Thursday, May 19, 2011

Australian Native Plants, some potent forces....

Traditions of bush food, and medicines, are passed on orally as an adjunct to learning the landscape here, and this has in places been undeniably fragmented by colonisation, but reweaving is and has been going on. Records kept in a written culture are expanding as Indigenous communities speak for themselves, teach and create educational syllabus. These are a good source of learning for those of us with an interest, and provide a continuity different to the documents of early voyages and expeditions from Europee.
A crucial part of knowing what you can eat or make medicines is often in how to prepare them and that applies everywhere. For example, the ‘cycad palm’ seeds that look so delectable, (Australia has 28 species) all require extensive processing. Be that baking in coals for an hour and then soaking in water for 6 to ten days, or roasting, pounding and then soaking in water for two weeks. A plant like the bunya-bunya pine has large tasty nuts which simply require boiling and then peeling off of the outer husk to reveal a nutty treat. The macadamia nut is a low preparation nut by comparison. Its a question of getting to know the plants and doing some research. They sit at different points along a sliding scale of preparation required to maximise nourishment and minimise harm.

Perhaps being some of the most ancient species on the planet some species feel they’ve done their time as food and medicine.The women who did most of the gathering had to be skilled botanists. Plant food sources were up to 80% of the diet in desert areas, down to about 40% on the coast

Fruits seem to be some of the more approachable bushfoods. Some , like those of the lilly pilly, Syzygium species, are now commonly available in nurserys.

I would like to talk about  pigface, Carpobrotus rossii,  so named because of the fruits ‘snout and ears’. If you get coastal in your travels you would probably recognise her. Vibrant pink flowers and succulent leaves trail along the sand. The fruits redden as they reach maturity and when ripe you pick em and simply squeeze the fruit out of its skin and into your mouth. They taste almost like a salty kiwifruit.

"In the early days in this big wide open country, there was always healing cures here on the Land -the healing songs, fat, paintings and the healers - and its still the same now, even after all the old-time elders have passed on."
                                                  Veronica Perrurle Dobson, Arrernte traditional healer, 2007
Medicines are invaluable to identity and community health, sharing them is a gift and harvesting while also maintaining a plant poulation is a skill. For example, a plant may be slow growing and hence not recover easily from too large a harvest, some tubers or roots when pulled thats it for that individual plants life cycle but if you break a small piece off and replant itm thatll shoot . So if you want to nourish a patch, learn about how it grows over time and keep an eye out for its health. Itll be appreciated and thats a nice vibe....

Different preparation techniques which could be used in creating medicines, as in other traditions, include ointments made with animal fat, poultices, 'kino' (dried sap) and 'smoking' or inhalations. Smoking can be used both medicinally, and ceremonially. A small fire is lit and the leaves put on, usually picked from plants high in essential oils like eucalypts, and tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia. Their ability in the treatment of colds and flus, or as an antibacterial to prevent infection has led to the essential oils from them being used globally. These can burn the skin neat, and are best used diluted.

The vegetation of Australia is so varied that theres much to be learned. But I did just want to write something to acknowledge the potency of some Australian native plants and the skills required to 'live on the land', as a follow up to the previous post. 

Veronica Perrurle Dobson. 'Arrente Traditional Healing'.
Institute for Aboriginal Development. 'Punu: Yankunytjatjara Plant Use'.
Minmia. 'Under the Quandong Tree'.
Peter Latz. 'Pocket Bushtucker'.
Tim Low. 'Wild Food Plants of Australia' and 'Wild Herbs of Australia and New Zealand'.
E.V. Lassak and  T. McCarthy. 'Australian Medicinal Plants'.
Compiled by  Michael Richardson. 'Your Own Resources: A Practical Guide for Self Supporting People in Australia'.

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