Bush tucker gardens


Student Jake M with Julie Weatherhead in the Indigenous Garden. Photo: Stewart Chambers, Star News.

Have you ever thought of cooking with wattleseed, mountain pepper or strawberry gum leaves?

Two new Indigenous Food Gardens established at Beaconhills College at Berwick and Pakenham could herald a whole exciting new era of cooking, horticultural consultant Julie Weatherhead hopes.

Ms Weatherhead designed the gardens to help students learn about the amazing properties of Australian native foods and how to use them in Food Technology classes.

She has spent 15 years researching and growing bush food plants and has chosen species particularly suited to the Victorian climate. They include lemon myrtle, native ginger, finger lime, strawberry gum and sea celery, to name a few.

Ms Weatherhead said cooking with bush foods was still a relatively new field and few people really understood how the variety of native plants and fruits could be used in dishes.

“People tend to associate bush foods with witchetty grubs, but there are so many more native foods we can eat,” she said. “We have been so focused on European ingredients that we have overlooked the diverse range of ingredients right on our own doorstep.”

Ms Weatherhead hopes students will take their new-found knowledge about bush tucker home to create family meals. She says scientists are still discovering some of the plants’ incredible medicinal and nutritional properties.

“For example lemon myrtle, mountain pepper and warrigal greens have a huge amount of vitamins A, E, D, B, iron and calcium,” she said.

She said while blueberries were currently regarded as the antioxidant ‘superfood’, some bush foods had four to six times the amount of antioxidants.

Vegetable gardens reaping rewards

The College vegetable gardens, also designed by Ms Weatherhead, are producing kilos of vegetables and fruit which students and Food Technology teachers are putting to good use.

Tomatoes, zucchinis, watermelons, corn, strawberries, rhubarb and silverbeet are now on the menu in Food Technology classes, as students experience the entire process of planting, growing, harvesting, cooking and eating (‘fork to fork’).

Produce from the vegetable gardens.

Not only is the produce organic, but students are able to pick only what is needed for their dishes so there is less wastage.

Teachers are also helping students preserve and pickle, with 10kg of strawberries transformed into jam, tomatoes into sauce and relishes and watermelons into chutney.

Nothing is wasted – Ms Weatherhead said excess produce is donated to local charity group the 4CCCs and vegetable scraps are fed to the College’s worm farms and then returned to the gardens in compost form.
Ms Weatherhead, who was an environmental science teacher for 17 years, also runs Peppermint Ridge Farm with her partner in Tynong North. The farm is a learning centre for a range of environmental programs that include farm forestry, bush food, ecology, conservation and land management.
Julie’s recipe for Lemon Myrtle and Apple Muffins

Makes about 12 muffins.

Mix together:
3 apples – cored & chopped to small dice
3 tbsp fresh lemon myrtle leaves finely chopped or 2 tbsp dried leaves
Muffin mix:

2 cups SR flour
125 g softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 large Free Range Eggs
1 cup plain yoghurt
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla. Stir in yoghurt and flour. Add to apple mix and fill greased muffin pans.
Bake at 180 degrees for 15 minutes.
Cool and turn out muffins onto a wire rack.  Serve with pure cream or ice cream.