Thursday, 9 June 2016

Gulbarn Tea: Bush Medicine Gaining Prominence

One of the shortcomings of my naturopathy degree (ie besides the minimal business education) is the almost complete lack of education in indigenous Australian medicine, besides the standard eucalyptus and tea tree, and some mention of lemon myrtle. This is most likely because of minimal scientific research into our native herbs, which is most likely caused by minimal awareness that these plants actually exist. The herbal medicines we do learn about are usually from anywhere but Australia (a friend of mine who told me about this mystery plant doesn't even know its name!).

Fortunately, some more indigenous herbal medicines are gaining sustained awareness, besides one or two news reports saying "X plant may cure X" before disappearing forever, and transforming communities in the process. I am talking specifically about Gulbarn, a bush that grows around Minyerri in the remote Roper region of the Northern Territory, about 580 kilometres southeast of Darwin. In 2013, Samara Billy, a resident of the Minyerri community, was showing representatives from the Enterprise Learning Project around said community in order to get funding for construction of an arts centre. Samara then showed the representatives a Gulbarn bush, and told them how it is traditionally used: as a tea, or a body wash. It is mainly used to soothe coughs and colds, or as Samara said, as a remedy for stress. The lack of caffeine and similar properties and flavanoids as green tea are responsible for its newfound popularity among buyers in Australia and Asia. While nobody was initially interested in using the tea at all, the community is now behind growing the business, with even young children getting involved on packing days and the women (especially Samara) mainly spearheading the business. This success is also now giving others in her community the confidence to come up with other business ideas.

Why is this so important? A deep, unshakable connection to the land means that leaving often very remote areas for work in the cities is not an option for so many indigenous Australians. Frequent lack of support for local businesses leaves indigenous communities with high unemployment and little economic power, which leaves many vulnerable to exploitation and control by government and others, and many turning to crime and substance abuse (did you think unemployment and the resulting dependence was in any way enjoyable?). One way to solve this is by increasing the promotion of, and research into, the native bush medicines, but not without the resulting businesses being run by the indigenous people in that area (who actually know what they're doing with these plants). As native herbal medicines are growing in their ideal environment around here, they are most likely to be producing the optimal profile of medicinal constituents and you probably won't kill them regardless of how terrible your gardening skills are. Medicinal constituents are "secondary metabolites", typically produced more when immediate needs of growth and survival aren't so hard to fulfill. I tried to grow milk thistle, but THE STUPID THING DIED when I was too busy to water it for a day or two.....Australian plants are tougher. Overall, everybody wins when herbal medicines native to Australia are not ignored and are a means to economic empowerment for indigenous Australians.

If you are interested in buying Gulbarn tea, click here. I do not know if this is only available for shipping in Australia or internationally.

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