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Therapeutic Uses of Common Backyard Trees and Plants – Part 2

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Part Two

We hope you enjoyed part one of our guide to backyard medicinal trees and plants. Welcome to part two in our series, where we continue to explore the different therapeutic uses of common Australian plants. We hope you’ve been inspired to check out your nearest nursery, and that you’ve learned something new about the healing properties of your local flora. Read on to find out even more about our native vegetation, and the healing benefits that so many of our backyard plants possess!

1. Quandongs

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These Australian native peaches (santalum acuminatum), traditionally a significant food source for Indigenous Australians, are packed with a whole host of health benefits.

Therapeutic benefits

Quandongs contain twice the amount of vitamin C in an orange, as well as loads of vitamin E, folate, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. Due to their phenolic-based antioxidants, quandongs are preventative against illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

The kernel contains a variety of complex oils that can be used to create antibacterial and anti-inflammatory pastes, whilst the leaves can be used for their Rutin-rich properties as an effective anti-aging remedy for the skin.

How to grow quandongs

Quandong trees grow in semi-arid regions in Australia and can tolerate high soil salinity levels. In the bush, these part parasitic trees will seek out a host plant or tree from which they rely on for their complete water requirements.

If you want to plant a quandong tree at home, remember that the seeds are incredibly hardy. Soak your seed for a few weeks and crack it open with a nutcracker for faster germination. Many people grow their quandong seedlings in tubes so that the deep roots have a chance to grow before you pot or plant.

2. Desert mushrooms

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As vivid as the red centre of Australia, pycnoporus fungi, have been used as medicinal mushrooms by Indigenous Australians for thousands of years. The fruiting bodies of these fungi are a bright reddish-orange colour and are widespread on dead wood, making them hard to miss if you come across one!

Therapeutic benefits

Aboriginal people suck on the bright orange desert mushroom to treat ulcers and soreness on the mouth and lips. These mushrooms are also given to babies with oral thrush, and used as natural teething rings.

How to grow desert mushrooms

These mushrooms are usually foraged on dead trees in the bush, making them difficult to grow on your own.

3. St. John’s wort

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These star-shaped flowers (hypericum perforatum) bloom all over the world, and can help with an incredibly diverse range of health problems.

Therapeutic benefits

Most commonly, St. John’s wort is used to treat anxiety,  been known to treat symptoms of menopause such as heart palpitations and moodiness, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

St. John’s wort can also be used topically as an essential oil. The oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory and helps ease the aches and pains of sciatica, sprains, burns, and fibrositis.

How to grow St. John’s wort

Plant a patch of this perennial plant in early spring, and it should last you years to come. St. John’s wort likes a semi-shaded area with light sandy soil. Their roots have quite a wide spread, so be sure to give them spacing of about a foot.

Harvest the flowers in late summer and keep them somewhere cool so you can dry them for later use. You can keep dried St. John’s wort flowers and use them for up to a year – storing them in a jar or other airtight container will help retain their medicinal properties.

4. Licorice

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This sweet root (glycyrrhiza glabra) is up to 50 times sweeter than sugar. In fact, during the sugar rations of WWII, it was the only sweet treat available in Europe. Aside from being a healthier alternative to sugar, licorice root is also known to aid digestion.

Therapeutic benefits

The active ingredient in licorice is glycyrrhiza, which can be used to treat upset stomachs, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn and acid reflux. A cup of licorice tea after a meal has been a traditional aid to digestion for many years. Chilled licorice root tea is also a great refresher during heatstroke.

How to grow licorice root

Licorice is quite a low maintenance perennial crop. Best grown in sun (but can also tolerate part shade), liquorice can grow up to 1.5 metres and also has an extensive root system that will require around 1-3 metres of space.

The best conditions for licorice to thrive are temperate to subtropical areas. It’s possible to grow it in tropical areas too, as long as the soil drains well. Licorice seed should be sown in spring or summer, however, root propagation is a more successful method of growing your own licorice.

Nice, rich soil will encourage the roots to spread, and whilst it can be harvested at any time of the year, it may take 2-3 years for the roots to reach the usable size of 1-5cm.

5. Warrigal greens

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This spinach grows along the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Japan and Argentina. Also known as tetragonia tetragonioides, New Zealand spinach, Botany Bay spinach or sea spinach, these greens can be found anywhere that the sand and soil meet. It’s said the antioxidants present in this coastal spinach were a saving grace for early settlers, whist the plant was consumed by the first Australians for a long time prior.

Make sure you blanch your Warrigal greens for a few minutes before eating, as this will remove potentially harmful oxalates.

Health benefits

This native spinach is so high in antioxidants that Captain James Cook took it on voyages to prevent scurvy. Warrigal greens are also effective at preventing ulcers, contain sedative properties, and have a high fibre content.

How to grow Warrigal greens

Start your seeds in trays, and plant between 4 to 6 weeks later. Warrigal greens do better if they are alone in their garden bed, and require spacing of around 45cm to 60cm. In about 10 weeks you should be ready to harvest – but be sure to only pick the tips so your plants will regrow.

6. Kakadu plums

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Also known as the Billygoat Plum or terminalia ferdinandiana, this little plum is packed with as much Vitamin C as 50 oranges! Unsurprisingly, it was a major source of food and thirst-quenching for Indigenous Australian tribes wherever it could be found.

Therapeutic benefits

One of the world’s richest sources of vitamin C, the Kakadu Plum can be used in many different ways. Kakadu plums have been said to both treat and prevent cancer thanks to the ellagic acid it contains, which helps to maintain healthy human tissues. Kakadu plums have also been said to offset the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Not only do these olive-sized fruits provide a host of health advantages, but they can also be utilised for their beauty benefits. Kakadu plum is used in many beauty products, as it can help maintain levels of collagen and elastic for lustre and shine. Both anti-aging and anti-acne products get great results from adding Kakadu plum.

How to grow Kakadu plum trees

Those wanting to grow Kakadu plums need to have a lot of patience! The seeds tend to be dormant, so you will have to sand or file your seed to get it growing. Expect around 6 months to 2 years until your seed even starts germinating. Plant your seed just a centimetre under your soil, in full sun. Keep watering until you see the seedling sprout.

Kakadu plum trees thrive best in tropical climates, and can grow up to 10 meters tall. The best time to harvest your Kakadu plum fruits will be in April, May and June.

7. Mountain pepper

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Native pepper berry trees, Tasmannia lanceolata, are found in the cold high country in Southern NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. Growing to some 5 meters high, both their leaves and fruits have been used by Indigenous Australians in both cooking and as medicine for thousands of years.

Therapeutic benefits

Mountain pepper berries are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and high antioxidant content. Pepper-berry has been used by many traditional medical practitioners to treat diseases like arthritis and digestive issues. Because mountain pepper fruits and leaves can help slow absorption of glucose from the stomach, it’s possible that both could act preventatively against diabetes.

How to grow mountain pepper berries

Pepper berries are bit fussy, and require a specific climate of good rainfall, cold winters, and mild summers. Only the female mountain pepper plants bear fruit, and it takes several years for them to begin doing so.

In order to cultivate the pepper fruits you will need both a male and a female plant. Plant them close to one another in a shaded area, and give them lots of water for them to thrive.

8. Native raspberry

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The Rubus parvifolius raspberry is native to Eastern Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam) and Australia, and is like a daintier version of the raspberries you find in a supermarket. It’s well worth scrambling through some brambles for a handful of these tart fruits. You can enjoy then in preserves such as jam, pies, wine, and liqueurs – plus there are a host of health benefits that go with them.

Therapeutic benefits

Native raspberries were used by Indigenous Australians to treat diarrhoea. The fruit is also very rich in vitamin C and is therefore known to offer a boost to the immune system.

These same berries are used in Chinese medicine as well, and studies have shown good success in reducing tumours with this remedy.

How to grow native raspberries

As berries are a long-term crop, it’s worth preparing the soil and removing all weeds before planting. Native raspberries grow in much the same way that the regular varieties thrive, so before planting soak the roots for an hour or two and plant about a metre apart. Due to it’s ability to spread rapidly, native raspberry is best confined by wide paths or other barriers.

9. Feverfew

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These gorgeous daisy plants, hypericum perforatum, will not only cheer up your garden bed, but also alleviate your headaches! The anti-inflammatory leaves can be eaten fresh or dried for the long-term and consumed as a medicinal tea.

Therapeutic benefits

The leaves of feverfew can be chewed to take away the painful throb of a headache. This plant is a great one to have on hand for those prone to migraines.

The subtle flavour of the leaves means you can sprinkle them on top of salads and other foods for headache relief or to reduce inflammation in conditions such as arthritis or skin conditions like eczema.

How to grow feverfew

Sow the seeds of your feverfew in full sun to partial shade, but don’t press too hard into the soil as they require light for germination. Space plants 15-30cm apart and make sure the soil has adequate drainage during the initial stages of growth. Once established, your feverfew can handle a few dry spells. Allow 16-20 weeks for them to fully flower.

10. Marigold

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Calendula officinalis, from flower petal garnish in your salad to a medicinal power-plant, the humble marigold is a favourite around the world.

Therapeutic benefits

Marigold will sooth sunburn and other angry red skin disorders such as acne, impetigo and varicose veins. It also acts an anti-inflammatory for digestive problems such as stomach ulcers.

Aside from calming and soothing, marigolds are also full of antioxidants and nutrients such as vitamin C that can slow the ageing process and prevent illness.

How to grow marigolds

Marigolds will flower well in most parts of Australia except for the tropical areas. Marigolds like to be in like rich, well-drained soil. Sow your marigold seeds in autumn and spring for flowers, and give them lots of water, especially during the summer months. You will also get more fresh flowers if you remove the spent blooms.

Your own backyard apothecary

So many blooms and wonderful trees to plant, so little time! Nature has provided you with your own medicinal dispensary, so take advantage of her natural, healing blooms. We hope you’ve been inspired to plant something therapeutic soon, however big or small, potent or subtle. So go out into your garden and have some fun planting today.

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