rebeccabarnesjulydavoplumswebfingerlimesredweb  bunyanutswebrebeccabarnes1It was the taste of a native raspberry that opened Rebecca Barnes’ eyes to bush foods and their potential.

“We found them growing on a friend’s property, and we thought ‘why can’t we buy this in a shop?’  So we put in a little crop … and that started us off,” she said

That was 15 years ago, and Rebecca and business partner Gus Donaghy have since created their own successful bush food business, Playing With Fire, which sells a range of native spices, teas, sauces, jams, cordials and fresh produce online and at the Mullumbimby Farmers Market.

Rebecca and Gus’ property at Tintenbar is like a native food forest, every tree and plant offering new and unique flavours, smells and textures. There are hot and spicy curry myrtle leaves, tiny tart lilli pillis fruits, eye-wateringly sour Davidson’s plums and finger limes, whose little beads create explosions of intense lime flavour when they burst in your mouth.

Their biggest crop is lemon myrtle and aniseed myrtle trees. The leaves are dried to make teas and spices, as well as to supply overseas markets, where they are in high demand for their medicinal qualities. Aniseed myrtle can act a mild-antidepressant and is a potent antioxidant and antimicrobial, while lemon myrtle is calming, sedative anti-viral and anti-septic.

Properties such as these are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bush foods, according to Rebecca, who says research is continually uncovering more and more about their incredible health benefits. Davidson’s Plums, for example, have four times the antioxidant levels of blueberries, while Mountain Pepper has the widest variety of antioxidants found in any food on the planet.

For an introduction to the world of native foods, Rebecca suggests home cooks start with a range of spices such as mountain pepper, lemon myrtle, wattleseed and bush tomatoes.

“If you’ve got a range of spices… they’re dried and they’ve got a good shelf life you can just throw them into your cooking for the flavours,” she said.

•Story and photos by Kate O’Neill