Knowledge of plants

Ronald Heron (ref 17) describes 28 plant foods, 19 plant medicines, and 2 fibre plants, as well as animal species including 18 fish, 5 shellfish, 11 bird, 12 marsupial and 4 reptile species used for food in the Clarence Valley.

This knowledge has been passed down through oral history and bush trips since time immemorial, yet is rarely credited in public research

Bundjalung Cures and Medicines

Ref 18 by Robyn Howell

During the course of my research into Aboriginal History and Culture, it has been interesting to note that traditional remedies used by the Bundjalung people of the Richmond River region, are still being used by people from all 'lalks of life today.

For instance, that bottle of Tea Tree Oil in your FirstAid Cabinet, manufactured at Bungawalbyn Creek, has been distilled from Melaleuca al ternifolia. The Bundj alung people made full use of the healing qualities of various Malaleuca species. The young leaves were crushed in water and the mixture drunk to relieve colds, congestion and headaches. The bark was wrapped around fractures and placed over wounds. Wattles (Acacia spp.) were used in a variety of ways:-

  1. Green, unripe seeds were crushed and used as soap;
  2. The pale amber gum was chewed for dysentery and diarrhoea;
  3. Water in which bark had been soaked was used for treating burns, blisters and rashes.

Kino extracted from the burls (knobbly lumps) of Apple Trees (Angophora spp.) was used for the grooming of hair; and was drunk for the treatment of diarrhoea. Following childbirth, both mother and baby were anoited with kino. The fine, clean ash of the burnt timber was mixed with water and rubbed over the teeth to clean and vhiten them. Many of the Eucalyptus spp. were used for a variety of medicinal purposes:-

Dysentery; colic; diarrhoea; headaches; colds; congestion; fevers; conjunctivitis; snake bites; wounds; burns; blisters; sore throats; rheumatism.

The leaves of the Native Daphne (Pittosporum undulatum) were crushed and applied to sprains.

The sweetish underground stem of the Common Reed (Phragwas mites australia or P. communis) was chewed or made into a drink to relieve arthritis, food poisoning and jaundice.

The leaves of the Bat's Wing Coral Tree (Erythrina vespertili) were crushed and used as a sedative.

The white sap or latex of the Fig Trees (Ficus spp.) was used to remove warts, and applied to skin rashes, infections and small wounds.

Leaves of the Forest Clematis (Clematis glycinoides) were crushed and inhaled to cure colds and headaches.

Acacia species (Wattles) There are more than 700 varieties of wattle in Australia. Forests benefit from wattles as they take nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the soil.

a) The pale amber gum oozing from the bark of some wattles was used as a chewing gum. In some places this gum was soaked in water with honey added to make a type of edible toffee.

b) The djubar(d-joo-bar) was the name given to a grub that was found in wattle trees. It was eaten raw or cooked on the fire.

c) The seeds of some wattles such as Flat-stemmed Wattle (Acacia complonata) and Boobyalla (Acacia sophorae) were edible. The seed pods were roasted then the seeds were removed and eaten. The young shoots of these wattles were cooked and eaten.

d) The fibre was used for making twine, which then had a multitude of uses. To make the twine, the inner bark of various plants such as wattles, kurrajongs, native hibiscus was first; chewed or pounded, then rolled on the thigh to provide the required thickness. This twine was then woven, knotted. or coiled into artefacts such as nets, fishing lines, bags, mats, etc. Methods used were very intricate, and the finished articles proved very strong and, durable. Good examples of artefacts manufactured by the Bundjalung people are on display in our North Coast Museums.

  1. Seeds and flowers were used for decoration.
  2. The wood was used for making spears, clubs and boomerangs.
  3. The gum .was mixed .with clay to pack holes in canoes.

h) The green, unripe seeds of Long Leaf Wattle (Acacia longifolia) were used as a soap.

i) The pale amber gum of various species was chewed as a cure for dysentery and diarrhoea.

j) Bark or roots were soaked in water to produce a liquid drunk for the relief of coughs and colds. This same liquid was used for treating burns, blisters and rashes.

k) The bark from a variety of wattle was used for wrapping around fractured limbs, and was bound firmly with wattle or kurrajong twine. The bark itself was said to have aided in the healing process.

1) The leaves and bark of some species such as Long Leaf Wattle (Acacia longifolia) were used when fishing. The leaves were crushed and thrown into the water, or chips of bark. The fish were affected by this, and would rise to the top of the water, where they were easily taken.

m) The bark of most wattles provide tannin, which was used by Aboriginal people in the process of tanning skins of animals. When Europeans first arrived in Australia they also began using the wattle bark for tanning. In the 1890's, Australia was exporting up to 15,000 tonnes of wattle bark annually.

NOTE: Many of our trees and plants are poisonous or harmful to people and animals. Do not experiment with plants unless positive identification has been made and methods of preparation are fully understood.

To be continued in June Bulletin 1989