The Indigenous People of Australia, like many indigenous people around the world, had evolved their own medicinal cornucopia, and whilst some have been extensively studied, much is still yet to be learnt. Often labelled as ‘bush medicine’ or ‘herbal medicine’ much knowledge has been lost since the arrival of Europeans. In Aboriginal culture, nothing was written down, instead knowledge was passed on through an oral tradition, most often through ceremonies.
Whilst some knowledge is still being passed down through the generations, the renewed interest in Aboriginal bush medicine is seeing a resurgence in this area of what is sometimes termed ‘natural medicine’.
Much of Aboriginal medicine is based on the use of flora that are applied in a variety of ways. As well as plants, Aboriginal people also use many of the fauna around them in medicinal ways.
From being boiled, inhaled, drunk to directly smearing them onto skin and wounds, Aboriginal bush medicine is used in a variety of ways. Many plants have been found to contain anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds that are known to western medicine.
There is plenty of information published and online for those researching bush medicine. Care should always be taken when reading and researching such information. Some plants, such as those called “bush tomato” is a term that is used to describe plants from the same family/genus that also include poisonous varieties.
Following is a list of some of the varied flora and fauna described as used in Aboriginal medicine.
- Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
tea tree oil is widely recognised product, that is derived from crushed tea-tree (or paper bark) leaves, being applied to wounds, for throat ailments and a variety of other treatments.
- Eucalyptus oil (Eucalyptus sp.)
Eucalyptus leaves can be infused for body pains and fevers and chills. Today the oil is used commercially in mouthwash, throat lozenges and cough suppressants.
- Billy goat plum/Kakadu plum (Terminalia ferdinandiana)
The world’s richest source of Vitamin C is found in this native fruit from the woodlands of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The plum has 50 times the Vitamin C of oranges, and was a major source of food for tribes in the areas where it grows.
- Desert mushrooms (Pycnoporus sp.)
Some Aboriginal people suck on the bright orange desert mushroom to cure a sore mouth or lips. It has been known to be a kind of natural teething ring, and is also useful for babies with oral thrush.
- Emu bush (Eremophila sp.)
Concoctions of emu bush leaves were used by Northern Territory Aboriginal tribes to wash sores and cuts; occasionally it was gargled. In the last decade, leaves from the plant were found to have the same strength as some established antibiotics. South Australian scientists want to use the plant for sterilising implants, such as artificial hips.
- Witchetty (Witjuti) grub (Endoxyla leucomochla)
Witchetty (Witjuti) grubs also a good source of bush tucker were crushed into a paste, placed on burns and covered with a bandage to seal and soothe the skin by some people in Central Australia.
- Snake vine (Tinospora smilacina)
Communities in Central Australia used to crush sections of the vine to treat headaches, rhumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory-related ailments. The sap and leaves were sometimes used to treat sores and wounds.
- Goat’s foot (Ipomoea pes-caprae)
For pain relief from sting ray and stone fish stings, mobs from northern Australia and parts of New South Wales, crushed and heated the leaves of the plant, then applied them directly to the skin. Goat’s foot is common near sandy shorelines across Australia.
- Kangaroo apple (Solanum laciniatum and Solanum aviculare)
The fruit was used as a poultice on swollen joints. The plant contains a steroid which is important to the production of cortisone.
- Sandpaper Fig and Stinking Passion Flower (Ficus opposita) / (Passiflora foetida)
The combination the two plants were used in northern coastal communities to relieve itching. The rough leaves of the sandpaper fig were crushed and soaked in water, the rubbed on the itch until it bled. The pulped fruit of the stinking passion flower was then smeared on to the affected area. Sandpaper fig leaves have also been used to treat fungal skin infections such as ringworm, sometimes in combination with the milky sap.
© Ausemade PL