Captain Cook used a native Australian plant to fight scurvy. Are Indigenous foods the future?

Captain Cook used a native Australian plant to fight scurvy. Are Indigenous foods the future?

ABC Central West / By Emma Rennie

Gerald Power says a lot of people have expressed interest in native Australian food.(ABC Central West: Emma Rennie)

Juru and Kanaka man Gerald Power often hears from people that food eaten by First Nations people in the tens of thousands of years before colonisation did not have much seasoning.It is a myth he is keen to correct.He offered up saltbush as an example, saying many people thought of it as livestock feed. But it was also delicious ground up and rubbed on meat.Mr Power cultivates many edible native plants, including bush basil, curry myrtle and river mint, in a community garden in Orange, in central-western NSW.One of his favourite products is a drink made with lemon myrtle and ironbark honey, but he also spoke highly of warrigal greens, which he loved for their versatility.”It’s a thing you can use in stews. I make warrigal pesto out of it,” Mr Power said.”It’s just so diverse in relation to how you can use it.”Standing in the middle of the garden, Mr Power showed the ways a plant could be used in cooking — and its history to First Nations people.He said warrigal greens also had a strong connection to Australia’s colonial history, thanks to its high vitamin C levels.It was one of the first native plants cultivated and eaten internationally, after Captain Cook used it to fight scurvy on ships and botanist Joseph Banks took the seeds back to England for cultivation.

Gerald Power says native Australian foods like macadamias, saltbush and lemon myrtle are flavoursome and versatile.(ABC Central West: Emma Rennie)

Bringing cultural food traditions to a new generation

Mr Power and his team propagate and harvest ingredients from the garden and use them to educate the community about edible native plants and traditional Indigenous dishes.

Increasingly, he is seeing a big demand for his native food education program in local schools.

In addition to teaching workshops, he also helps interested schools set up gardens so the students can grow their own food.

“The kids just can’t get enough of it. The parents are coming and [saying], ‘They won’t eat any of the greens that we’re putting on their [plate], but they’ll eat that food’, so it’s a good thing,” Mr Power said.

“[We are] getting them to grow the plants within their garden, and we’re teaching them how to harvest it, and how to put it on their platter in the school canteens.”

Another of Mr Power’s goals is offering employment and education to young First Nations people.

Nineteen-year-old Wiradjuri woman Erin Naden started working with Mr Power last year and has become his right-hand woman when it comes to presenting workshops and school programs.

“It is a heap to learn, and I didn’t know that most stuff was edible. There is quite a lot, and I’m surprised about how much I didn’t know before,” she said.

Ms Naden said she really valued the opportunity to help share the knowledge with other young people.

“I do enjoy it just because you don’t really get that education in school,” she said.

Wiradjuri woman Erin Naden says she is surprised by how much there is to learn about Indigenous cuisine.(ABC Central West: Emma Rennie)

“To be able to take it there and make the kids learn about it, they’re happy to try everything that we have for them and take it home and teach their parents or grow it in their schools.”

Indigenous cuisine a market waiting to be tapped

Mr Power has high hopes for the future popularity of Indigenous food.

He has had requests to start up a restaurant, though he said that idea would need more work to develop a successful business model.

“We have every cuisine restaurant but when it comes to an Indigenous food restaurant, that’s where we haven’t yet built that market so the future looks really good,” Mr Power said.

In the meantime, Mr Power said he hoped his work would help encourage people to be more adventurous with Australian native plants and foods to give them the courage to grow and cook their own.

“I’d really like to see every garden out the back of their house actually have a garden of Indigenous food, mixed with other food too — because if you combine these ingredients, it just takes it to another level.”


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