For fresh and nutritious salads, Hampson advises planting some antioxidant-rich warrigal greens. "They're a native spinach that grow very easily, you'll probably want to have them contained as they can really take off," explains Hampson. "They are highly resilient and are found in coastal areas of Australia that get a lot of salt, sun and heat."

Hampson suggests keeping warrigal greens in a planter and cutting them back regularly. "Warrigal greens have massive amounts of vitamin C, however, they're high in oxalates, [which can lead to kidney stones in some people] so blanch them well before eating," says Hampson. "They have quite a peppery taste and make an awesome pesto." 

How to make your own Indigenous herbs and spices rack
Swap out your paprika and dried parsley. Push imported spice bottles to the side and reap the flavour rewards.

Myrtle and midgenberry

Most of us are familiar with lemon myrtle, while cinnamon and curry myrtles are lesser-known culinary varieties. "Fully grown, they're a four or five-metre tree, but contained to a large pot you'll get a decent-sized bush," says Hampson, who loves the strong flavour of lemon myrtle and uses it to make a syrup for cocktails and cordials. "One bushel can make a few litres," he says.

Also a member of the myrtaceae family, the midgenberry makes a flavourful and attractive addition to a any garden.

"It grows blueberry-sized berries that are speckled like a quail’s egg," says Hampson. "They're quite delicate, but the plant itself is very hardy."

Hampson describes the midgenberry as having a "cinnamon latte" taste, and its fruit is often used in preserves and sauces. "They're also really nice to eat straight off the bush," says Hampson.

Indigenous ingredients take charge
From lemon myrtle to mountain pepper - there's so much to uncover and marvel over right on our doorstep.

Shade vs sun

Hampson says his Davidson plums love the shady side of his house. "They also don't mind living indoors, just be careful the air con isn't too crazy as it can dry them out," he says. But Hampson notes that they'll need to go outdoors from time to time for pollinating.

For your home's sunnier spots, try a finger lime – typical citrus: they like plenty of water  – while areas of dappled sun are ideal for a macadamia tree. "I've got one in a pot and I've tried it on both sides; they're a forest species but they don't mind some sun," says Hampson. "Just be mindful of reflective heat from concrete in courtyards and balconies." 

Hampson gets his plants from IndigiGrow, an Indigenous social enterprise at La Perouse in Sydney's south east.

Hampson says the relationship between growing plants and eating not only aids cooking but supports mental health. He adds it can also help generate a better understanding of the cultures of our First Peoples.

"It can make you get off your computer and water your garden, and maybe think about what you can trim off to add to your dinner that evening," says Hampson. "It can also be a great connector for people who want to understand Indigenous culture."  


NITV presents a selection of dedicated programming, special events and news highlights with a focus on encouraging greater understanding of Indigenous Australian perspectives on 26 January. Join the conversation #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe

Everything you need to know about Australia's native nut
There's more to a maca than a hard brown shell.
Eating bush foods has helped me reconnect to my Indigenous culture
Proud Kamilaroi, woman Tracy Hardy, tells SBS Food how reconnecting to country and traditional Indigenous food has helped her to feel emotionally, physically and culturally strong.
Is mountain pepper the ultimate Indigenous superfood?
Pepperberry has four times the antioxidants of blueberries and it might stop your food from spoiling, too.
The native-botanical gin synergy celebrating and supporting Aboriginal locals
A distiller making gin flavoured with WA native flora is also providing hand sanitiser to Noongar locals who are considered more at risk from COVID-19.
Native spice stir-fry

Bush tomato is also known as desert raisin, Kutjura and Akudjura.  When dried on the bushes, the fruit look similar to raisins and have a strong sun-dried tomato, caramel and tamarillo flavour and aroma. 

Indigenous Australian chef Zach Green thinks food is the key to reconciliation
He might just be on to something. "Meals made with Indigenous foods create an opportunity for diners to learn more about and connect with Indigenous peoples. We get to learn, rather than judge.”
Why foraging for native food deserves a slot on your bucket list
Want a hands-on chance to learn more about bush food? These Indigenous tour guides have a lot to share.