In Australia, the demands of modern life mean that many aspects of Aboriginal culture risk being lost forever. So the elders of the Yaegl Aboriginal community have decided to share their traditional healing treatments.
Said Carmel Charlton, a Yaegl Aboriginal elder: “The arthritis plant, that’s another one, that grows wild too, everywhere. And anyone who’s got arthritis, well Mum was telling me, you wash that and eat it. And if you don’t like to eat it like that, you could cut it up you know, have it with lettuce, but they used to cut it up and chew on it.”
Aboriginal elders have been helping Macquarie University researcher Joanne Packer to find and collect plant samples. The healing properties of these native Australian plants are then pharmacologically tested and documented in the lab in Sydney.
Joanne Packer said: “We’ve had mixed results, so there’s been some plants that we’ve tested that look as if they’ve got quite good activity, others that haven’t performed so well with the tests that we’ve done so far. But the thing is with a lot of these treatments they’re quite holistic, so for a wound treatment it won’t only be antibacterial necessarily, it could be anti-inflammatory, and I guess debriding, or have other properties that we haven’t tested for yet.”
A colleague, Meya Kichu, also a PhD researcher at Macquarie University said: “They use so many medicinal plants for their daily activities, and for this project, since we are well equipped to analyse the anti-microbial activities of these plants, I decided to work on the anti-microbial activities by using their knowledge.”
In an age where hospital superbugs mean we constantly need new anti-bacterial agents, surprisingly enough traditional medicinal knowledge could help us find new drugs.