Karnta Jukurrpa (Women’s Dreaming) – Bush Medicine

Aboriginal medicine is widely practised in the Northern Territory today. It is a complex system closely linked to the culture and beliefs of the people, their understanding of the land and its flora and fauna. It is a holistic approach, intergrating the social, physical and spiritual aspects of health and life. The Warlpiri health system includes the ngangkayikirlior traditional healers; the Yawulyuceremonies, (Napangardi Women’s Jukurrpa); and the Herbal or Bush Medicine. Depicted in this painting are the bush medicine plants that grow on traditional homelands in the Northern Territory, plants that are collected by the women. The Warlpiri have extensive knowledge of plants, and the use of bush medicine is shared by the whole family and not to any particular group.

Over fifty different medicinal plants have been recorded, all containing biologically active compounds. They are mainly used symptomatically for coughs and colds, pains and aches, and digestive problems. Some are used as dressings for wounds and sores. Plants used on sores and wounds contain proteolytic enzymes that help healing.  Below are just a few of the many medicinal plants that grow in the Northern Territory.

In preparing tonics, Bitter Bark (Alstonia constricta), is often used, which contains reserpine, a tranquilliser and antihypertensive. Gumbi Gumbi (pittosprum angustifolium), a small shrub with little star-shaped yellow flowers and yellow/orange skinned fruit, a versatile indigenous medicine, is used in a number of traditional medicinal applications, from the treatment of coughs and colds to eczema, and even used for lactagogue(milk let-down) activity. Although both the fruit and the seeds have medicinal properties, it is the leaves (used as a tea, tonic, dried in capsules or in salves/creams), that yield the most effective treatments. The readily available native lemon grasses (Cymbopogon ambiguus A. Camus) is also used as a tea/tonic, and is effective for treating diarrhoea, and coughs, sore throats and colds. It can also be applied to the skin for treatment of rashes and sores, and a root poultice mixture can be applied to ears for earaches. 

Ngalyipi(Snake Vine – Hibbertia scandens), is another effective anti-inflammatory and antiseptic bush medicine. The leaves and stems are warmed and mashed into a paste and used for pain of arthritis, for joints and other inflammation caused by injuries. Ngarlkirdi (Witchetty Grub), a good bush tucker is also a good bush medicine and when crushed and made into a paste is used externally for the treatment of burns and open wounds.