Native Grains research making strides

Native Grains research making strides

The Native Grains team at the University of Sydney has been working for a number of years on finding ways to sustainably re-create a native grain production system. This work has taken place in consultation with First Nations Peoples.

Currently, the team is working to figure out how best to cultivate the native grains that were grown by Aboriginal people in generations past.

“We are focusing on grasses, as well as herbs and shrubs, which occur naturally in native grasslands. We are considering how they grow, which species would work best for different end uses, and which species were important for food in the past,” says Claudia Keitel, one of the members of the Native Grains team.

“We study aspects of land management, agronomy, ecophysiology, archaeology, nutritional composition, health benefits, and food product development. Most importantly, we are working together with Community and are regularly bringing people together for knowledge sharing.”

This work has led the team to begin addressing barriers to the more widespread use of native grains in culinary and agricultural contexts.

“Currently, native grains are in limited supply and are therefore expensive, as they are wild-collected. There are several challenges to overcome for growing, harvesting, and processing native grains, and we have made great progress in addressing these barriers,” Claudia says.

“For example, we now have a better idea on how to grow and harvest the different species and have found methods to best clean the seeds to food quality grade. This process is quite easy for wheat, which was bred to facilitate harvesting and processing, but it remains challenging for native grasses.

“In the past, Indigenous women were experts in these techniques, but we have lost valuable processing information. In addition, not all harvesting and processing techniques can be transferred to modern food production systems. With the gathering of knowledge and development of new techniques, it will become much easier to produce flour from these species.”

This is only the start, Claudia says, of the journey the team is on to fully understand the potential of native grains, and how we can use them and the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Australians to bring native grains back to the fore.

“We are at the beginning of understanding the potential of native grains and their importance for culture, ecology, human health, and new food production systems. These grains have been managed by Indigenous people and used for food for millennia. They are an important part of culture and connection to Country,” she says.

“In our research, we would like to explore each of the grains in more detail—what beneficial nutritional properties they hold, how changes in environment affect their growth, and how native grains affect gut health and risk of cardiometabolic disease. There is so much to explore!”

For more information about the team’s research, visit

Main image: The Narrabri research team (L to R): Kerrie Saunders, Claudia Keitel, Diane Hall, and Hannah Binge.

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