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Aboriginal Healing

Earlier this year, my mind hobbled over a few issues, I visited   mind-body medicine therapist, Alison Corsie to find clarity. Among Alison’s modalities were some potent flower essences, not from the prolific fields of Britain’s Dr Bach, but from our own wildflower sanctuary of Western Australia. What excited me was that the developers had ratified the healing abilities of these buds by the indigenous Nyoongah people of WA who had been using them for the longest time.

It’s a large shame that that Australia’s indigenous medicinal mastery remains buried while we skull smelly herbal concoctions and welcome the incisive needles of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Since we’re already exploring the beauty and self-purifying rituals of Ayurvedic medicine and the healing vibrations of chanted Indian Sanskrit, why not the rituals, healing songs, ceremonies, herbal remedies our very own ancient tribes?

It seems we need to count on dedicated natural therapy seekers like Living Essences to unearth Australia’s botanical secrets.

Shamanic `tourism’ to Aboriginal communities has been the exception for an informed few for a couple of decades but, if I put my prescient specs on, I reckon India’s ashrams and Australia’s abundance of wellbeing retreats will one day compete for space with Aboriginal healing retreats where whitefellas invest their holiday time in the indigenous manner of holistic healing.

For now at least, the closest most of us are likely to get to Aboriginal magic is a 100ml bottle of goanna oil. 

As with so much culture passed down only through oral tradition, the Australian Aborigines’ rich repository of botanical knowledge has been lost with the ravaging of its population, particularly the healing practices of the southern and eastern tribes.

While the earliest record of Chinese medicinal plants was published about 3000 BC, the first recording of our Aboriginal medicine only found print in 1988: Traditional Bush Medicines: An Aboriginal Pharmacopoeia (Greenhouse Publications), with descriptions and botanic drawings of just 65 plant and five non-plant substances.

I suppose you could argue that their medicine, which is still practiced in remote communities, is hardly designed to deal with pervasive Western complaints such as back problems, cancer and depression, tailored as it is to snake bites, fever, stings, tooth ache and wound management.

Last year however, news website Adelaide Now reported that the Pitjantjatjara Ngangkari (traditional healers) were well in demand at Adelaide’s Native Titles Office where up to 16 people a day received the healing powers of touch and chant to relocate ectopic spirits and resolve various conditions.

As people filter off to integrated medicine and complementary therapies to fill the holes that allopathic medicine is unable to fill, let’s hope some of the wisdom of the world’s longest continuous survivingindigenous people becomes part of our forward healing.


Traditional medicine is a complex system that is entwined with indigenous culture, belief systems, social laws and knowledge of the land, flora and fauna.

Ngangkari, or traditional healers, are chosen. They are trained to restore the spirit (inner wellbeing) and reverse the influence of sorcery and evil spirits. Healing rituals included sucking, massage with potent substances, singing, manipulation of the body.

Plants are collected (often with complex ritual) at specific times to take advantage of varying chemical content according to maturation or season or soil type.

Different tribes use the same plants for completely different medicinal purposes.

Sandpaper Fig – leaves crushed, soaked in water to make a liquid used topically to relieve itchy skin conditions (eg: scabies, tinea).

Morning Glories – heated on a hot stone and applied to stings, skin infections. Antihistamine.

Latex – white fluid found in some plants (eg: fig trees) used in the removal of warts, corns or cleaning foul wounds.

Broad-leaved Paperbark – new leaves chewed for treatment of head colds or brewed for headaches.

Native Cowpea – roots eaten to relieve constipation.

Pale Turpentine bush – leaves brewed as universal remedy but especially tuberculosis and fevers.

Spilanthes or native daisy – a local anaesthetic for toothache.

Bitter bark – a tonic containing reserpine, a tranquilliser and anti-hypertensive.

Green plum – one of the richest sources of Vitamn C in the world , contains 100g.

Witchetty grubs – crushed, used for treatment of burns and wounds.

Sources: “Aboriginal Pharmacopoeia” by Dr Ella Stack; Australian National Botanic Gardens Education Services, 2000; “Traditional Aboriginal Medicine Practice in the Northern Territory” by Dr Dayalan Devanesen.

Liv Mitchell

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Liv Mitchell is a senior teacher of yoga, mindfulness and a freelance writer.

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