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  • 21 Nov 2019 10:25 PM | enewsletter Editor (Administrator)

    Cover of Spring 2019 issue of Australian Plants journal

    The Spring 2019 issue of Australian Plants was mailed to members and subscribers in late November. Members of the Australian Plants Society NSW receive Australian Plants four times a year as part of their membership.

    The Spring issue is a theme issue on mini-myrtles, the smaller members of the Myrtaceae family, produced by the WA Wildflower Society. It has articles on:

    • Mini myrtles
    • Starflowers (Calytrix) diversity and identification guide
    • The pomegranates – Balaustion and Cheyniana
    • Hypocalymma - the myrtles
    • Rinzia – my special choice
    • Seed propagation of 'mini myrtles'
    • Mini myrtles: grow from cuttings
    • Myrtle rust impacts in Eastern Australia
    • Myrtle rust impacts in Western Australia

    Subscribe now

    Non-members can subscribe to Australian Plants. Annual subscription (four issues) is $30 including postage. Overseas subscription is A$45.

    Online payment is now available here.

    Contact:

    Subscription Officer

    PO Box 3066

    Bowenfels NSW 2790

    merleaps@bigpond.com

    Single issues

    Limited supplies of recently published past issues are available for $5 per issue plus $2 postage in Australia. Email merleaps@bigpond.com


  • 12 Nov 2019 8:54 PM | enewsletter Editor (Administrator)

    Jennifer Farrer from APS Parramatta Hills Group shares the life of Olive Pink, 1884–1975, from a book celebrating her life.

    Olive Pink: Artist, activist and gardener. A life in flowers by Gillian Ward. Hardie Grant Books, 2018.

    Cover of book Olive Pink activist, artist and gardener

    Visit the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens

    Perhaps you have visited the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens in Alice Springs. It is certainly one of the best places to see Central Australian flora and as a bonus there is an excellent café. So who was Olive Pink?

    Olive Pink's early life

    Olive Pink was born in Hobart in 1884 and learned to love the Australian bush and its unique flora on rambles with her father on Mt Wellington. Her life was influenced by the Quaker philosophy of social justice she encountered at the private Girls High School in Hobart, run by a Quaker family. This influence can be seen in her later activism on behalf of Aboriginal people, which made her an unpopular figure in government circles. It was easy for people to dismiss her as an eccentric old woman.

    Olive first learned to paint at the Girls High School. Her teacher was Mary Augusta Walker, a successful painter who had been trained in London and Paris and believed that to achieve success as an artist, a woman had to make art her first priority before social life and family. Olive’s teachers were role models of strong, creative and independent women.

    As a young woman in Hobart Olive began to pursue her lifelong passions of art, Aboriginal welfare and plant conservation.

    Life in Sydney

    Olive continued her art studies in Hobart but after her father’s death moved to Perth where she gave art lessons. She met the love of her life who was sadly killed at Gallipoli. Later in 1915 she moved to Sydney where she continued to teach art. She completed a Town Planning Diploma at the University of Sydney and was employed in various government jobs which gave her financial security but she did not enjoy the work. She attended evening classes at the Julian Ashton School. She began to design cards and calendars depicting flowers and birds which she continued to do for the rest of her life.

    Olive’s connections in Sydney, including the Association for the Protection of Native Races, inspired her to travel to the outback. She met Daisy Bates and visited her camp on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain. Olive spent her annual holidays there in 1926 sketching, painting, recording Aboriginal words and observing Aboriginal customs. Daisy Bates invited her back the following year.

    In 1930 Olive took six months leave from her job at the Railways and embarked on a sketching tour from Port Augusta to Darwin, of the flora of Central Australia as well as further investigation into how Aboriginal people lived. These experiences were life changing for Olive. She learned the desert survival skills which gave her the confidence to live in the most difficult conditions.

    Back in Sydney she attended anthropology lectures at the University of Sydney and submitted a thesis on the ritual ceremonies she had observed in Central Australia. Qualified as an anthropologist she resigned her public service job and applied for grants to continue her anthropological research. She wrote several research papers for conferences and publication, all done in very primitive conditions and on a “microscopic” income. She also relied on friends and family support and in 1937 returned to Hobart for a year to write up her research.

    Olive Pink in Alice Springs

    A small donation from a Quaker benefactor, which included money to purchase a truck, and a small annual allowance from the Sheet Metal Workers Union allowed her to return to Alice Springs in 1940. In 1942 she set off for Pirdi Pirdi near Thompsons Rockhole in the Tanami Desert. She remained there until early 1946 when severe drought, extreme heat and lack of food forced her to return to Alice Springs.

    After WWII she moved into an ex-army sleeping hut made of unlined corrugated iron. She lived in half of the hut and the other half was used to house her collection of Aboriginal artefacts and her paintings. She opened this collection to visitors for a small fee. Her other source of income was the sale of plants and flowers and her hand painted cards and calendars. She also cleaned the Alice Springs courtroom. This gave her an income, and also enabled her to observe how fairly or unfairly Aboriginal people were treated in the white legal system. Her efforts were not popular with the staff at the courthouse or the police.

    Her life in Alice Springs took a dramatic turn when she was evicted from her beloved Home Hut. She applied for a licence to move to a vacant quarter acre block on the other side of the Todd River. In late 1956 she pitched her tent at this beautiful site. In 1958 after protracted negotiations her hut was re-erected nearby.

    Olive Pink Botanic Garden

    Wherever Olive Pink lived she created a garden. In her last home she created a garden that has been named after her – the Olive Pink Botanic Garden in Alice Springs. She persuaded the Northern Territory Government to create a flora reserve to conserve the native vegetation, to plant arid land plants and to protect the beautiful location from development. Her desire to protect endangered species and to preserve the local flora was ahead of its time when the Australian Arid Regions Native Flora Reserve was gazetted in September 1956.

    Until 1961 Olive Pink worked alone. Aboriginal gardeners were employed to assist her after she was assured they would be paid the basic wage. For 12 years her assistant was a Warlpiri man, Johnny Tabijinba Yannarilyi , whose knowledge of local plants and growing conditions was invaluable.

    Olive died in July 1975 but her garden lives on as a place for the peaceful contemplation of nature and education about local plants.

    About the book

    Some 200 of Olive's botanical paintings and sketches are held in the Library of the University of Tasmania. This biography of Olive Pink has been written by Gillian Ward who curated an exhibition of these paintings at the University in 2004. Almost half of the book comprises a selection of these flower paintings which have been botanically identified and paired with a photograph of the plant. The book is also generously illustrated with photos from Olive Pink’s life and times.


  • 12 Nov 2019 8:41 PM | enewsletter Editor (Administrator)

    The authors of this book, Judy, Peter and Kate Smith, are members of APS Blue Mountains Group. Judy Smith explains the content of the book and the significance of its timing.

    Native Fauna of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Judy, Peter and Kate Smith. 172 pages, soft cover. Published by P & J Smith Ecological Consultants, October 2019. RRP $35. Details: www.bluemountainsfauna.com.au.

    Book cover of native Fauna of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area

    The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is an area of spectacular views, eucalypt forests and woodlands interspersed with swamp, wetlands, escarpments, rainforest and heath, together with some 1500 different plants. The area has 98 different eucalypts (Angophora, Corymbia and Eucalyptus species) as well as iconic endemic plants, such as the Wollemi Pine and Dwarf Mountain Pine (Pherosphaera fitzgeraldii, formerly Microstrobus). The area is also home to an outstanding and diverse native fauna. Native Fauna of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, published in October 2019, provides the first comprehensive account of this fauna.

    The book includes descriptions of the area’s environment and fauna habitats and details the status, local distribution and ecology of each of the 432 native vertebrate fauna species (68 mammal, 254 bird, 74 reptile and 36 frog species) that have been reliably recorded in the area since European settlement. The number of species, including almost one third of Australia’s bird species, is astounding. A checklist indicates in which of the World Heritage Area’s eight constituent reserves (Blue Mountains, Gardens of Stone, Kanangra-Boyd, Nattai, Thirlmere Lakes, Wollemi and Yengo National Parks and Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve) each species has been recorded together with dates of the last records. The 28 mammals, 34 birds, 4 reptiles and 7 frogs considered threatened at national or state level are highlighted. Over 200 colour photos (Peter’s work), 20 illustrations (Kate’s) and two locality maps are included.

    Celebrating 20 years

    As the 20th anniversary of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Listing approaches in 2020, this book celebrates the diversity, scientific value and conservation importance of the area’s fauna.

    About the authors

    The authors, Peter and Judy, are ecologists who have lived and worked in the Blue Mountains for almost 40 years. Their daughter Kate grew up in the Blue Mountains and now works as a visual artist in Canberra.

    Dr Judy Smith and Dr Peter Smith

    P & J Smith Ecological Consultants

    44 Hawkins Pde

    Blaxland NSW 2774

    smitheco@ozemail.com.au


  • 7 Nov 2019 9:12 PM | enewsletter Editor (Administrator)

    Bruce Thompson, Senior Horticulturalist at IndigiGrow Nursery, is calling for volunteers.

    IndigiGrow welcomes volunteers at our nursery which is a not-for-profit nursery and social enterprise of First Hand Solutions Aboriginal Corporation. Please check our website for more information: www.indigigrow.com.au

    We grow and sell Australian native plants, bush food and medicinal plants. 

    IndigiGrow nursery is open Mon to Fri 9am to 5pm and our plants are also available online. Customers can also call us to order plants from our Growing List that can then be mailed to them.

    Check the Current Growing List and Plant Information Guide.

    Location

    La Perouse Public School

    8-18 Yarra Rd, Phillip Bay NSW 2036

    Free volunteer checks

    As we are based at La Perouse Public School, volunteers need to have a Working With Children check and a Police check conducted for members wishing to do volunteering between Mon to Fri 9am to 5pm.

    It is free for volunteers to get their Working With Children check and a Police check conducted using IndigiGrow's partner organisations. 

    More information

    Bruce Thompson

    Senior Horticulturist

    E: bruce.indigigrow@gmail.com

    M: 0439 327 933

    W: www.indigigrow.com.au




  • 4 Nov 2019 10:10 PM | enewsletter Editor (Administrator)

    Brain Roach, a member of APS North Shore Group, runs Westleigh nursery from his home and has an open garden and plant sales twice a year. Brian wrote this article after the Gardening Australia team visited and filmed in 2018. The segment aired on 1 November 2019.

    It would be fair to say that most gardeners, including those with a particular focus on our native plants, would watch the long-running ABC TV show, Gardening Australia. I’ve been fortunate (I think) to have been invited to participate in segments on two occasions; once in 2006 and again last year in 2018. 

    With Angus Stewart in 2006

    On the first occasion, Angus Stewart came to our home and nursery at Westleigh, Sydney with his crew. The filming, which occupied most of the day for a 5 or 6 minute on-air segment, was about the propagation of native plants. We finished the day with Angus demonstrating how to propagate a Banksia ‘Giant Candles’ with an air-laying technique. This involved… now just what did it involve?  When I got to this point, I thought I’d check with Doctor Google so I typed in ‘Laying banksias’.  The first site to come up was… https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/propagating-natives/9427072

    and I’ll be blowed, there was Angus and myself with a synopsis of the segment. Where, oh where is all this heading?  The website has a photograph of the two of us with a ramp on the right that I’d built to give me quick access down into my nursery area. Some weeks after the filming, I slipped down the ramp and broke my leg. I watched the segment go to air a month or so later with my leg in plaster. Anyhow, Angus finished the air-laying job by putting sphagnum moss around the treated banksia branch and then wrapping it in an alfoil cover, asking me to check it from time to time for signs of roots. Unfortunately, within a day or two a currawong had ripped the thing to shreds. I never did have the heart to tell Angus. 

    With Costa Georgiadis in 2018

    My recent brush with Gardening Australia in August 2018 was most enjoyable. Host Costa Georgiadis is a delightful person and so enthusiastic. It’s not just a performance for the cameras. He’s also the same height he appears on TV. The producer, Sandy, kept saying to me, ‘Brian, will you stop looking down at Costa’. So far as possible, we got him on the high ground. Again, the four Gardening Australia visitors were at our home filming all day – 8 am to 5 pm.  My wife, Carol, was good enough to provide them with morning and afternoon tea and they ducked down to the local shops for lunch.

    The segment, which aired on Friday 1 November 2019, had two messages: firstly, dealing with native plants that are recommended for hot, dry conditions; and secondly, showing that new species or forms are still being introduced into cultivation from the wild.

    I was quite chuffed when Costa said before leaving that he had had such an enjoyable day and had learnt so much. That’s not so surprising considering his background is not so much with plants, but rather as a landscape architect. At one stage he asked me about a particular plant and I told him it was an eremophila. I asked him if he knew what the name meant. When he said he didn’t, I pointed out to him, being of Greek parentage, that it was a Greek word meaning ‘desert loving’. We all had a good laugh and what a very memorable day it was.


    Brian Roach with wide Carol and Costa Georgiadis

    Brian Roach with wife Carol and Costa Georgiadis

  • 29 Oct 2019 8:49 PM | enewsletter Editor (Administrator)

    Ian Cox of APS Parramatta Hills Group introduces a stunner in spring.

    Prostanthera scutellarioides

    I was introduced to this attractive plant accidentally. In fact, it introduced itself. I was at the John Benyon Park at Kenthurst and here it was, in this unlikely place one spring, covered in flowers and looking brilliant! Of course, I took home some cuttings.

    Prostanthera scutellarioides has a wide distribution, usually growing in forest from the Cooma district north on the NSW ranges and up along the coast to southern Queensland. It’s round in shape, usually about one metre by one metre, with purple to deep lilac flowers which contrast nicely with the verdant green foliage.

    In the garden it sometimes grows larger than this, to 1.5 m x 1.5 m or more. It does best in filtered sun or half to three-quarters shade, but doesn’t like the hot afternoon sun. It’s very hardy and matures fairly quickly, and should flower after its first year. A light pruning will ensure more flowers next season.

    Prostanthera scutellarioides can be planted as a stunning hedge. The photo below was taken at the Community Environment Centre at Annangrove, where some of the Parramatta Hills Group’s members work as volunteers, and forms a wonderful border along the walkway to the meeting room.


    Prostanthera scutellarioides

    If you would like one or more of these desirable plants, check with Lesley at the next Parramatta Hills Group meeting, as they are regularly available at the group’s plant sales.



  • 27 Oct 2019 7:23 PM | enewsletter Editor (Administrator)

    Dan Clarke presented on his new roadside verge garden at the APS Sutherland Group September 2019 meeting and wrote this article which appeared in the APS Sutherland October 2019 newsletter. Look out for updates as the plants grow.

    Planning

    I presented my road verge garden (not fully completed) at the September meeting. The garden has been installed for about 5 months.

    The main reason I was able to install the garden is because my property falls within the Sutherland Shire Greenweb mapping. This mapping serves the purpose of covering biodiversity areas in the Shire and many residential areas are mapped as potential linkages to biodiversity areas. Therefore, the Greenweb initiative provides for planting of locally indigenous plantings in such areas to enhance local native habitat and create habitat corridors. However, this does not mean you cannot install a verge garden in a non-Greeenweb area, or in another Council area.

    When planning a road verge, it is important to consult your Council first and then be sure to plan it out, deciding where you want plants, paths and other features. Be sure to ask Council if you are entitled to any free native tubestock. I obtained 100 tubes from Sutherland Council community nursery and I have only used 50 so far.

    Beware the 5Ps

    FirstIy, consideration must be given to the 5 Ps: Pedestrians, some of who may have Prams (2nd P); Powerlines, Postman (or Postlady) and Parked/Parking cars. To quickly cover these:

    • Pedestrians (with or without Prams) must be able to walk through the garden unimpeded.
    • Plants installed in the garden must not interfere with any Powerlines.
    • The Postman/Postlady must be able to conduct their work unimpeded.
    • Parking cars must also be unimpeded by any planted vegetation.

    It is also important to not block traffic views, which might happen if the garden was on a street corner.

    I would strongly advise that space is left for a footpath (if there is not one already). These are typically 900 mm wide. This path can be left as turf or constructed of gravel or mulch. If Council decides to install a formal footpath later, then they can.

    Getting started

    My verge is about 60 m2 (3 wide x 20 m long).

    Dan Clarke's verge before

    Before

    I removed the grass and then planned out a series of garden beds with a pathway in the centre. I used treated H3 Pine (90 mm x 45 mm x 2.4 m lengths) to construct my beds (screwed together) and then filled them with soil borrowed from minor excavations elsewhere on my property. I then overlaid the path area with crushed blue metal dust and compacted it.

    I then asked a local tree lopping service for some free mulch. This can be a risky strategy as the lopping service will simply want to dump at least half or all of their load on your doorstep and the mulch may contain anything in terms of plant species, including weeds. I was lucky enough to get a load of Liquidamber mulch, which seems benign enough, and will add much needed organic matter to my soil.

    Dan Clarke's garden after

    After: leaving a gravel path for pedestrians

    Getting feedback

    My other tips are to install a few sections at a time and see how neighbours and anyone else reacts to the space. So far, all of my feedback has been positive and I really love to see people strolling through the space and taking it in. I must complete it when I get a chance!

    Species used

    I have chosen a mix of species from low grasses to shrubs to trees.

    Banksia serrata

    Banksia marginata

    Breynia oblongifolia

    Ceratopetalum gummiferum

    Grevillea buxifolia subsp. buxifolia

    Hakea sericea

    Isopogon anemonifolius

    Isotoma axillaris

    Olearia microphylla

    Persoonia pinifolia

    Poa labillardieri

    Prostanthera incisa

    Themeda triandra



  • 25 Oct 2019 11:46 AM | enewsletter Editor (Administrator)

    This story is based on an article by Lindy Monson, Bushcare volunteer, in the newsletter North Sydney Bushcare, Summer 2015, issue 28, and updated for 2019.

    Harry Loots has won awards for his native garden in 2015, 2016 and 2019.

    2019

    In 2019, Harry's garden was awarded Winner  – Best Urban Forest.

    Harry Loots garden 2019


    Harry Loots 2019

    Photos: North Sydney Council's winners presentation at

    www.northsydney.nsw.gov.au/Waste_Environment/Get_Involved/Garden_Competition

    2016

    In 2016, Harry's garden was awarded Highly commended – Best Urban Forest and Winner – Most Environmentally friendly garden.

    2015

    Bushcare and Streets Alive volunteer Harry Loots was awarded two prizes in the 2015 North Sydney Garden Competition. He was awarded runner-up in the most environmentally friendly garden and best urban forest categories. North Sydney Council put on a lively event for the presentation of the garden competition awards at the North Sydney Oval Function Centre in October. Mayor Jilly Gibson and gardening superstar Costa Georgiadis hosted the event, engaging an enthusiastic room of gardeners with their wit and grace.

    Harry Loots with North Sydney mayor and Costa

    Harry with Mayor Jilly Gibson and host Costa Georgiadis

    The North Sydney gardening community were able to share in the enjoyment and appreciation of each others’ gardens, as well as the work Council staff put into running the local programs. It was a fun night with generous prizes, food and drink as well as a focus on the local environment. Many local residents have seen Harry’s garden on Council’s annual Native Havens tour.

    Harry has been growing Australian plants for over 25 years and is a member of the Northern Beaches Group of the Australian Plants Society (APS) and the Honorary Treasurer of APS NSW. The Society promotes the growing and conservation of Australian native plants. It would be great if the North Sydney Garden Competition could also include a specific category for Australian plant gardens. 

     

    Photos: North Sydney Council presentation at ceremony in 2015.


  • 25 Oct 2019 11:11 AM | enewsletter Editor (Administrator)

    This article byJennifer Farrer first appeared in APS Parramatta Hills Group newsletter Calgaroo. Part 1 is on early colonial uses of medicinal native plants.

    The information is from a variety of sources including the book Australian Medicinal Plants by E.V. Lassak and T. McCarthy (Reed New Holland, 2011) gathered by Jennifer over many years as a guide with Boronia Tours.

    Eucalyptus oil

    Of all the Australian plants with medicinal properties only 30 have been exploited commercially and of these 20 are various species of Eucalyptus.

    The pharmacist Joseph Bosisto migrated to Australia in 1848 and began the first serious investigation of the volatile oils of Australian flora. In 1854 he started the first commercial production of eucalyptus oil in Victoria. He used the process of steam distillation which is a process first developed in the Middle Ages. The leaves are placed in a vessel fitted with a lid and an outlet pipe connected to a water cooled condenser. After the addition of a certain amount of water the leaves are boiled and the steam enriched with the vapour is passed through the water cooled condenser. There the steam and the essential oil vapours are reliquefied. Since the oil and the water do not mix, the lighter-than-water oil can be skimmed off the surface of the condensed water. This method at its simplest is still being used by small distillers in country areas particularly Braidwood, Tumut, Cooma, and Casino in NSW and Bendigo in Victoria.

    Of the 20 species of eucalypts used to produce this type of oil, the most commonly used is the blue mallee, Eucalyptus polybractea. Even though Australia is the home of the eucalypt, only 5% of Eucalyptus oil is produced here. Portugal and Spain account for 60% of the world’s production using the foliage of the Tasmanian blue gum Eucalypts globulus which was introduced into Europe last century as a timber tree and for paper production.

    Tea tree oil

    Another medicinal oil produced today on a commercial scale is that of medicinal tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). It is produced by a small number of distillers around Casino and Lismore by the same steam distillation process used to produce Eucalyptus oil. Apart from its bactericidal applications, the oil is used in the flavouring industry.

    Commercial production of this oil faltered in the 1970s due to unreliable supply, inconsistent quality and lack of promotion. The foliage was hard to obtain as the species is found on swampy ground which made harvesting difficult especially in years of high rainfall. The oil content of the naturally occurring trees was also quite variable.

    The situation changed in the 1990s. Manual harvesting of variable natural stands of Melaleuca alternifolia was eliminated. Highly successful efforts to improve the seed enabled huge plantations which could be harvested mechanically to be established along the eastern coast of northern NSW, southern Queensland and even inland. Australian tea tree oil is now well established in world trade and is even included in the International Standards ISO 4730.

    Corkwood leaves

    The leaves of corkwood (Duboisia myoporoides) a native tree of the rainforests of northern NSW and southern Queensland contain a large proportion of an alkaloid (hyosine) which is used to treat stomach ulcers and sea sickness. The production of corkwood foliage on the north coast of NSW has been a steady if not large industry. The collected leaves are dried out of the sunlight and sold overseas to pharmaceutical firms to extract the alkaloidal constituents. Boehringer Ingelheim has an Australian plantation of 1,400 hectares in northern NSW which employs 20 people in the harvesting of Duboisia myoporoides leaves for the drug Buscopan.

    Callitris resin

    The pale yellow resinous exudates from the cut trunks of the white and black cypress pines (Callitris sp) is sold overseas under the name of Australian sandarac. This resin is used to coat pills which are to dissolve in the intestine and not in the stomach.

    The collection of the resin is a cottage industry. Parts of the forest which have been logged more than a year previously are visited to collect the resin which has now collected on the stumps in worthwhile quantities.

    The future of the medicinal plant industry in Australia is bright as the world looks to become less dependent on the petroleum industry to produce synthetic organic chemicals. There are many potentially useful plants to be developed.

    Note: Care should be taken in the medicinal uses of native plants which requires expert knowledge.

  • 25 Oct 2019 10:49 AM | enewsletter Editor (Administrator)

    This article by Jennifer Farrer first appeared in APS Parramatta Hills Group newsletter Calgaroo. Part 2 is on commercial uses of medicinal native plants.

    The information is from a variety of sources including the book Australian Medicinal Plants by E.V. Lassak and T. McCarthy (Reed New Holland, 2011) gathered by Jennifer over many years as a guide with Boronia Tours.

     

    Early settlers on the whole were not willing to try Aboriginal treatments but preferred to try plants which reminded them of those they had known in Britain and other countries such as India and China.

    Anti-scurvy

    The main health problem facing the first European settlers was scurvy as they had no supplies of fresh food and were ignorant of the food available to them in the Sydney bush. The most popular antiscorbutic was Bush Tea or Sweet Tea made from the leaves of native sarsparilla (Smilax glyciphylla). Soldiers and convicts gathered its sweet tasting leaves, from which a bitter/sweet tea was made. It was so important that the English risked death from hostile Aboriginal people to obtain it. The Vitamin C content is similar to tomatoes at 26 milligrams per 100 grams and far less than oranges.

    Eucalypt oil

    Another early plant used medicinally by colonists was the Sydney peppermint (Eucalyptus piperita). The odour of its crushed leaves is vaguely pepperminty and probably reminded them of their own English peppermint Mentha piperita. Its volatile oil obtained by steam distillation of the foliage was reputed to cure “cholicky” complaints and was the first plant product sent from Australia to England. The chemical composition of the two oils is very different. It was a happy accident of nature that the two oils had similar medicinal qualities and it is fortunate that Eucalyptus oil was only taken in small amounts as it is more toxic than peppermint oil.

    The person credited with being the first to discover the usefulness of Eucalyptus oil was Denis Considen, Surgeon of the First Fleet. He sent a sample to Joseph Banks in 1788.

    Other plants used to alleviate coughs and colds

    Native mints were substituted for the related European plant Pennyroyal. The leaves were boiled in water for 15 minutes and the tea sweetened with sugar. It was taken warm at bedtime for coughs and colds and other aches and pains.

    Melaleuca quinquenervia oil can be obtained by steam distillation of the leaves and used for coughs and colds and externally for neuralgia and rheumatism.

    Tonics

    Tonic is a word that is disappearing from everyday use. A tonic is an agent which will give the body strength and vigour without any adverse side effects. The term tonic is a vague one as it refers to the treatment of certain symptoms without taking into account their underlying causes. Knowledge of how diseases developed and their causes was rudimentary and expert medical attention was not readily available, so there was a real need for remedies that would help to combat loss of appetite, weakness and lassitude that accompanied most illnesses.

    To the early settlers tonics were very important. It is likely that after arriving here, weakened by a long and exhausting voyage, suffering from the effects of inadequate nutrition and confronted by a hostile harsh environment, they were prone to all kinds of fevers and digestive disorders. Since bitters and certain other bitter tasting remedies were held in high repute as nerve tonics at that time, any local bitter tasting plants were eagerly sought and investigated for medicinal use.

    In Sydney native sarsparilla Smilax glyciphylla was also used extensively as a tonic and was a common article of trade among Sydney herbalists in the 19th century. A decoction was prepared by prolonged boiling of the leaves to obtain a thin syrup which was bottled for later use. This procedure would have destroyed its Vitamin C content. It was also used as a medicine for coughs and chest complaints.

    Antiseptics and Bactericides

    The Aboriginal people knew many plants which were useful in curbing infections. The early settlers do not seem to have used many of them. It may have been the higher standard of hygiene such as the common use of soap or the widespread use of methylated spirits and carbolic acid for wound disinfection. Although early settlers did use eucalyptus oil as a reputed antiseptic which is odd as it has few antibacterial properties. Maybe its clean, crisp smell encouraged them to believe it was effective.

    In the 1920s A.R. Penfold and his team at the Technological Museum in Sydney (now the Powerhouse Museum) discovered the high germicidal activity of the essential oil obtained by the steam distillation of Melaleuca alternifolia foliage.

    To extract the oil the leaves and terminal branchlets of Melaleuca alternifolia have to be boiled with water and the oil separated from the condensed aqueous steam distillate . One kilogram of foliage will yield only between 12 and 25 gm of oil. The small oil yield and the relatively complicated procedure for its extraction may explain why this shrub’s medicinal properties were not discovered earlier.

    Tea tree oil can penetrate unbroken skin and is particularly useful in the treatment of infected fingernail beds, coral cuts, tinea, some types of boils, mouth ulcers, as well as all kinds of cuts and abrasions.

    Its remarkable bactericidal properties even contributed to our Second World War effort!

    “An interesting application of the oil is its incorporation in machine cutting oils, the germicidal and healing properties having reduced to a minimum infection of skin injuries, especially abrasions to the hands by metal filings and turnings. Large quantities of Melaleuca alternifolia oil were used for this purpose in the various ammunition annexes during World War II”  Sydney Technological Museum 1946.

    Digestion and Elimination

    The generally hot Australian climate and the lack of hygiene as well as poor nutrition contributed in varying degrees to all kinds of digestive complaints. Fortunately there are many Australian plants which can be used to alleviate some of the unpleasant symptoms of these conditions.

    Astringents to stem the secretion of body fluids and thus able to check diarrhoea were available from various plant exudates or extracts from the very beginning of the colony. Some of these were red or brown exudates of eucalypts and angophoras often referred to as kino. This is a word from India. Kino had been introduced to Europe in the mid 18th century from plants from Africa. The kino from Australian angophoras, eucalypts and corymbias presents first as a red currant jelly like substance which hardens until it is crystalline. There is no smell but it is astringent to taste. The active ingredient is kinnotannic acid which affects the lower intestine. Kino from Australia was introduced into Europe as early as 1810 when the gum of the ironbark Eucalyptus siderophloia, was collected by convicts under the name Botany Bay Kino. About 200 ml of kino from the Sydney red gum Angophora costata was mixed with water in a 10% solution and taken as a daily dose.

    Tannins present in the bark of many trees have astringent qualities which are effective in the treatment of diarrhoea eg Acacia decurrens and casuarinas. The kino from the scribbly gum Eucalyptus haemastoma was used to treat cuts, wounds and ulcers. It was also used as a throat gargle.

    Early settlers reported using gum from wattle trees dissolved in hot milk for the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery with good results but no one knows which wattle gum was used. The gum of the Sydney green wattle Acacia decurrens is not soluble in water.

    Other plants

    • Leaves of the native raspberries Rubus species were used to treat stomach upsets and diarrhoea.
    • Eucalyptus oil was also used to treat stomach upsets and “cholicky” complaints.
    • The leaves of the native mint Prostanthera rotundifolia were used to ease flatulence. This is not surprising as peppermint is also used for this purpose.
    • Manna found on the manna gum Eucalyptus viminalis was used as a mild laxative.

    Note: Care should be taken in using any native plants for medicinal purposes without expert knowledge.


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