Health

Traditional remedies find support from scientists, public

The sale provides jobs for the local Indians who harvest the crops in Aboriginal lands for young people undergoing treatment for kidney failure, and covers the cost of providing free balm for dialysis patients at one of Purple House’s 18 remote locations.

Pitjantjatjara woman Ngoi Ngoi Donald’s people traditionally harvested the leaves of plants at home to make medicines. Visiting the Purple House for dialysis Ms. Donald applied a massage made from the leaves of Irmangka Irmangka (Eremophila alternifolia) mixed with beeswax and olive oil to her arthritic hand, which she believed helped.

Bush Balms' deputy manager Deanne Wano. Bush Balm was originally made by and for indigenous dialysis patients at the Purple House. It's now a social enterprise providing jobs to local indigenous people who harvest the plants, work in the new kitchen and manufacturing facility, and provide free balm to dialysis patients.

Bush Balms’ deputy manager Deanne Wano. Bush Balm was originally made by and for indigenous dialysis patients at the Purple House. It’s now a social enterprise providing jobs to local indigenous people who harvest the crops, work in the new kitchen and manufacturing facility, and provide free balm to dialysis patients. Recognition:Rhett Wyman

The sale and popularity of traditional Aboriginal bush remedies is increasing across Australia as they gain recognition from scholars and institutions.

Last October the Imperial College College Life Sciences Review reported on traditional bush medicine, including Old Man’s Weed Gukwonderuk (Centipeda cunninghamii), which was used by Victoria’s Wotjobaluk people to treat arthritis and joint pain. Extracts from this herb are also found in modern remedies, it said. Another common herbal remedy was the juice of the native, or cherry ballart (Exocarpas cupressiformis), used for snake bites.

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To avoid pregnancy, indigenous women made tea from boiling unripe kangaroo apple (Solanum aviculare). The same fruit is grown in Russia for use in commercial contraceptives.

Dr. Beth Gott, a 95-year-old ethno-botanist from Monash University, studied traditional Aboriginal medicine for most of her life.

In a guide to an exhibition on Australian Indigenous Healing Practices that toured the UK and Germany, Dr. God said salt bush was used to treat cuts and stings, banksias were used to cleanse water, and hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) were used to relieve the pain of toothaches and cuts.

Dr. Jacqueline Healy, museum director of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at Melbourne University, said that Australians often talk about Chinese medicine, but that Aboriginal Australians have been making bush medicines for much longer. “I don’t know why we don’t admire it,” she said.

At Purple House, rubs are viewed as part of a holistic treatment approach. Patients can apply them to their bodies, but they cannot take traditional medications because of the risk of complications with traditional treatment.

“People have been making them for thousands of years,” said Purple House CEO Ms. Brown. “They didn’t want to go out and pick animal fat and use it … to make things that the hell did not work.”

The bush remedy market is growing with new products and new vendors, said Samoane Regattieri, director of Aboriginal Bush Traders in Darwin.

“I sell a ton of it,” she said of Purple House’s Bush Balms. Ms. Regattieri said she could not keep up with demand for Bush Medijina products made by Aboriginal women in Groote Eylandt.

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