Embracing Indigenous Ingredients Is Healing — For All Of Us

Image: Getty Images.
The Kakadu plum has over 100 times the amount of vitamin C found in oranges. Finger limes are naturally high in folate, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Lemon myrtle is loved for its antimicrobial properties that work wonders for the skin. Green banana is rich in prebiotic fibre, which helps with digestive health. The Davidson plum is packed with vitamin C and zinc, a win for immune support and skin.
These superfoods aren’t new, they’ve been used for thousands of years by First Nations communities. While no stone is left unturned by today’s wellness fanatics, we’ve somehow overlooked the wealth of ingredients in our own backyard. 
Advertisement
“We often forget that the way that we get our nutrition, the way that we protect our bodies and boost our immunity, is actually through the food we eat,” Bundjalung woman Mindy Woods tells Refinery29 Australia. "We become really detached from that process… When we're eating well, when we're eating seasonally [and] eating local produce, Country and the environment is giving us everything that we need.”
Woods is the owner of Karkalla, a Byron Bay restaurant that prides itself on using ancient, native ingredients. “What I'm really trying to do is connect people with Indigenous culture through our food, which is really special to me,” she says.

Food is a connector. When we sit down and we share a meal together, we're sharing stories. And as women, we're storytellers, as Indigenous women, we're storytellers.

mindy woods
Indigenous history and education has a long way to go in Australia’s schooling systems, and that’s reflected in teachings of food and nutrition. Eliza Millsom, a qualified nutritionist and business manager at Swisse Wellness, admits that her own education was void of Indigenous Australian philosophies.
“As I have tried to connect [to] and learn more [about] the wisdom of the traditional custodians of Australia, what I have realised is that nowhere in my experience as a nutritionist did we learn about Indigenous native ingredients and how to use them, and the benefits that they can have on our health,” she tells Refinery29 Australia.
Woods is eager to share her love of native ingredients. “Lemon myrtle is native to this country, Bundjalung country, it's got the highest citral concentrate of any plant in the world. It's antibacterial, it's immune-boosting, you can use it topically, [and] you can ingest it. So traditionally, we use it as a tea, and to flavour our foods too,” she says, adding that she uses it as a substitute for bayleaf.
Advertisement
She then goes on to explain the benefits of the Davidson plum — these dark red fleshy fruits fit in the palm of your hand, but pack a punch of sourness — “like a Warhead,” Millsom describes. “The intensity of the fruit’s colour tells you how good it is inside. Anything with those really purpley-blue tones is going to be a huge antioxidant boost to your system,” Woods says.
“I think when we connect culture back to food and how we used to live, we can learn a lot from our ancestors,” she says, reflecting on her own childhood tinted with memories eating Davidson plums. “It's beautiful that we can now look back on those memories and realise how important they were.”
Her restaurant Karkalla is just one of the growing Indigenous establishments we’re seeing. In Melbourne, Mabu Mabu is slinging food that honours the land of the Boonwurrung and Wurundjeri peoples it resides on. It sells handmade small-batch teas, spices, and sauces, a step in its “mission to put Indigenous ingredients in kitchens across Australia.”
Non-Indigenous brands are also entering the sphere — Swisse has recently launched Swisse Earth, its sub-brand that features vegan powder blends for health and beauty. Its philosophy rests on leaving the lightest fingerprint on earth, which also means making the most of our country’s native ingredients. 
The four blends utilise native ingredients like the Kakadu plum, lemon myrtle, quandong, finger lime, Davidson plum, and green banana. Formulated for collagen intake, immune defence, beauty, and general wellness, they aim to be a daily accompaniment for healthy living. 
Advertisement
“We often look for superfoods from overseas however, we are so lucky to live in a country where we have access to some of the most nutrient-dense native superfoods in the world that can really unlock new levels of health,” Millsom says.
It’s a move that Woods stands behind. “Food is a connector. When we sit down and we share a meal together, we're sharing stories. And as women, we're storytellers, as Indigenous women, we're storytellers. We learn and we grow from each other,” she says.
“For me, connecting Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to our culture through food hopefully means that we can respect the culture, we can embrace the knowledge that comes from our ancestors, and we can protect our environment, and our country, for future generations.”
“The more people connect with Indigenous culture, [the more] we’ve got to celebrate being Australian.”
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!

More from Food & Drinks