Indigenous plant uses

I have been reading a fascinating book recently which describes in good detail some of the many uses that our people had/have for plants across the country (Discovering Aboriginal Plant Use, Philip Clarke). The book is written in the context of the author being an ethnobotanist who has studied in this field extensively, so while I understand that the book is not a first hand recounting of Aboriginal plant use written by Aboriginal people, his studies are informed by consultations with and travels across many Indigenous communities.

I wanted to share with you a few of the examples mentioned, as they are a good reminder of the complex, deep understand of, and relationship with, the land, that Aboriginal people have and continue to maintain.

So here they are, just a few examples. You may like to talk to your children about some of these examples when you’re out in the bush and come across some of these species.

  • Bush water lily, found in the Top End - the roots are pulled from the mud and trimmed, cleaned, peeled, cooked and eaten. Other parts are also edible, including the seeds, which have an oily flavour.

  • River red gum - fragrant blossoms containing sweet nectar. In central Australia, the edible manna which oozes from the trunk was soaked up using grasses and eaten.

  • Heath grasstrees - dry flower spikes used to make fire drills and spear shafts.

  • Batwing Coral Tree - wood used in tool-making, and seeds used for making ornaments.

  • Yam Daisy - a major food source

  • Bulrushes - fibre from which used to make string for fishing nets etc.

There is so much material out there on the topic of Aboriginal plant use and I encourage you to look for information specific to your local area. For example, I have found some fantastic fact sheets on plant use in Gumbayngirr country, NSW. Visit here if you want to have a read!

Deborah Hoger