Australia is a beautiful country full of delightful and interesting plants. Some of our native flowers have a sweet edible nectar.
The best time to gather nectar is in the morning, before the heat of the day evaporates it, and it can be particular abundant after the rain. You can shake the nectar out over your hand or a container, or dunk the flower in water to create a sweet drink.
One of the easiest ways to find plants with nectar is to watch birds such as the native miners or rosella, who will quickly show you where the sweet stuff is found. Just remember to leave some for them too.
1. Telopea- Waratah
Endemic to Australia there are 5 different species of Telopea, which are large shrubs or tall trees and produce magnificent flowers. Found throughout South Eastern Australia (NSW, Vic and Tasmania) you will generally find the in sandy loamy soils such on sandstone ridges. Telopea uses fire to help it reproduce. After a fire it automatically flowers and drop seeds in order to capitalise on the growing conditions and lack of competition left behind.
The name Waratah comes from the Eora language, and there is a beautiful story of how the Waratah got its colour, which you can read in this book of Aboriginal Dreaming Stories.
Grevillea is also known as the spider flower or toothbrush plant due to its shape. There are about 360 species of Grevillea and they can be found in Indonesia, Sulawesi, New Caledonia, New Ginea and through out Australia. They can be found in the home the rainforest, open wood lands, and home garden. If your suburb is anything like mine, just follow the native (or noisy) miners birds and they will quickly show you where there is nectar to be had.
The sap from branches and the trunk of some Grevillea’s (such as the very tall tree with yellow flowers and pine cones, Grevillea robusta) has been said to cause itching or allergic reaction to some people. Don’t let that deter you as the sap is easily avoided and the nectar is delicious.
Called bottle brush because of the long cylindrical shape of their flowers, callistemon is a species that is endemic to Australia and aside from its edible nectar some species make a very yummy tea from their new growth leaves.
Found in the southern half of WA, in some areas scattered across the red centre, and up and down the entirety of the East coast. The flowers hang at the end of long dropping branches of trees, and they have soft velvety new growth leaves.
There are 149 species of Hakea, all of which are endemic to Australia. They are found throughout the county with a high diversity of species in WA. There is a range of colours, leaf shapes, and plant sizes. Some are very unique looking such as the Hakea Victoria , which despite the name is only found in a small are of the south west coast of Australia. Often the leaves are a needle shape or end in a sharp tips so go slow when harvesting this sweet treat.
There are 170 species of Banksia found around the coast of Australia in every state. They are also found in home gardens and are use by florists for cut flowers. With that in mind you would be forgiven for thinking that they are common, but in fact a number of species are rare and endangered as a result of land clearing & fires. Flowers can be yellow, orange pink, red, or even violet! Their abundance of nectar is food for bats, honey possums, gliders, birds and insects.
Some species of Banksia use fire to stimulate the opening of seed-bearing follicles and the germination of seed in the ground. While the occasional fire is beneficial for regeneration of these banksia, if they are too frequent bushfires can seriously reduce or even eliminate populations by killing seedlings and young plants before they reach fruiting age.
There is an interesting story of called the Wattun’goori in D’harawal Dreaming Stories which refers to the different types off banksia and what it means if there ‘eyes’ are open or closed.
So there you have, 5 beautiful Australian flowers with delicious edible nectar. This is just the start, there are plenty more to learn about if you want more natural, native sweetness in your life.
For more information about what you can forage in your area check out Wild Food Plants of Australia by Tim Low, or Bush Tukka Guide by Samantha Martin which is available for purchase on our online bookshop. We also recommend learning how to forage safely under the guidance of a professional, for example by doing workshop or course.
This information is intended as inspiration for further research and should not be used as a stand alone guide. If you are allergic to sugar or honey you may want to avoid eating nectar. If you suffer from hayfever or are allergic to pollen you may also want to avoid it, or test it out in small quantities depending on the severity of you allergy. As always, use common sense and be responsible for what you are putting into your body.