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The adjective 'native' emphasises that these were quite different species from their European namesakes. They also ate plants unfamiliar to later Tasmanians, such as honeysuckle nectar, pith from manferns, and the 'native bread' fungus. The fermented sap of the cider gum apparently provided a weakly alcoholic beverage, used occasionally.

Plants tell stories of cultural connection

Two of the modern nutritionist's recommended food groups were absent: cereal grains and milk apart from extended breast-feeding of infants. However, early European medical visitors considered Indigenous people to be in excellent health.

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In recent years, the Palawa Aboriginal community has sought to revive the gathering and use of traditional foods. Chemical analysis has demonstrated the excellent nutritional qualities of the muttonbird, and it is likely that other traditional foods have equally desirable nutritional profiles.

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Others were boiled and inhaled, and occasionally drunk. There were also saps which were directly smeared on the skin, and barks that were smoked or burned. Professor Joanne Jamie, a medicinal chemist from Macquarie University, in Sydney has compiled a database on Aboriginal plants.

Many of those plants, she found, contained anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory compound that are known to western medicine. Bundjalung Aboriginal people from the coast of New South Wales crushed tea-tree or paper bark leaves and applied the paste to wounds as well as brewing it to a kind of tea for throat ailments.

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  • Since then, the oil has been used to treat everything from fungal infections of the toenails to acne. Today the oil is used commercially in mouthwash, throat lozenges and cough suppressants.

    The plum has 50 times the Vitamin C of oranges, and was a major source of food for tribes in the areas where it grows. Some Aboriginal people suck on the bright orange desert mushroom to cure a sore mouth or lips. It has been known to be a kind of natural teething ring, and is also useful for babies with oral thrush. Concoctions of emu bush leaves were used by Northern Territory Aboriginal tribes to wash sores and cuts; occasionally it was gargled.

    Aboriginal People and Their Plants

    In the last decade, leaves from the plant were found to have the same strength as some established antibiotics. South Australian scientists want to use the plant for sterilising implants, such as artificial hips.


    Snake vine. Communities in Central Australia used to crush sections of the vine to treat headaches, rhumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory-related ailments.

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    • The sap and leaves were sometimes used to treat sores and wounds.