Herbal Medicines

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Herbal Medicines

These days, alternative medicines are actually more popular than conventional medicines. Many of these alternative preparations are based on plant extracts, but the problem is very little research has been done to find out how well they work and if they’re safe to use. The good news is that researchers in the School of Biomedical Science at Charles Sturt University are currently investigating the biological activity of a number of commonly used plant extracts. Don talked to Drs Heather Urwin and Jenny Wilkinson about some of the plants they are studying, including lavender, native raspberry and lemon myrtle.


Research so far supports claims that lavender oils are effective antibacterials and are good for cuts, burns and bruises. However, not all lavenders work in the same way. English lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia) are excellent antibacterials, and so are forms of Lavandula x intermedia, while Mitcham species such as Lavandula x allardii are poor antibacterials but have excellent antiviral properties. It’s also thought that one of the constituents of lavender oil may prevent the onset of bowel cancer. Heather stressed that lavender oils are toxic at certain levels, and internal use, in other than tiny quantities – such as when added to cakes – is not advised.

Native Raspberry

The native raspberry (Rubus spp.) is also under investigation. Raspberry cordial has long been used in Australia as a preventative for gastroenteritis and a tonic for an upset stomach, and research so far indicates that it actually does work in that way.

Lemon myrtle

Researchers at Charles Sturt University found that the lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) has very good antibacterial activity and excellent antifungal activity. In fact, studies suggest that backhousia oil has better antibacterial and antifungal properties than the better-known tea tree (Melaleuca alternanthera). The lemon myrtle is a beautiful small native tree for the home garden. It grows to around 4-6m (12-20′) tall and about 2m (6′) wide. It is very easy to grow, and likes a position in part shade through to full sun, and a deep, rich soil. It does well in most mainland areas of Australia, but needs protection from frost, especially when young.

The leaves can be used in cooking, or infused and made into tea. In WWII the leaves were actually used by the soft drink company Tarax to flavour lemonade. Barry Lillywhite at Charles Sturt University has developed a range of cheeses made with native herbs, including a delicious lemon myrtle cheese.

Note: Some people can get contact dermatitis after using any essential oil, therefore if a rash appears stop using it.

Further details

Lemon myrtle oil is available at health food shops. A 15ml bottle costs about $15. The cheeses from Charles Sturt University cost around $5 for 200g and are available at the deli counter of some Coles, Safeway and Woolworths stores in Victoria and NSW. Flavours include bush tomato, mint, forest berry, pepper leaf and lemon myrtle. CSU plans to make the cheeses available nationally in the future. For distribution information, ring (02) 6933 2434. Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) plants are readily available at nurseries or at most specialist native nurseries, including:

Annangrove Grevilleas Native Nursery, Kenthurst, NSW. Phone: (02) 9654 1380
Cranebrook Native Nursery, Cranebrook, NSW. Phone: (02) 4777 4256.
Sydney Wildflower Nursery West, Marsden Park, NSW. Phone: (02) 9628 4448
Sydney Wildflower Nursery South, Heathcote, NSW. Phone: (02) 9548 2818
Fairhill Native Plants, Yandina, QLD. Phone: (07) 5446 7088
Nielsen’s Native Nursery, Loganholme, QLD. Phone: (07) 3806 1414
Kuranga Native Nursery, Ringwood, VIC. Phone: (03) 9879 4076
Mt Cassell Native Nursery, Pomonal, VIC. Phone: (03) 5356 6351
Zanthorrea Nursery, Maida Vale, WA. Phone: (08) 9454 6260