Children, The Family and Health: What it Takes to Give Children Long Life
The Singapore Workshop: Traditional Australian Remedies
Extracts taken from “Bush Medicine” A Pharmacopoeia of Natural remedies by Tim Low.
“Aborigines often had need of bush medicines. Sleeping at night by fires meant they sometimes suffered from burns. Strong sunshine and certain foods caused headaches, and eye infections were common. Feasting on sour fruits or rancid meat brought on digestive upsets, and although tooth decay was not a problem, course gritty food sometimes wore teeth down to the nerves. Aborigines were also occasionally stung by Stingrays, Stone Fish, Jelly Fish and Snakes.
To deal with such ailments, Aborigines resorted to a range of remedies - wild herbs, animal products, steam baths, clay pills, charcoal and mud, massages, string amulets and secret chants.
Many remedies, of course, did directly heal. Aromatic herbs, tannin-rich inner barks and kinos have well-documented therapeutic effects.
It is important to note that Aboriginal remedies varied between tribes”.
Most bush medicines consist of bark, root, or leaves of various plants, although people also employ non-herbal objects in healing.
For example: Witchetty grubs are also useful in burns and in treating deep wounds. The grubs are crushed or pounded and spread thickly over the affected part. This protects the injured area from air and external irritants, prevents the loss of water from damaged tissues and promotes healing.
Another example is the Aboriginal cure for diarrhoea consisting of crushed termite mounds mixed with honey ants. This utilises the same principles as those found in more technologically developed medical systems: lost electrolytes are replaced, easily absorbed carbohydrates are provided, and the absorption of toxic substances present in the bowel is facilitated. Similarly, Aboriginal people made cold remedies from various melaleuca and eucalyptus species, and these contain essential oils, tannins and saponins, all chemicals valued world wide in breaking up phlegm and mucous, in increasing respiration and as antiseptics.
Here are some brief examples of traditional remedies used by Aborigines in Australia
|What Was Used||Remedy For|
|Aromatic Round - leafed mint bush||Coughs & Colds|
|Weeping tea tree leaves crushed||Coughs & Colds|
|Fleshy Pigface leaves||Purgative|
|Sow thistle leaves||Emetic|
|Crimson fuchsia bush||Scabies|
|Peppermint Eucalyptus||Relieve Colic|
|Tick-weed & Desert Poplar||Treat Rheumatism|
|Leaves of the River Red Gum|
|& the Fuchsia bushes||Antiseptic Applied to wounds|
|Tea Tree Oil||Attacks different forms of Bacteria|
|Tannin rich inner barks and gum-like Kinos of Eucalypts||Gum and throat afflictions, Diarrhoea, Burns & Abrasions|
|Cypress Pine leaves||Poultice on rashes|
A fuller list is included in Bush Medicine by Tim Low pp226 & 227.
Australia’s Early Settlers
Australia’s pioneers lived in rough huts made from materials from the bush. When they fell ill they also depended on remedies from the bush either self-invented or learned from sympathetic Aborigines.
A different kind of herbalism was practised by pioneering families who lived on farms. Many immigrants, especially the older women, had knowledge of European herbs.
Author Dame Mary Gilmore, who grew up near Goulburn in the 1870’s, describes herbalism on a country farm in her memoirs Old Days, Old Ways:
“Up by the barns and cow-yard there were nettles for the blood, horehound for coughs and colds, and dock for poultices. But dock was used like horehound and nettles, for beer; sometimes it was wrapped round tough meat with the idea of making it tender. In the thick, unfelled bush above the horse-and-cattle yards were native hop, “sarsaparilla,” the bottle-brush flower of the wild honey suckle, together with geebungs, wild cherry, eucalyptus, wattle, kurrajong, and pine.
The wild hop made yeast; the “sarsaparilla” made naughty boys good by clearing their “overcrowded” blood; the bottle-brush soaked in soft water yielded syrup for sore throats and cold; the wattle bark the aborigines had taught us to make into a tan lotion for unbroken burns and scalds; the eucalyptus (also native teaching) made vapour in pits, or in bed, for chills and pains; the pine, too, was inhaled...
Into the big kitchen with its cedar tables black with age, all these came; and what was not simmered in the great cauldron, or brewed in three legged pot, went into the brick oven; there to soak, there to steep, or there to slowly dry.”
A lot of the early Australian remedies were a compilation of European, Aboriginal and Bush remedies learned from practical experience.
Since the introduction of Antibiotics and other man made remedies for different ailments a lot of the traditional remedies in Australia haven’t been used widely for a number of years. However, with the overuse of antibiotics, today more and more families and even some doctors are incorporating some traditional herbal medicine in treating common illnesses. Antibiotics are less frequently prescribed and children in particular are allowed to fight off uncomplicated illnesses such as coughs and colds.
Eucalyptus Oil and tea tree oil are natural Australian remedies and are being used today.
For example: Eucalyptus Oil - Eucalyptus is a very aromatic plant which has excellent disinfectant and healing properties. Diluted, it can be used as an antiseptic, or as a douche, gargle, or bath. A few drops in hot water is great as an inhaler for colds or respiratory problems, or a few drops on your handkerchief or pajamas helps a stuffy nose.
A few drops of eucalyptus oil can be placed in your bath to aid skin problems such as sores, itches, dry skin, and wounds. It is an antiseptic and disinfectant, and will aid the healing of these skin problems. It can also be used in creams and massage oils, and when massaged into joints will relieve swelling and pain.
Tea Tree Oil is another natural antiseptic, and is excellent for the skin. It can be used to treat minor cuts and grazes as well as fungal infections such as Athlete’s Foot. A few drops in warm water with witch hazel will make a helpful douche for candida. Acne problems also benefit from the use of tea tree oil, used in a gel over a few months.
Even today medicines that are prescribed often include ingredients used in early traditional remedies. If you look at the bottles of medicines purchased from the Chemist they will have many of the herbs mentioned already.
This has been a brief outline only and with further study I’m sure many, many more traditional remedies that have been used and that are still used today could be named.
Last Modified: June 05, 2010