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The Aboriginal Healing Practice of Bush Medicine

We all need to know about traditional Aboriginal bush medicine...

A few years ago, my family and I travelled to the top end of Australia. It was one of the most incredible trips of my life. I’ve long been fascinated with traditional Aboriginal culture and in particular Aboriginal bush medicine and the superfoods that grow on this beautiful vast land (that most of us have never heard of), and as a natural therapies practitioner, this trip only piqued my interest further.

Last week was Naidoc week where we acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of our First Nations (and original Australian) people. So, what better time to pay homage to their traditional bush medicine and delve into the wonders of this incredible ancient tradition.

What is bush medicine?

Bush medicine refers to the ancient Indigenous use of native Australian plants and botanicals for both physical and spiritual healing and well-being and has been practiced for thousands of years (about 65,000 give or take).

Aboriginal culture uses bush medicine as a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, and it holds great significance as one of the pillars of tradition that connects Indigenous culture to their land. This ancient knowledge was shared in stories and ceremonies, passed down from generation to generation.

The plants used in bush medicine vary in different parts of Australia and include roots, fruits, seeds, leaves, native grasses and wattles. While some fruits and seeds are seasonal, the roots can generally be dug up and used all year round.

Bush medicine uses plants in a variety of ways to dispel illness. Some plants are crushed and heated and applied to the skin, others are boiled and inhaled or drunk as a tea. Saps are smeared on the skin and barks are smoked or burned.

Many different parts of the plant are used depending on the nutritional value. The green plum fruit is rich in vitamin C, the native mint leaf is used for coughs and colds, while the gum from gum trees, which is rich in tannin, is used for burns.

What can we learn from bush medicine?

It’s incredible to think that over all those generations, the land provided all that was needed for a healthy and vital life. As one of the oldest cultures in the world, there is so much we can learn from this incredible practice.

While there are some remedies (such as eucalyptus for colds and congestion) that are well-known cures in today’s society, bush medicine is still largely unknown. It’s more important than ever to preserve these traditions for future generations.

Here’s a list of some common Aboriginal bush medicines and their uses:

1. Tee Tree Oil – applied as a paste and applied to wounds or brewed as a tea for throat ailments

2. Eucalyptus Oil – infused for body aches and pains, sore throats and congestion

3. Billy Goat or Kakadu Plum – found in the Nothern Territory and Western Australia, this is the world’s richest source of Vitamin C. It has 50 times the Vitamin C of oranges and was a major source of food for the tribes in the areas it grows.

4. Desert Mushrooms – known to relieve sore lips and mouths, and as a natural teething ring, and is also useful for babies with oral thrush.

5. Emu Bush - Emu bush leaves are used by Northern Territory Aboriginal tribes to wash sores and cuts; and occasionally gargled. In the last decade, leaves from the plant were found to have the same strength as some established antibiotics. South Australian scientists have shown interest in using the plant for sterilising implants, such as artificial hips.

6. Witchetty Grub – Applied as a paste, placed on burns and covered with a bandage to seal and soothe the skin.

7. Snake Vine - Sections of the vine are crushed to treat headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory-related ailments. Sores and wounds are often treated with the sap and leaves.

8. Sandpaper Fig and Stinking Passionflower – A combination of the two plants are used to relieve itching and rashes. Ringworm and fungal skin infections can be treated with the milky sap of the stinking passionflower.

9. Kangaroo Apple – This fruit contains a steroid that promotes the production of cortisone and can be used to make a poultice for swollen or inflamed joints.

10. Goats foot – This plant is crushed and heated then applied to the skin to relieve sting ray and stone fish stings.

11. Broad-leaved paperbark – new leaves are chewed for relief of head colds and brewed for headaches, colds and general sickness.

12. Native Cowpea – This plant can be consumed to treat constipation.

13. Pale Turpentine Bush – these leaves provide a universal remedy, especially for tuberculosis and fevers.

14. Drooping She-Oak – mature cones from this tree are crushed up and applied to sores and to treat rheumatism.

15. Hop Bush – the juice of the root is applied to treat cuts and toothache. The chewed leaf is applied to stings and bound up for 4 or 5 days.

16. Old Mans Weed – used to treat eye infections, tuberculosis and skin complaints.

As you can see, there is so much we can learn from the knowledge of the Aboriginal people and while many of us search for the latest supplements and superfoods from overseas, it’s worth noting that these bush medicine superfoods are right under our noses.

There are a few stunning brands that are promoting the uses of bush medicine and are definitely worth a look. Kakadu Plum and Bush Medijina are a couple of our faves.

Petra & The Pod Health Co. team x


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