Many herbs that we know today have been used for thousands of years and were used by the great civilisations of the ancient world. They were originally wild plants gathered for a variety of purposes including foods, preservatives and flavourings, beverages, insecticides and insect repellents, perfumes, fragrances, religious worship and decoration. Later they were cultivated and found to be useful as companion plants, bee plants, compost accelerators and for making fungicidal and insecticidal preparations. Traditional herbs from Europe have been augmented by useful plants from the rest of the world, including many plants used by the aborigines. They form an important part of modern living, their value once again becoming recognised in the community.
What is an herb?
Botanists describe a herb as a small, seed bearing plant with soft, fleshy parts which die down after flowering. It is often referred to as ‘herbaceous’ and would include such plants as bulbs. Such a definition excludes most plants considered as herbs. A more appropriate definition for an herb is a plant that is useful in some way, e.g. culinary, medicinal, perfume etc. Herb plants include herbaceous perennials, trees, shrubs, annuals, biennials and more primitive pants such as ferns, mosses, algae, lichens and fungi.
Here are few most common popular Australian herbs:
Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Bundjalung Aboriginal people from the coast of New South Wales crushed tea-tree (or paper bark) leaves and applied the paste to wounds as well as brewing it to a kind of tea for throat ailments. In the 1920s, scientific experiments proved that the tea-tree oil’s antiseptic potency was far stronger than the commonly used antiseptic of the time. Since then, the oil has been used to treat everything from fungal infections of the toenails to acne.
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.
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.
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 (Ficus opposita) and Stinking Passion Flower (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.
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.
Quandong (Santalum acuminatum)
Quandong, or Desert Peach, is a member of the Sandalwood family. It?s well known amongst Aboriginal Australians both for its usefulness in treating skin and scalp conditions, and as a bush food. The bark and roots contain anti bacterial properties. Quandong kernels contain valuable oil that has as a soothing, anti inflammatory action on the skin.
Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)
lemon myrtle is a flowering plant in the family Myrtaceae, genus Backhousia. It is endemic to subtropical rainforests of central and south-eastern Queensland, Australia. Indigenous Australians have long used lemon myrtle, both in cuisine and as a healing plant. The oil has the highest citral purity. The oil is a popular ingredient in health care and cleaning products, especially soaps, lotions and shampoos.