The Indigenous bush tucker handbook: 11 tasty treats to try

Ever wondered what it’d be like to live off the land, hunting, fishing and foraging for your supper? For bush tucker experts Linc Walker from Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours and Madonna Thomson from Nyanda Cultural Tours, it’s all in a day’s work.

Hailing from the Kuku Yalanji people of Tropical North Queensland and the Jagera people of Brisbane respectively, Linc and Madonna spend their days taking visitors out into the bush, mangroves and mudflats to share their knowledge of the land’s hidden bounty.

Brush up on your survival skills with their quickfire guide to Mother Nature’s open-all-hours menu.

1. Mangrove Mussel

Find: found in the mud among the mangroves in Tropical North Queensland all year round, especially after a big tide.  Sometimes called mangrove clams, these shellfish are also common in the Torres Strait where they’re known as ‘akul’ and can grow as big as your palm!

Taste: like most shellfish, they’re a bit slimy when raw, but delicious and crispy when roasted.

Prepare: roasted on the fire until the shell opens and cook to your liking.

2. Periwinkles

Find: these little reddish-brown sea snails like to make their home year-round among the mangrove roots.

Taste: if you like calamari, you’ll love periwinkles, which have the same gristly texture.

Prepare: boil or roast them well and then scoop the meat out of the shell with a pin or stick.

3. Damsel Nut or Beach Almond

Find: if you spot a beach almond tree (tall with horizontal branches and glossy, dark green leaves) you should find plenty of nuts on the ground nearby. They also float in the ocean so look out for them when walking along the shoreline. These are also found in the Torres Strait where they’re called ‘mekei’.

Taste: just like a sweet almond.

Prepare: crack the nut and peel off the outer layer. Once they’re dry, you can eat the kernel. You can also eat the flesh when they’re ripe.

4. Mud Crabs & Sand Crabs

Sand Crab Indigenous Bush Tucker

Sand Crab on Cooya Beach

Find: the mud crab’s habitat is the mangroves, mudflats, rivers and coastline. The sand crab’s habitat is coastal sandy waters. The Kuku Yalanji mob are a coastal people, so mud crabs have always been an important traditional food source.

Taste: mud and sand crabs are sweet in flavour, although the taste can vary from river to coastline.

Prepare: roast or boil the crab in its shell, or fry with chilli vinegar for an extra punch of flavour.

5. Hibiscus Flower

Hibiscus Flower Indigenous Bush Tucker

Find: you’ll find hibiscus trees along the forest edge and coastal rivers where the tree flowers for most of the year. They’re common all along the Queensland coast and thrive in warm, tropical climates.

Taste: we compare them to a lettuce salad!

Prepare: pick the yellow flower and put it in salads, or add to hot water to make a relaxing tea.

6. Black Bean

Black Bean Indigenous Bush Tucker

Find: Black beans are native to coastal rainforests and beaches all along the Queensland coast. They appear as large cylinder-shaped pods following flowering in March to May.

Taste: once pounded into meal and mixed with water, black beans taste similar taste to rice.

Prepare: before they can be eaten, the toxins in the beans must be leached out through a process of pounding, roasting and soaking in running water. They’re then mixed with water and made into a thin cake.

7. Native Mulberry

Find: This tree grows in subtropical climates and close to rivers throughout South East Queensland. It produces lots of small white fruit during the winter months which Jagerah women would often give to their children as a treat.

Taste: the tiny berries have a sweet, delicate flavour.

Prepare: pick them straight from the tree and eat them!

8. Wongai Plum

Find: the edible, orange red fruit of the wongai tree can be found all over the Torres Strait Islands. The trees fruit during May and June.

Taste: similar in taste and texture to a date. Legend has it that once you taste the wongai fruit, you’re always destined to return to the Torres Strait.

Prepare: you can eat them fresh when ripe or leave to dry for a sweeter flavour. Torres Strait Islanders also use wongai plums in baking.

9. Lilly Pilly Berries

Lilly-pilly berry Indigenous bush tucker

Find: growing wild in the rainforest, this miniature pear-like fruit matures from December to February.

Taste: with a tangy punch, these little red and pink berries have a huge kick of antioxidants, amino acids and vitamins A, E and C, providing a powerful immune system boost.

Prepare: you can freeze the berries and add them to salads. Or, they’re also really great in smoothies and muffins.

10. Gubinge (Bllygoat Plum)

Gubjinge-Billy-goat-plum indigenous bush tucker

Find: native to Australia, these plums are found in the tropical climate.

Taste: a little bitter but it’s considered as a superfood. In fact, a single billygoat plum contains an average of 2907mg of vitamin C, compared to just 53mg in an average orange!

Prepare: often eaten raw, they can also be used to make jam.

11. Lemon Myrtle

Find: this Australian shrub is found in the wetter, cooler climate.

Taste: the leaves of the lemon myrtle tree lay claim to the world’s strongest and purest concentration of natural citral – the oil that gives lemon its characteristic flavour. Citral has a natural anti-viral action among a long list of other health benefits.

Prepare: the zesty lemon flavour is perfect for both sweet and savoury dishes, including roast chicken, casseroles and cheesecake. They can also be boiled and sipped as an anti-inflammatory tea to treat swollen fingers, toes and joints.

Want to put your newfound knowledge into practice? Take a Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tour of Port Douglas’ mangroves and mudflats with Linc next time you’re in Tropical North Queensland or put yourself in the hands of Adventure North Australia: their Bama Way Aboriginal Tours include single and multi-day itineraries exploring the Daintree Rainforest and Cooya Beach with local guides. Further south, you can take a guided bush tucker tour of the Nudgee Waterholes in Brisbane with Madonna and Nyanda Aboriginal Cultural Tours.

Looking for more Indigenous experiences in Queensland? Check out our eBook: Connect with culture.

Have you tried traditional Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander foods? Tell us about your experience in the comments!