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Issue 10


The Medicinal and Edible Properties of Eucalypts

From the SGAP site: Christine A. Jones


Did you know that one of the first plants used medicinally by the early British settlers in Australia was the `Sydney peppermint', Eucalyptus piperita? Its crushed leaves emitted a peppermint odour, which was likened to the English peppermint Menthe piperita.

Steam distillation of its oil from the foliage was reputed to cure colic and intestinal disorders when taken in small quantities. Later, scientific testing highlighted the lethal differences between the two plant species, with Mentha having high concentrations of menthol and menthone whilst the eucalypt contained piperitone, which is more toxic than pure peppermint oil. Both the Surgeon General to the Colony of New South Wales (John White) and the Surgeon of the First Fleet (Denis Considens) are credited with the Western `discovery' (1788) of the medicinal properties of Eucalyptus piperita.

Traditional Aboriginal society used a wide range of Australian native plants as bush foods and medicines. Aborigines used several species of Eucalyptus as tonics for gastro-intestinal symptoms, with the peppermint gum being well known. The gum, when mixed with water, was taken internally for diarrhoea and in many reported instances, as an infusion with tonic qualities. The properties of the locally available Eucalyptus species afforded antiseptic, or astringent qualities, which were effective in treating wounds such as cuts and sores. For this reason also, many Eucalyptus species were used in concocting mixtures for the relief of aches and pains in muscles, joints and even teeth. E.dives (the broad leaved peppermint of NSW and Victoria) was used in treating fevers, by burning leaves and inhaling the smoke. 

The River Red Gum (E.camaldulensis) which grows to 20m high in open woodland and 50m in dense forest, appears in South Australia's riverine, floodplain and estuary systems. Because it is found in all southern mainland states it is the most widespread Eucalyptus species. It was prized by the Aboriginal inhabitants for its disinfecting qualities. The sap was collected, boiled in water until dissolved and then rubbed onto sores and cuts. Its heartwood diluted with boiled water was an effective treatment for diarrhoea in children. Eucalyptus camaldulensis is a common sight along watercourses in the semi arid areas of southern Australia.

The Lemon-scented gum (Corymbia citriodora), which grows to 40m, was used as a natural insecticide for troublesome mosquitoes. Where problems existed, branches would be stacked some distance from the camp. It was believed that the lemony smell of the citronella would attract mosquitoes and hence keep them away from the  main camp. The bloodwoods were of enormous benefit too. The nectar from Corymbia dichromophloia, a tree which can vary in size from 2 to 10m and is found in the far North West zone of South Australia, was used as a remedy for coughs and colds and was often taken as a tonic. The gum, when boiled with water and sugar, became a liquid drink used to treat pulmonary complaints, and as a general anaesthetic for toothache. The exudate from C.gummifera (Red bloodwood), a medium tree to 30m found on the eastern coast of Australia, was used internally and applied externally in powdered form to treat sores. A poultice of mud and leaves was used to stop bleeding. C.polycarpa was applied as an antiseptic liquid in the treatment of sores, cuts, burns, ulcers and yaws, while C.terminalis, when diluted, provided a solution for the treatment of facial cuts and sores. The gum which exudes from the rough, tessellated bark of Corymbia gummifera was used as an antiseptic. The Tasmanian bluegum (E.globulus) was used in poultices and the treatment of back conditions and rheumatism, inhaled for headaches, or drunk as an infusion to treat colds.

The Coolabah (E.microtheca) found along waterways in the Far North and Far West zone of the state was used to treat both snake bite and severe headache. Resin was collected in crystallised and liquid form from damaged ghost gums (C.aparrerinja), boiled and used as a powerful disinfectant in the treatment of cuts, sores, cramps and pains. An infusion of the bark was drunk for colds and as a wash for sore eyes. The Manna Gum (E.viminalis) a sub-coastal tree occurring in south-eastern Australia and found in the Mount Lofty Ranges, the South East Zone and Kangaroo Island of South Australia, prefers cooler, wetter areas (average rainfall 750mm). It, too, was useful in the treatment of ophthalmia, and like most species so far, effective in treating diarrhoea. The leaves of this plant contain eucalyptol and tannin. 

Stringybarks such as E.tetrodonta were used in a variety of ways. The young shoots were chewed for colds, crushed and placed on sores and cuts. Infusions were drunk for the relief of aches and pains, coughs, diarrhoea, and after childbirth. It was an effective antiseptic, like most eucalypt species. As for human survival, many of the eucalypts' roots could be tapped for water. South Australian species of particular note include E.dumosa, a mallee or small tree found on Lake Eyre and Yorke Peninsula, Central Districts, Murraylands and the South East; E.gracilis and the Yorrell which occurs naturally in the mallee areas of the State; 

E.incrassata, the Ridge-fruited Mallee found growing on limestone based soils and deep sands of the mallee regions; and E.oleosa, the widespread Red Mallee occurring in areas of low rainfall (averaging 200mm-400mm). Of particular note here is E.incrassata which could provide a litre of water from about 8m of root. Species from other areas important as water sources include E.paniculata, the Grey Ironbark of coastal northern New South Wales, E. populnea, the Bimble Box of the Western Plains of New South Wales, E.transcontinentalis and E. uncinata. As food sources, the seeds of the blue twin-leaves mallee of the Far North West Zone and Central Desert (E.gamophylla) were ground for damper, and its nectar drunk. 

The Cider Tree of Tasmania (E.gunnii) provided fresh sap for drinking after holes were bored into the tree. If this was left too long, it became an intoxicating fermented drink. 

The seeds and galls of the Central Australian Tammin mallee (E.leptopoda) were eaten. Other species from the area included the Coolabah (E.microtheca) which provided seeds which needed extensive preparation before use; the bloodwood (E.terminalis) which provided `bush coconuts' (large galls and grub), nectar and native bee honeycombs; E.pachyphylla which provided nectar for drinking; and the Manna or ribbon gum (E.viminalis) which provided manna and lerp. This was collected during the summer. The sugary substance was eaten raw or mixed with gum from acacias and dissolved in water. Nine kilograms of manna could be collected from a single tree. 

Today these species are found in remaining vestiges of remnant vegetation or are grown for their beauty and particular qualities (shade, windbreaks, erosion control, landscaping, bird attractors, firewood and the like). They are, in many instances, unsuitable for urban dwellers because of the magnificent heights many of them can attain. One can only see them in rural areas, alongside roadsides, and in national parks, reserves or forests. It is hard to imagine in the growth of our nation, what the landscape looked like before white settlement. However, I am sure the sight would have been magnificent, even overpowering. As people today lean more and more towards sustainable agriculture, permaculture and self-sufficiency, traditional bush foods and their medicinal properties will become more pronounced.


Boomsa, C (1981) Native Trees of South Australia. Govt Printer: Adelaide.

Costermans, L (1991) Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia. Weldon: Willoughby, NSW

Isaacs, J (1987) Bush Food. Ure Smith: Willoughby, NSW

Lassak, E. & McCarthy, T (1990) Australian Medicinal Plants. Mandarin Australia: Melbourne

Note: The names of eucalypts in the bloodwood group have been amended in accordance with the changes published by Hill and Johnston (1995), A Revision of the Bloodwoods, Genus Corymbia (Myrtaceae), in Telopea, Volume 6(2-3), Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.

This involves the reclassification of this group to the new genus Corymbia.

From the Ed



Bunyas disappoint this season

Bees and Bushfoods`Do Lunch'

Emissions Trading Discussion Papers

Questionnaire results

NHT Funding

Australian Sandalwood ~ Graham & Iris Herde

Eremocitrus glauca ~ The Editor

Eucalyptus - edible and useful ~ Christine Jones

Tasmanian bushfoods

Mulching improves tree growth

'Synthetic' crops ~ Rob Fletcher

The Growing Cycle ~ Mary Meadows

Grower's Notes ~ Wandu Yerta

Bunya ~ Peter Lewis

Pouteria (syn. planchonella) ~ David Sommerville


Bushfoods & Farm Forestry ~ Margaret Bailey

Native Bees ~ Dr Anne Dollin

Book Review

Broken Hill Project ~ Steve Ross

Quandong ~ AQIA

What's it taste like? Akadjura

Quickies from the Editor...Riberries

Famous Palates

The Value Adders




What Fruiting?


Reconciliation Gardens

Tasmanian Bush Tucker 

This article compiled by: Plants of Tasmania

As many of you are aware, there are some native plants in Tasmania which have edible portions. Fruits, shoots, berries, leaves, seeds, sap, flowers, pollen or tubers can be edible in some species - even palatable.

Unfortunately our European colonising predecessors, by wiping out most of the original inhabitants of Tasmania, destroyed most of the wealth of knowledge gained over many tens of thousands of years.

Some small portions of information were recorded by early white botanists in Tasmania and some is found from archaeological remains, but most of the knowledge we can access originates from Aboriginal people on the mainland (this is relevant for the Tasmanian species that also occur interstate.)

Kris Schaffer has a keen interest in the edible nature of our indigenous flora, and has prepared the following notes from her research. She is a member of the Australian Food Plant Study Group set up by The Society For Growing Australian Plants.


Please note that this information has been obtained from a number of references, and we pass it on in good faith, however we advise extreme caution.

As well as many plants being edible, some are poisonous. (On some plants one can find both edible and poisonous bits.) At all times be cautious. It could be very unpleasant (or worse) if one started to experiment. Be extra cautious with children. Three points should be stressed.

1. Plant Identification. Don't guess. If you're not positive on the identification of your plant, or which bits are the edible bits, either find out from someone who knows or forget it.

2. Conservation. Please observe State and Federal regulations designed for the protection of our native flora. (Especially if you're into wood chipping.) Remember also that for our native birds and animals, these edible bits (especially fruits and berries) may be part of their existence - so harvest lightly, or grow your own.

3. Partake Sparingly. Some foods have substances that may be harmful in excess. Plants in the wild can be very variable, so start with small amounts. For example: many people have heard of early Europeans using Sassafras to make a tea or tonic. However Sassafras contains safrole, a possible cancer causing agent, so its use now is not recommended.

There are some berries and fruit we find rather unpalatable, depending on individual taste buds and accustomisation to a western diet. Making a small jar of jam, sauce or chutney can be an option.

Most of the berries and fruit ripen in late summer and autumn and can be available into winter. If you'd like to indulge with more than just a nibble we suggest you grow your own plants in the garden. Many of these plants are quite hardy but some need that extra special spot.

Aristotelia peduncularis. Heart Berry Fat. Fairly hollow berries, often heart-shaped and occurring in moist shady forests in summer/autumn. Berries can come in various colours - white, pink, red or purple-black. Can be bitter in taste. (We have these in stock - they like a cool, moist shady situation.)

Billardiera longiflora. Climbing Blue Berry. A vigorous vine with cream tubular flowers in spring (which help feed honey-eaters) followed in summer and autumn by shiny purple-blue capsicum shaped berries. On the coast these scrambling vines commonly have dusky red berries and, just occassionally, white. These berries are ideal for jam or chutney. The fresh fruits have a floury texture. Save some of the seeds and return to your garden or bush. Jelly is also YUMMY. The climbing blue berry is quite easy to grow, producing berries after a few years.

Billardiera scandens. Apple Berry. A vine from northern Tasmania with a fleshy fruity berry which is still a pale green colour when ripe. It is recommended you spit out the seeds and rough skin. The flesh is quite sweet with a flavour described as being similar to stewed apples. The fruit ripens in autumn.

We have just germinated this plant so hope to have plants ready by late spring or summer.

Carpobrotus rossii. Pigface. This prostrate coastal succulent plant 

Coprosma pumila. Creeping Coprosma. An alpine plant from the central plateau. Female plants have tiny edible orange-red berries.

Cyatliodes sp. These bushes can produce wonderful displays of berries which are edible but not very palatable. Garden grown bushes may produce berries of greater succulence.

Dianella tasmanica. Tasman Flax Lily. The blue berries from this hardy strap-leaved plant can be made into jam.

Exocarpus cupressiformis. Native Cherry. These handsome pine-like plants produce sweet, tiny red edible berries in summer, attached to the end of their green seeds. (This plant has not been the easiest to propagate, and we seldom have many in stock, however we hope to have a decent batch coming on in a couple of years.)

Gaultheria hispida. Snow Berry. This bush for shady moist sites, comes alive in summer to autumn with the whitest of white berry-like fruits. They're edible but not particularly palatable.

Microcachrys tetragona. Creeping Strawberry Pine. Female plants of this prostrate alpine conifer bear tiny raspberry-like fruit in late summer and autumn. (My favourite of all the berries. Great with marinated quail - Tasmanian of course.) We have this conifer in stock, but don't plan the dinner party yet - they're not fast!

Podocarpus lawrencei. Mountain Plum Pine. Another conifer, with small red berries on female plants, similar in appearance to Exocarpus.

Billardiera scandens has purple flowers and edible reddish fruits in summer. This is a great fruit, a bit like a salty fig. (On the wild west coast of Tasmania when you are searching for a way out, it's a good excuse to stop and "pig" out.) Suck out the tiny seed and sweet pulp from the base of the flowering stem. The green leaves can also be eaten in a salad or cooked.

Coprosma hirtella. Coffee Berry. A bush to 1.5m with pale green rounded leaves. The reddish berries on female plants are edible when almost red-black. (A bush in my garden was almost demolished as our dog discovered the berries).

Coprosma quadrifida and Coprosma nitida. Currant Bushes. Prickly bushes up to 1.5m or more. The female plants can be laden with shiny orange berries in autumn.The silver eye finches will tell you when they are ripe. Nice in pies, cakes and tarts.

Coprosma moorei. Blue-Berried Coprosma. Ground hugging alpine plant with tiny succulent edible blue berries.

Rubus gunnianus. Alpine Raspberry. A prostrate suckering plant, which can be invasive in a moist spot, displays tiny red fruits in the summer, on female plants.

Rubus parvifolius. Native Raspberry. A scrambling prickly plant (Like a benign blackberry) with small pinkish flowers followed by small pink to red fruits. High vitamin C content.

Sambucus gaudichaudiana. White Elderberry. Small cream juicy edible berries. Unfortunately we're out of stock of this interesting plant.

Solanum laciniatum. Kangaroo Apple. Our Tasmanian representative of this widespread Australian genus which contains many poisonous and many edible species. ( Exotic relatives include the potato, tomato and deadly nightshade - a fascinating tribe!) The fruit of the kangaroo apple is poisonous when green, but edible when ripening to a yellow or orange colour; so treat with caution. And there's more - for many years this Australian species has been cultivated in Russia to extract substances for steroid and oral contraceptive use. The ripe fruits are high in vitamin C, and make a great chutney. The Tasmanian Aboriginals placed partially ripe fruits in sand heaps to ripen away from birds.

Tasmannia lanceolata.

Native Pepper. Tasmania's shrub of the decade. Many restaurants round the state now include meals flavoured with the dried berries or leaves. The Pepperberry Restaurant in Launceston has been running for many years now.

(One of our customers will now settle for nothing less on his food than our local pepper-berry.) And as a bonus, it's such a handsome plant in the garden. Female plants have the berries, males have the more showy flowers. The, berries can be dried, (eg. fan forced oven) pickled, or frozen to keep. Many new products are springing up - pepper-berry liqueur, wine, damper and ice cream!

Edible Leaves and Teas

Acaena novae-zealandiae. Buzzy. Leaves can be infused for tea. (And seeds can be infused into your socks!) A plant I really quite like in the garden with its glossy leaves, but it can need a regular trim.

Acacia mearnsii. Black Wattle. A bark tea can be used for indigestion. Caution - contains tannin.

Atherosperma moschatum. Sassafras. Caution - see item above. Leaves can be infused for tea - use only a small amount. Early settlers drank this tea. Has also been used to make wine.

Baekea gunnniana. Alpine Baeckea. Leaves in cooking (eg. scones or roast meat) or as a refreshing tea. Lemon tasting and aromatic. Leaves can be used fresh or dried. (We have prostrate and upright forms for sale - nice beside pathways to brush past!)

Correa alba. White Correa. The leaves of this coastal shrub can be infused for tea.

Kennedia prostrata. Running Postman. Another mainly coastal plant. The leaves can be infused for tea, the stems can be used for twine and the nectar from the flower, for a drink. What a plant!

Kunzea ambigua. Sweet Scented Kunzea. Can be infused as a tea and included as a flavouring in cooking. (There is a hand cream available now, with a Tasmanian, Kunzea based perfume. Very nice too.)

Leptospermum rupestre. Mountain Tea Tree. Makes a very nice tea. Leptospermum riparium and L. lanigerum can also be used for tea and as herbs for cooking.

Mentha australis. Native Mint. Caution: Use sparingly. Too much can muck around with oestrogen balances. Tea for coughs and colds and also for food flavouring.

Phebalium montanum. Alpine Phebalium. Leaves can be used in a salad. eg potato salad. ( It's flowering now in the nursery, and scores 10 out of 10 in that department. A very beautiful groundcover.)

Tetragonia sp. New Zealand Spinach or Warrigal Greens. Salads, raw, steamed or as substitute spinach pie. Tetragonia was taken to France as early as 1820 and has been used as a steamed or stir fry vegetable in many households. (Note: I heard a French chef interviewed recently. He grew up with Tetragonia growing in the family vegetable garden, and was surprised when he visited Australia to find it growing wild around the coast, and not even recognised as a food plant!)


Acacia (Wattle) seeds are used in biscuits, ice cream and chocolate. They have a high protein content. The dried seeds are commonly roasted and ground. Green pods can also be cooked on a cool fire and the green seeds eaten - they taste like peas. (For further information on wattle seeds, refer to Bushfoods Magazine No. 4).

Tasmanian wattle seeds which can be used are:

Acacia mucronata: Narrow Leaf Wattle. Acacia verniciflua: Varnish Wattle.

Acacia verticillata: Prickly Moses. Acacia melanoxylon: Blackwood. Acacia dealbata: Silver Wattle and Acacia 

Acacia sophorae: Coast Wattle.

Acacia dealbata. Silver Wattle. The pollen and/or flower can be used in pancakes. (Perhaps not for people with allergy to wattle pollen).

Edible Flowers, Nectar and Pollen

Banksia marginate. Silver Banksia and Banksia serrata. Saw Leaf Banksia. Pour a cup of warm water over the flower spike to get the nectar. (NB: leave the flowers on the bushes for the honey-eaters and pigmy possums and also so the plants can set seed.)

Callistemon sp. Bottle Brushes. As for banksias.

Grevillea australis and Hakea sp. Nectar can be sucked from the flowers or eaten as a garnish on salads.

Kennedia prostrata. Running Postman. Nectar from flowers. Grow your own as a garnish for salads.

Melaleuca sp. Paperbarks. Pollen from flowers can be eaten.

Richea scoparia and Telopea truncata. Waratah. Nectar can be eaten.

Viola hederaceae. Native Violet and Wahlenbergia stricta (Bluebell Flowers). Can be used in a salad or as a garnish. How's this for a recipe - coat flowers with beaten egg whites and dust with icing sugar. Great for cakes or for children with icecream or deserts.

Xanthorhoea sp. Grasstree. Pour water over cones for nectar, or pick a few flowers and infuse.

Bulbine glauca. Rock Lily. The seeds can be eaten like peas. The roots can also be eaten.

The following references have been used in the collation of this information as well as personal experience:

Wild Food in Australia - AB & JW Cribb

Bush Tucker - Tim Low

The Bushfood Handbook - Vic Cherikoff & Jennifer Isaacs

Bush Foods - Jennifer Isaacs

 Plants of Tasmania

65 Hall St, Ridgeway TAS 7054

Ph: 03 6239 1583   Fax: 03 6239 1106