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Plant identification guides:
Bush tucker food forest

Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


As with all medicinal applications of Australian bush foods, please do your due diligence and consult with First Nations or other Australian herbal specialists before utilising as a remedy for any condition.


Some parts of the plant may not be edible or some may need preparation before they are safe to eat or use in any way. We do our best to describe their traditional & modern uses. It is the reader’s responsibility to ensure they are fit for their intended use.


We can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.


Scientific name:

Other Names:

Macadamia integrifolia/ Macadamia tetraphylla hybrid

Queensland nut tree, Smooth-shelled macadamia, Bush nut, Nut oak, Bauple nut, Hawaii nut, Maroochi nut. (Aboriginal names: Bauple, Gyndl, Jindilli, Boombera)


Proteaceae (same as Banksias, Grevilleas and Hakeas)


Basic info:

This is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree, growing to 15 metres in height. Native to rainforests in south east Queensland and northern New South Wales, Australia.

Macadamia nuts are slow to ripen, taking just over 6 months from when the intensely fragrant pink flowers first bloom in the Spring. Mature nuts will fall off the tree when they’re ready, and should be collected off the ground as soon as possible.

Uses and Interesting Information:

The macadamia, often considered the finest nut in the world, is the only Bush Tucker plant to have been widely cultivated as a commercial food.

Macadamia nuts are packed with numerous health-benefiting nutrients, and are properly called a “superfood”. They are a rich source of calcium, thiamine, vitamin B6, manganese, iron, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus as well as an excellent source of energy: 100 g of nuts provide about 718 calories/100 g, which is one of the highest calorific values among nuts.

They are gluten free and also cholesterol free, and are a rich source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol levels in the blood – making it an excellent heart-health food.

The fibre in these nuts also aids diabetes treatment, and the antioxidants rejuvenate skin and hair.

The trees make an excellent fire- and wind-break.


A short history of the macadamia

Macadamia is an ancient tree. Fossilised pollen of a plant that we recognise as an ancestor of Macadamia has been found in central Queensland and dated to about 50 million years old.

In ancient times, trees thrived in the green, lush, thick rainforest regions of Australia’s east coast, along a 600km stretch from present day Grafton (NSW) to Maryborough (QLD). The rain forests tended to grow on the well-drained fertile soils usually of basaltic origin and, where the topography assured more rainfall, they extended back from the Pacific Ocean through to the mountain ranges which lay up to 150 km from the coast. In the rainforest, usually the macadamias were present in small numbers and grew in scattered stands.


Indigenous use

There is evidence of indigenous use of the nut in ancient times – for example, some coastal middens contain large quantities of bush nut shells along with sea shells, often 15 – 20kms from the nearest trees.  


Because of their sparse presence in the forest, Macadamias were not staple fare; they were considered a delicacy and were treasured and collected wherever they were found. 


Nuts were eaten raw or roasted in hot coals. Many cracking rocks have been found in eastern rainforests, consisting of a large stone with a delicate incision for holding the nuts and sometimes a smaller, flat stone placed on top which is then struck by a larger ‘hammer’ stone. This distributes the force of the blow to facilitate a clean break, rather than crushing the shell with a direct hammer blow. 


Indigenous people would also extract the oil from the nuts and use it as a binder with ochres and clay for face and body painting. This was a method of preserving clan symbols of the dreaming.


The oil was also used for skin rejuvenation and as a carrier where it was mixed with other plant extracts to treat ailments. The cosmetic benefits of macadamia oil are still celebrated in the health and beauty industry. 


Indigenous people also believed the nuts contained a stimulant which aided breast milk production, and was used by lactating mothers.


Indigenous Australians also had cultural and spiritual connections to the macadamia tree. The tree was considered sacred in some regions and was often used in ceremonies and as a symbol of fertility.


European discovery

The first European to formally identify the plant was botanist Allan Cunningham, who was sent to Australia to collect species to take back to the Kings garden at Kew in London. He “discovered” the tree in a rainforest south of Brisbane in 1828.

He didn’t know about the nut being edible though. The first European to eat the nut was 30 years later, by accident.

The story goes that in 1858, Walter Hill, the first superintendent of (what became) the Brisbane Botanical Gardens was looking for trees that could be planted in the new gardens and went looking for appropriate specimens. During one of these outings – with famous botanist Baron Ferdinand von Mueller – he collected several macadamia seeds. It was Mueller who named the species as a dedication to John Macadam, the secretary of the Philosophic Institute of Victoria (later to become the Royal Society of Victoria), which was the main scientific organisation in Australia at the time. 

Both Mueller and Hill had been led to believe that the nuts were poisonous. Hill assumed that the seeds would not germinate easily unless removed from the hard shell, so he gave a number of these seeds to an unknown young assistant to crack on a vice. He hadn’t mentioned to the assistant that they were supposedly poisonous, and to his horror, Hill found his assistant eating some of the kernels and proclaiming them outstanding. Several days later, when the lad’s health remained sound, Walter Hill tasted a kernel and agreed.


From that moment, European fascination with the macadamia began.


Hill planted a macadamia tree on the banks of the Brisbane River, and it remains there strong and healthy, with a girth at its base of 2.5 metres. It still bears fruit – or rather, nuts.


Commercial exploitation

The first known macadamia entrepreneur was Aboriginal Elder King Jacky of the Logan River clan – otherwise known as Bilin Bilin, head of the Yugimbah people whose area was the Tweed River to Beenleigh. From the early 1960’s he organised his clan to collect the nuts and, building on his relationship with European settlers and missionaries, traded them for tomahawks, rum, tobacco and other items. (The town of Bilinga on the Gold Coast was probably named after him in recognition of his contribution to the work of the great surveyor, Francis Roberts, who surveyed the Queensland/ New South Wales border in 1863.) He was widely credited with aiding the survival of the early explorers and settlers to the Logan district. His descendants tell the story, for example, of how he used to bring supplies to a widowed settler who was raising a large family on her own.  


From the late 1860s, macadamias started to be carried out of their native habitat, firstly to other parts of Australia and then to the rest of the world. The impetus to this rapid spread was botanical interest but more importantly, the delicacy of flavour and texture of the nut.


Macadamia trees were progressively planted along the Noosa River from the 1870s and the first orchard was established near Lismore in the 1880s. In the late 1880’s, the seeds were also carried to California, Hawaii, France, Singapore, Chile, China and the Pacific Islands. Then from 1910 onwards, to other parts of the world.


As settlers moved across Australia, much of the original rainforests were cleared for timber, small crops or dairy farms. Many of the native macadamias were destroyed but here and there some remained, or a tree grew from seed. In modern times, the only settled areas where significant numbers of native trees remain are in the Numinbah Valley around Tamborine and in the hills of the Mary Valley. Small numbers also remain in the Tweed, Brunswick and Richmond Valleys.


One interesting story from Macadamia history is about John Bucknell Waldron, the 1896 bantam weight boxing champion of Brisbane. He would prepare for his fights in the Brisbane Botanical Garden and there came across the tree planted by Walter Hill. He was so impressed with the nuts that he decided to devote his entire life – after boxing – to them. He bought a property on the Tweed River near Murwullimbah because of the native macadamias growing there. He began a cottage industry selling the nuts. He didn’t have a mechanical cracker but – all his life – used a small hammer with the nut placed on an anvil and he shelled an average 11 kgs of nuts per day. During his life he hand-cracked about 8,000,000 nuts. He mixed broken kernels with honey and made “Macadamia Brittle”, produced macadamia oil on a hand-built press (obtaining $20 per gallon), and produced “Bush Nut Butter”. Another of his interests was the study of aboriginal medicines and he experimented with macadamia kernel oil incorporated with essential oils, particularly eucalyptus oils. He sold his produce from a horse drawn wagon, selling to shops, banks and offices in Murwillumbah and nearby towns; Australia’s very own “snake-oil” ( or rather, macadamia oil) salesman, complete with home-made confectionary!


Overseas commercialisation

Macadamias were taken to Hawaii primarily to act as wind-breaks for the sugar plantations, but ended up being so popular that were cultivated there in their own right, until by the 1940’s Hawaii produced more macadamia’s than Australia.


It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that Australia again become the leading grower of macadamias, but then by 2015, this title passed to South Africa.


Today Australian macadamias are the third largest horticultural export, contributing more than 30% of the global crop. Major export markets include Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Europe and North America. However, Australia remains the biggest market!


For a more in-depth account of the history of the macadamia, see McConachie, Ian (1980). "The Macadamia Story" (PDF). California Macadamia Society Yearbook. 26: 41–47. Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 January 2014.


  • Recipes to come

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