Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Bush foods of New South Wales

A botanic record and an Aboriginal oral history

>> Click here for a general overview of Aboriginal heritage at Sydney's Botanic Gardens 


These web pages aim to create a meeting place for two groups - Australian Aboriginal people and Western scientists - to describe their understandings of plants. Aboriginal people with a heritage of thousands of years of experience living in the Australian environment tell their stories about using plants. The Talking about plants stories are best read aloud to hear the voice of their tellers.

In the eyes of Western science Australia’s native plants are special, with many plants unique to this island continent. Most of these plants have been found, described and named over a few generations of botanists. Here we describe 30 of the most common bush food plants of New South Wales and arrange them alphabetically according to each plant’s scientific name.

Joseph Henry Maiden, Director of the Royal Botanic Garden from 1896 to 1924, was one of the first Western scientists to compile a written record of how Australian Aboriginal people use plants. This work continues today with greater urgency as our environmental and cultural heritage become swallowed up by factors that seem to be beyond our control. The plants in this book include some that may become extinct in the wild if we allow present land use to continue. Contact your local council, Landcare group or nursery for more  information about the native plants that grown in your area for your own bush food garden!

If you are using these web pages to help identify plants, it is important to remember that collecting plants in national parks, state forests and nature reserves is not allowed. It is always better to make drawings and take photographs and only footprints.

Aboriginal language maps

>> Click on maps to enlarge



Bagandji - also spelt Paakantyi
Gamilaroi - also spelt Gamilaraay
Dharug - also spelt Dharuk
Guringai - also spelt Guring-gai, Kuring-gai, Ku-ring-gai

My Dad was very knowledgeable in the identification of edible plants and various types of bush tucker. This knowledge and his love of the bush were passed down from his Elders during his lifetime. He had to be educated this way to enable him to be a good supporter of his wife and children, and he never missed an opportunity to gather and bring home on horseback or in a wagon whatever bush tucker he came across. This ensured that we never forgot what was available to us in the bush. The knowledge my dad had still lives on in what I am doing now, in teaching survival skills to school groups through my Culture Camp.

The close association Aboriginal people in Australia have with plants has developed since time began – countless thousands of years. Plants were their greatest resource and were widely utilised. They provided Aboriginal people with a diet rich in all vitamins and fibre necessary for a healthy lifestyle. Aboriginal people were very skilled in the selection of plants for all tasks in hand: from clothing, food and medicine to weapons, shelter and dyes.

Plants, bushes and trees provided material for string manufacturing, enabling Aboriginal people to make netting for the trapping of small animals and birds, and plants provided spear shafts, shelters of gunyahs, and gums and resins. Medicines were also extracted from identifiable plants.

Learning about the bush tucker of plants, fruits, meat, berries, roots and nuts was very important to Aboriginal people living on missions and reserves. It helped to supplement the diet between ration days.

Since the sheep and cattle industries have been developed, a lot of native vegetation has been destroyed. The hooves of these animals helped in the destruction of the top soil, and do the process of soil erosion began. Cotton farming added to the destruction of our land with the clearing of the bush and use of sprays to keep the cotton free of insects. Our bush tucker has borne the brunt of the harmful effects of the toxins used in these sprays. The damming of our natural waterways has led to the gradual loss of River Red Gums and water plants – things that our people relied on to help sustain them.

Bush tucker is vital for our survival as a nation of Indigenous people. We must continue to pass on to our children the survival skills passed down to us by our forefathers and grandmothers. Knowledge of edible plants and berries will sustain our livelihood in this, our ever-changing society. No matter where we live, the passing on of this knowledge will perhaps one day save a life, whether it be a child or adult who happens to wander in the bush and become lost. The plants, berries and roots will sustain them until found.

Beryl Carmichael


Bush Foods cover

From 'Bush foods of New South Wales' by Kathy Stewart & Bob Percival (Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney 1997).
>> Download pdf file

A-Z of bush plants of NSW:

The Botanic Gardens Trust presents this plant information from a scientific and cultural viewpoint  and strongly advises that plants should not be eaten unless purchased from a recognised bush food supplier. The tasting or testing of native plants as highlighted in these pages is not recommended by the Botanic Gardens Trust.

There is a bush known as the deadly nightshade and it is poisonous. If you eat that it will cause lots of problems. We've got a similar bush with balcker berries on it that we eat. We got confused once, after us eating the black berry all the time, then we came across this one. We didn't know whether we should eat this one or not. But then our old people said no, we only eat the other one - the one with the real black berries on it.
Beryl Carmichael, Broken Hill