Indigenous people have been sustaining the land and our people for hundreds upon thousands of years in a mutually respectful and beneficial capacity. Indigenous people cared for country and, in turn, the resources necessary for survival were provided by country.
Indigenous people cared for country and, in turn, the resources necessary for survival were provided by country.
Although the remedies Indigenous people know and use have been around since time immemorial, contemporary science is now paying attention to the benefits of traditional and holistic healing and considering how its application fits into modern medicine.
1. Gumbi Gumbi
A small shrub with little star-shaped yellow flowers and yellow/orange skinned fruit, Gumbi Gumbi (pittosprum angustifolium) is found throughout the drier areas of Australia and is perhaps the most potent, yet versatile indigenous medicine.
It used in significant number of traditional medicinal applications, from the treatment of coughs and colds to eczema, and even used for lactagogue (milk let-down) activity.
Recent scientific research into the benefits of Gumbi Gumbi find it to boast an array of benefits including, being an anti-pruritic, anti-viral, detoxifier, blood pressure regulator and immune system booster.
While the fruit and its seeds are known for having medicinal properties, it is the leaves (usually used as a tea, tonic, dried in capsules or in salves/creams) which harness the most effective ailment treatments.
2. Lemon Grasses
The leaves, stems and roots of native lemon grasses (Cymbopogon ambiguus A. Camus) can be liquefied and drunk to treat diarrhoea, and coughs, sore throats and colds. It can also be applied to the skin for treatment of rashes and sores, and a root poultice mixture can be applied to ears for earaches.
Recent research has determined the herb to have headache and migraine relieving properties, claiming it can cure in the same way aspirin does.
Not to be mistaken with the thick Asian lemongrasses that are found in supermarkets, native lemon grass grows around drier parts of the country. It can be located by their green tuffs at the ends of their thin stalks and when crushed, conveys a beautiful citrus-y scent.
3. Tea Tree
The paper bark, or tea tree (Melaleuca teretifolia Endl), grows in sand or clay around swampy and seasonally wet areas and is mainly native to the Bunjalung nation. A national treasure, tea tree is one of the most widely known natural antiseptics in the world and has been used as a mainstream pharmaceutical, consistently since the 1920s.
Vivienne Hansen and John Harsfall note in their handbook, Noongar Bush Medicine, that traditionally, the leaves and bark of tea tree were crushed and the vapour inhaled to treat headaches. It was also brewed as a tea for throat ailments and to relieve colds, and was applied externally to wounds and superficial injuries.
Today, its oil is a widely-used safe, natural, effective antiseptic, with proven antimicrobial properties (anti-bacteria or anti-fungals) and antivirals. A recent study revealed that the antiviral agents in Australian tea tree oil is a promising combative to recurring herpes.
It is also an effective skincare treatment for blemishes and acne-prone skin.
4. Kakadu Plum/Billy Goat Plum
This Northern Territory native fruit (Terminalia ferdinandiana) is the world’s highest source of Vitamin C, an essential nutrient rich in antioxidants. Not only is Vitamin C a valuable dietary supplement, but is also involved in tissue repair and building collagen; which plays a role in wound healing and anti-aging. As well as having outstanding Vitamin C content, it is also rich in iron and Vitamin E.
Its round light green fruits can be eaten raw or made into a jam or paste and is also sold as a powder. The fruit is tart and has a floral musk, some say the taste is similar to an English Gooseberry.
Welcome to Australia: A bilby delivers our Easter Eggs and 'a Kakadu Plum a day, keeps the doctor away'.
5. Kangaroo Apple
Kangaroo Apple (Solanum laciniatum) is a natural anti-inflammatory steroid which aids the production of cortisone, and is good for treating achy joints and wounds, as well as encourages skin rejuvenation on scarring, pigmentation and aging.
This is incredible bush medicine is used traditionally as a poultice and applied to joint pain for thousands of years. The fruits (orange, with juicy pulp and shaped like a candle light globe) are known to be good bush tucker - however, only when it is thoroughly ripe. The unripe fruit and its greens are poisonous.
Despite its fruity name, Kangaroo Apple is actually a part of the potato family and buds attractive small purple flowers. It grows in colder parts of the country, Ngunnawal (Canberra), Yuin (NSW South Coast), Kurnai (country Victoria) and Northern Tasmania lands.
6. Emu Bush
Emu Bush (Eremophila longifolia) has been valued for both, medicinal and ceremonial purposes by Indigenous people in coastal parts of Australia. The leaves have been used as a decoction, for sores and wounds; an infusion for colds, headaches, chest pains and diarrhea treatment and smoked to create a sterile environment for newborn babies and healing new mothers.
An Australian icon. Today, Eucalyptus oil is mostly found in lollies, mouthwash and used for aromatic purposes more so than strictly medicinally, but it's traditional uses continue to remain where the benefits lie – natural pain relief and fever reduction.
Eucalyptus is a proven antibacterial and has analgesic properties, and can therefore treat colds and respiratory problems, joint and muscle pain, dental health, fungal infections and wounds. The nostalgic stinging scent is also brilliant natural insect repellent.
8. Snake Vine
This is another incredible anti-inflammatory and antiseptic bush medicine. The leaves and stems of Snake Vine (Hibbertia scandens) were warmed and mashed into a paste and used as a topical application for pain of arthritis for joints and other inflammation from injuries. The sap was also used as a broad spectrum antiseptic. This practice was widely used by Aboriginal peoples of central and northern Australia. 'Ngalyipi' is the Warlpiri word for this plant.
Snake Vine is a fairly vigorous climbing plant and can grow upto 5 metres long. It has large leaves and blooms big yellow flowers in the warmer seasons.
9. Witchetty Grub
A good known bush tucker, and in this case, also good bush medicine. Nutritionally, witchetty grubs (E. leucomochla) are great source of protein and for 5 - 12 cm size creature, it packs in 'good fats' and Vitamin C. Externally, the insects are used as a treatment of burns and open wounds, after being crushed and made into a paste and then sealed to help the skin heal.
10. Umbrella Bush Wattle
Indigenous people soaked the bark of the Umbrella Bush Wattle (Acacia ligulata Benth) in water or boiled it and the decoction was used as a cough medicine for sore throats and a remedy for dizziness and nerves/anxiety. People in the Western Australian region would also char the shrub and mix the ash ash with a native tobacco (Pituri) for chewing to relieve sore gums.
Like all medicines, bush medicines should be taken with care and as advised by land-owners, healers or naturopath professionals. Contributing to the demand for Australian bush medicines will benefit communities who harvest these natural national gems, so next time you're looking for a non-artificial alternative, look no further than your own backyard.