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Bush foods, a growing asset

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Researchers at the University of Adelaide are building a so-called bush tucker bible to help highlight natural and unique products.

Professor Andy Lowe, Director of Food Innovation at the University, said the research aimed to preserve and evolve Australian food culture into a sustainable industry making the most of Indigenous traditional knowledge while also benefiting Indigenous communities.

Professor Lowe believes that with more than 30,000 plant species native to Australia, the opportunities are endless.

“There is reason why bush tucker ingredients like warrigal greens, rosella flowers, seablite and munyeroo could not become part of our food source stream,” Professor Lowe said.

“There’s a range of native greens that we could start consuming on a large scale that can be grown much more effectively in Australia.”

Native Australian foods are also being studied as an effective way to increase the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The latest data from the Australia’s Institute in Health and Welfare shows indigenous Australians are five times more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to die from endocrine, nutritional and metabolic conditions (such as diabetes), and three times as likely to die of digestive conditions.

Wild yams and fish, traditional bush medicines, Aboriginal herbal remedies and even sand massages are all part of a holistic health program designed to address chronic disease in north-east Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. The Hope for Health project was started by volunteers and Aboriginal Yoingu people on Elcho Island, aiming to tackle chronic health problems by incorporating traditional tratitional health practices and knowlegde with western medicine.

After crowdfunding $90,000, the group held its first health retreat camp on the island last year and started a journey to better health, returning to traditional foods, like shellfish and other foods found around the island.

Hope for Health said 85 per cent of participants showed a reduction in waist circumference, almost two-thirds had improved kidney function, and four in five people had reduced their blood pressure

Adrian Bauman, a professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney said: “The results among those 25 participants are impressive: they lost a clinically useful amount of weight, they had improvements in kidney function, blood sugar and blood pressure levels.”

Yolngu participant Valerie Bulkunu said the experience helped her make long-term changes, such as swapping two-minute noodles and cordial for more wholesome home-cooked food.

Hope for Health’s Kate Jenkins said the project’s success was also due to the hands on support provided in the local language, and the fact the project was driven by the community and guided by Yolngu leaders.