I recently went to a workshop in Bush Medicine that was run as part of Bundanoon’s 2018 Winterfest programme. Held in a sunny room at the local CWA, a group of about 9 adults and kids got to touch, smell, crackle and rub our way through an interactive two hours about fascinating local treasures, hidden in plain view.
All of my information below comes from Aunty Wendy Lotter (of Platypus Dreamin Aboriginal Cultural Programs and Bushwalks).
Bundanoon’s New South Wales is Gundungurra Country. Because Australia is vast and ecologically diverse, the plants used for bush medicine in one area may not be the same as another. This information really only relates to the native plants that grow in Bundanoon and surrounding areas.
The seeds of Lomandra longifolia (Mat Rush) can be used to make flour.
Wide-leafed Geebung can be crushed into a damper. You can also make tea from the leaves.
Mountain Devil flower (Lambertia Formosa) can be used for hydration. Pull off the red flowers and suck the bottom to make a sweet, honey-flavoured drink.
If you already have water but are after a treat, put in some red banksia for a sweet drink.
Rolling a seedpod from the casuarina plant around your mouth will stimulate your saliva glands and help you out in a hydration emergency.
The paperbark tree has the consistency of many layers of tissue paper stuck together. Take a guess what it can be used for.
It is useful for many things, including as a canvas for painting and drawing symbols.
It was also used by our first peoples as toilet paper, sanitary napkins, and bandages.
For wounds and gashes, paperbark is great for the bandage, but you might also need some antiseptic. Tea tree (used for cleaning at my place) is great for helping stop infection. Place a wad beneath the paperbark bandage and tie it on with a blad of kangaroo grass.
Even in rain, the string bark will be dry if you go down to the 4th layer. Pull strips off, crush them into fine kindling fragments, and then light with your rubbing sticks.
The candlestick banksia will light up and stay lit for around 20 minutes.
The old man banksia can stay alight for hours.
Mix the root of the Bracken fern with water and apply to stings.
Bracken fern is also an insect repellant. You can lay some in the bottom of a large coolamon (a curved wooden tray) and put your baby on top.
Need a hairbrush?
If you need to brush your hair, the small and soft hairpin banksia will leave you with neater locks and a lustrous shine.
The red and purple banksia seeds can be crushed, made into a paste, smeared over the head to kill head lice.
Get a few nostrils full of tea tree fragrance. It will calm you down as well as being a good antiseptic.
Grab a handful of leaves from the Balck Wattle plant and dunk in water. Crush into a ball and rub to make a lather. The leaves leave skin feeling and looking clean. Anecdotally, this natural soap is especially effective for psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis. Twice a day on the black wattle regimen and it all goes fairly quickly.
The versatile Kangaroo grass can be used for sawing and cutting when held at either end of a blade. It’s one of those grasses that will be fine to touch, but rub them the wrong way and you’ll get a fine cut.
Cold and flu?
I can personally vouch for this one. I attended the workshop with a nasty head cold, hoping to get some of the native good stuff.
Do this in sequence:
Tear a few leaves of the Blue Gum (aka Argyle Apple; Eucalyptus Cinerea). Inhale. Ah!
Next, do the same with a few leaves of kangaroo mint (aka native mint). Inhale. Again. Again.Mmm-mm. Mix them into a potpourri with the blue gum. The job of the kangaroo mint is to clear the chest and sinuses and headache. It also sharpens the senses.
Now, grab some delighted lemon-scented tea tree. I love this stuff. Add that to your hand. Breathe. Ahhh.
Last, do this step separately. Discard the other leaves first. Take a bunch of leaves from the bottlebrush (melaleuca hypericifolia) tree. This is the one with small orange and red flowers.
Crush the leaves your palm and breathe in. This will help move all those effects from the other aromas through your body.
Before you go…
Australia’s first people are the oldest continuing culture on this planet and never fail to amaze me. I am always learning incredible information about what is in plain sight. If you get a chance to do learn about the local bush medicine in your area, I recommend it highly.
And another thing… the first two people on Earth were not black. If they had have been, Adam and Eve would have eaten the snake, not the apple.
Thank you, Aunty Wendy. Thank you also Yvonne Crofts for sharing photos with me.