Native Australian Plants: Traditional Uses And The Medicinal Effects On Us

Academic Essays, Blog, Goat's Foot, Herbal Medicine, Tea Tree

I have been living in Canada for roughly two years when I wrote this essay, and I wanted to go to a space where I felt the most at home, naturally I thought what better then diving into native Australian plants and some of the benefits that these plants have for us if we were to use them medicinally. This then got me thinking what did the Aboriginals of Australia use these plants for? And what would we use these plants for now? These thoughts are what brough "Native Australian Plants and Their Traditional Uses and Their Medicinal Effects on us" to the world. 

Australia is filled with many different biomes, from dry deserts to luscious rainforests, which has resulted in many different species of plants being able to grow. In Australia, there are different kinds of plants compared to the plants around the world. For over 50,000 years, Australian Aboriginals have had a deep connection with the land and the plants amongst it, which has led the Australian Aboriginals to be able to pass down their knowledge of native plants and their medicinal uses as well as teach it to the next generation. Nowadays, in Western medicine, we have also been able to learn and establish a scientific understanding of the plants, as well as break down the components and study these plants to understand how they work. It is also important to note that Australian Aboriginals would do simple plant extractions because they had limited capacity to heat up liquids. Some extractions would be to bruise or pound plant material, heat it up, put the plant mush into a poultice or extract it with cold water. In this exploration of Australian plants, we will go deeper into some more well-known plants like Tea Tree, Goat's Foot and Emu Bush to discuss their traditional usage and how they can be used medically, whether that be in our modern-day society or how they were used medicinally in the past.

Tea tree oil, also known as Melaleuca alternifolia, or Kalara to the Aboriginal people is a native plant to Queensland and the Northeast of New South Whales and is usually found along wet environments like streams or swamps. It can sometimes be found in all the subtropic areas of Australia as well as other countries like Vietnam and Thailand. These pools of water or lagoons where the Tea Tree is found can be referred to as “healing lakes”(Carson, 2006). Healing lakes can be explained when Tea Tree leaves fall off the tree and into the water. The leaves then infuse with the water, and because the swamps and lagoons in Australia are warmer due to the tropic region, it creates a tea and instills the water with medical properties. Healing lakes are still known in the aboriginal communities to be used by women for child-birthing rituals; although these ceremonies no longer happen, they were most common among the Bundjalung people (Carson, 2006). It is also one of many plants that are becoming more popular today, being found in more and more beauty products in stores worldwide. Tea tree is known mainly for its anti-microbial and antibacterial properties and is rooted in Aboriginal traditions. Some of these practices include heating the crushed tea tree leaves and breathing in the vapours. This was done to treat coughs and colds. Another practice was to topically apply crushed-up leaves to the point that they became a paste to be then covered in a mud poultice to treat wounds and infections. In addition to these two factors, it was also infused and then used to treat sore throats and skin ailments among the Aboriginal people, which would have been done in a cold extraction method. Tea Tree oil is already commonly found amongst shampoos, cleansers, and insect repellents and is known for its medicinal actions in assisting acne, lice, fungus, cuts and insect bites and I believe we could use Tea Tree in even more ways today. Including the oil within childbirth ceremonies, or using it for other skin ailments. There is also potential for this plant because of its antiviral properties. If we study and prove Tea Tree Oil’s antiviral effects, we could have the capacity to treat a wider variety of fungal diseases.

Goat’s foot, or Ipomoea pes-caprae in Latin, is native to Australia. However, this plant can be found almost worldwide due to its seeds and habitat. Goat’s foot is mostly found along the beach and coastline, as well as sand dunes and is known to ‘prevent the erosion of sand dunes’ (Devall, 1992). The habitat for this plant has made it very easy to spread its seeds, and that's why it can now be found in other subtropic countries as well as some pan-topic countries. This also raises the question of whether climate change is one of the reasons that this plant is able to spread so far. Goat’s foot is known in many cultures for its medicinal uses and for treating a wide variety of illnesses. Australian Aboriginals have also used this plant traditionally for different medicinal purposes. Medically, Goat’s foot has been used topically for wounds and infections, although the leaves were also gathered and heated to use for stings from poisonous fish as well as manta rays, jellyfish stings and insects(Pereda-Miranda, 2005). In other cultures, the usage of goat’s foot can be for medicinal purposes involving digestion or even used spiritually, or for food, cooking parts like the root and leaves during times of famine. Goat’s foot is also known to be poisonous when not cooked properly, which is another thing to consider when working with it. Goat’s foot mainly features antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antinociceptive, antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-spasmodic, antitumour and antiproliferative properties (Akinniyi, 2022). With lots of different actions, it's no wonder this plant was used for a widespread of illnesses. Goat’s foot, although very common to find, is something that isn't common commercially; although you may find it in some topical gels for skin issues, it is rare. I feel like this plant could be more commonly used in our society, especially with how abundant itis in the world, creating more products for insect bites as well as skin issues like wounds or cuts and even be used to treat digestive issues, arthritis and fatigue. While getting stung by a jellyfish or running into a jellyfish is quite rare in North America, it could be important knowledge to pass down to children or future generations. This is a plant that hasn’t been extensively studied, and I think that with more studies and in-depth knowledge, there is potential for this plant to be used to treat a wide variety of common ailments.

Eremophilia spp. Also known as Emu Bush or Berrigan to the Aboriginals, is another native plant to Australia. While there are many subspecies of this plant, there are around 70subspecies that are known to be therapeutically used by the Aboriginal people. This plant is very well known when it comes to rituals or cleansing, as well as funerals and graves (Cock,2022). This really signifies the importance and how sacred this plant is to the Aboriginal people. Emu Bush has been used for many medicinal reasons. Most commonly, Emu bush is used to treat skin wounds and infections, and traditionally, Aboriginals would decoct it within their baths. It was also used as a decoction for colds and the flu, as well as wrapped around the head to treat sinus issues. There is also evidence of the plant being mixed with animal fat to create a body scrub to treat chest pain or consumed to treat gastrointestinal diseases such as food poisoning or a variety of other ailments. This plant has endless medicinal abilities, which are still significant today. Today, Aboriginals still use this plant in ceremonies and rituals as the leaves are heated up on embers to produce smoke that will kill bacteria and fungal pathogens as well as prevent people from getting sick. This traditional method is how the Aboriginal people would also protect themselves. Multiple studies for this plant have proven that Emu Bush is antibacterial as well as highly antimicrobial (Hossain,201; Ndi, 2007). Emu bush is also both immunomodulating and anti-inflammatory (Cock,52022).

With so many different studies as well as different subspecies to look into, there are multiple studies that have been done with numerous proven medicinal benefits. Emu Bush is one plant that I would be more respectful to use as it is a sacred plant to the Aboriginal people, and they use it for cultural traditions, rituals and medicinal uses. There are already multiple farms worldwide for Emu Bush that distribute essential oils and plenty of corporations using it commercially. It is also quite common to see this plant in cosmetic store products, such as moisturizers. This plant is also easy to grow, and with its numerous proven benefits, it could be something to use for a variety of things such as baths, decoctions, and even sterilizing open wounds. When using this plant, you should honour the traditional uses and the sacred journey this plant has been on. Using this plant in more herbal remedies could be more beneficial with its antimicrobial and antifungal properties, and using it in a wider variety of beauty products or creams. When it comes to native plants, Australia is naturally suited to have a wide variety of plants and animals. However, due to historical and cultural implications, there are some concerns. While Tea Tree, Goat’s Foot, and Emu Bush are all great examples of how we could use natural remedies to treat modern medical problems such as insect bites and open wounds, we must also consider the possibility of overharvesting these plants, proper preparation in order not to poison yourself and the cultural significance within the Aboriginal people and how it could possibly affect you. I believe that the plants that we have explored have the potential to be used more commonly as long as they are used correctly and respectfully.


Akinniyi, G., Lee, J., Kim, H., Lee, J. G., & Yang, I. (2022). A Medicinal Halophyte Ipomoea pes-caprae (Linn.) R. Br.: A Review of Its Botany, Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry, and Bioactivity. Marine drugs, 20(5), 329.

Carson, C. F., Hammer, K. A., & Riley, T. V. (2006). Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clinical microbiology reviews, 19(1), 50–62.

Cock, I. E., Baghtchedjian, L., Cordon, M. E., & Dumont, E. (2022). Phytochemistry, Medicinal Properties, Bioactive Compounds, and Therapeutic Potential of the Genus Eremophila (Scrophulariaceae). Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 27(22), 7734.

Devall, M. S. (1992). The Biological Flora of Coastal Dunes and Wetlands. 2. Ipomoea Pes-Caprae (L.) Roth. Journal of Coastal Research, 8(2), 442–456.

Hossain, M. A., Biva, I. J., Kidd, S. E., Whittle, J. D., Griesser, H. J., & Coad, B. R. (2019). Antifungal Activity in Compounds from the Australian Desert Plant Eremophila alternifolia with Potency Against Cryptococcus spp. Antibiotics (Basel, Switzerland), 8(2), 34.

Ndi, C. P., Semple, S. J., Griesser, H. J., Pyke, S. M., & Barton, M. D. (2007). Antimicrobial compounds from Eremophila serrulata. Phytochemistry, 68(21), 2684–2690.

Pereda-Miranda, R., Escalante-Sánchez, E., & Escobedo-Martínez, C. (2005). Characterization of lipophilic pentasaccharides from beach morning glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae). Journal of natural products, 68(2), 226–230.

January 31, 2024

Hello! I'm Lisa, a Nutrition and Phytotherapy student passionate health and sustainability. Currently immersed in the fascinating world of nutrient-rich diets and the amazing benefits of plant medicine, I'm on a mission to unravel the secrets of holistic well-being. Nature is my sanctuary, and travel is my compass, allowing me to draw inspiration from diverse cultures and cuisines. As a health enthusiast, I advocate for a balanced approach that nurtures not only the body but also the mind and soul.

Lisa Forbriger

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