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Therapeutic Uses of Common Backyard Trees and Plants – Part 3

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Part 3

Time for the final chapter in our series on plants with therapeutic properties in Australia. It’s great to know that we have the power to heal ourselves with what we can find in the garden and in our backyard bushland. It’s even more humbling to think that Indigenous Australians have possessed and used this knowledge for thousands of years! Read on to find out more about our native flora and the therapeutic benefits that so many of our home grown plants can provide.

1. Samphire

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Samphire also goes by other names such as sea asparagus, sea beans, pickleweed and glasswort. A succulent superfood that that grows in brackish water near the ocean, it grows well in many places around the world, including the southern coast of Australia.

Therapeutic benefits

Samphire is yet another wonder plant that kept convicts and pirates alive and scurvy-free on brutal long journeys across the sea. It’s incredibly rich in folic acid and vitamins A, calcium and iron. It’s also said to cleanse the liver, improve mood and aid cognitive function and digestion.

How to grow samphire

Because this succulent loves the sea, you’ll have to keep it in an ocean-like environment. Add some sea salt to the water that will keep your samphire moist, but never use table salt because this will kill your plant.

Samphire does well in soil that is light and sandy and prefers a sunny, sheltered position out of the dangers of frost. If sowing from seeds, start off in trays before moving to pots. Your samphire is ready to enjoy when the shoots reach around 15cm.

2. Lemon myrtle

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Nothing compares to the sweet yet citral aroma of lemon myrtle. The zesty plant also comes with a host of medicinal benefits, from antiseptic skin care to preventative medicine.

Therapeutic benefits

Lemon myrtle is an amazing plant to have handy during flu season. It is a powerful antioxidant that can ward off illnesses, and its antiviral properties will stop disease carrying microorganisms in their tracks. Lemon myrtle can be taken as an oil or as a tea, used in cooking to spice up a recipe or applied topically in the form of essential oil.

Use lemon myrtle for sore throats, colds, infections, allergies, upset tummies or even topically as an insect repellent.

How to grow lemon myrtle

Lemon myrtle trees can tower up to 60 feet high, and are native to temperate Australian coastal regions like Queensland and New South Wales. Lemon myrtle grows in any type of soil, but prefers well fertilised, rich soil.

To grow, propagate tip cuttings from a fully grown tree in a large container with well drained and well composted soil. Gently push the cutting into the soil and water regularly. Lemon myrtle requires shade whilst still growing, but can tolerate sun when matured.

3. Macadamia

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Tropical, crunchy and creamy – there’s no doubt that macadamias are delicious. The good news is that they are also packed with a host of health benefits.

Therapeutic benefits

Macadamia oil is excellent for repairing dry and damaged skin. It can also be used as a natural way to protect yourself from the sun, as opposed to many sunscreens that contain harsh chemicals such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone.

The nuts themselves are full of Omega-3 and good fatty acids that reduce absorption of bad cholesterols. Minerals such as magnesium will also help the stability and strength of the body’s tissues and bones.

How to grow macadamia trees

Native to the subtropical east coast of Australia, macadamias prefer warm weather. You’ll get the most nuts in a temperate climate, but can still grow the trees in climates as cool as Tasmania. Macadamias can be grown from seed but they’re usually propagated by cuttings, and grafting produces the best results. They grow up to 20 metres high but it’s possible to buy dwarf varieties for smaller spaces.

4. Eucalypts

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Eucalypts, commonly known as gum trees, form an intrinsic part of the Australian identity with the bush. A dominant part of the Australian flora, Eucalypts come in a variety of shapes and sizes – from small shrubs to large trees.

Therapeutic benefits

Eucalyptus are a powerful yet gentle antiseptic that can be grown right in your own backyard.

The leaves have been used to treat colds, sore throats, allergies and blocked sinuses for many years. An Indigenous Australian remedy for an upset stomach is also a boiled infusion of eucalyptus bark.

Eucalyptus products also make excellent antiseptics and cleaning products that are a great alternative to standard chemical-laden cleaners.

How to grow eucalyptus

While you may think of towering gumtrees when you think of eucalyptus trees, you can also grow them in pots and containers if you are constrained by space. If you are going to plant your eucalypt in a pot, make sure you go for a large, cone-shaped Air-Pot so the roots don’t spiral.

Do your research on what kind of gumtree sapling will work best for the soil and environment you have. All eucalyptus trees require full sun, but the E. neglecta and E. crenulata species will do fine in half sun. Eucalypts are best suited to warm-temperate or semi-arid regions, and once established they are drought tolerant. Propagate from seed and plant in light, well-drained soil in sunlight. Eucalyptus plants are fast growing, hardy and long lived.

5. Chamomile

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Chamomile, or rhodanthe anthemoides, is widespread in eastern Australia. It grows primarily in rocky areas, preferring sandy soils, and during winter pink buds may form and stay dormant until opening in early spring. Chamomile plants have wonderful medicinal effects and are easy to raise as long as you have a little bit of sunshine on your side.

Therapeutic benefits

Calming cups of chamomile tea, a soothing salve for burns and cuts – there’s so much these daisies can do. Research has also shown that sipping chamomile tea while sick can reduce the symptoms of colds, and it’s thought that chamomile tea can even prevent muscle spasming and menstrual cramps.

How to grow chamomile

Chamomile plants love light soil and sunshine, but these delicate daisies may need a little shade if you live in an area with intense heat. They do well in pots, making them perfect for balcony gardens or apartment plant life.

Harvest your chamomile flowers in summer to make home-grown chamomile tea, or dry them for use all year round.

6. Persimmon

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These plants take patience but will be with you for some time – some specimens in China are documented as being over 300 years old. While they are delicious, they have to be picked at just the right time. The acorn-shaped hachiya needs to be super soft to be sweet enough to eat.

Therapeutic benefits

Persimmons can improve your health from the inside out. Persimmons are said to prevent various types of cancer by boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation and improving blood circulation. They’re even known to boost eye health and help weight loss by kick starting the metabolism.

How to grow persimmons

These fruit trees prefer temperate climates with mild summers and winters that don’t get too bitterly cold. Plant your persimmon in winter and try to choose an area with full sun, wind protection and good drainage. Water well while it’s growing and add some manure a few months after planting.

You’ll need to prune your persimmon, but be careful as the fruits only bear on wood that’s a year old. While it takes patience to wait for your persimmon to bear fruit, it’s worth the wait for these fruits. When ripe, you should gently cut them off the tree, as they are as delicate as they are delicious.

7. Nettle (Urtica dioica)

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This plant is covered in tiny stinging tubes and is officially considered a weed. Yet it can be used for all manner of things, from tea to medicine to food.

Therapeutic benefits

Nettle can be eaten or brewed up as a tea to provide all sorts of health benefits. These include kidney support, pain relief for arthritis, reduction in hypertension, treatment for digestive issues like IBS, and it can even be used as an antibacterial mouthwash. The leaves also boost the immune system by stimulating the lymphatic system into action.

Indigenous Australians utilised the stings of nettle to stimulate paralysed areas by beating the affected areas with the plant.

How to grow nettle

Nettle will spring up mighty fast, so it may be worth finding an area with an infestation so you can forage for yourself. Wearing gloves is recommended when harvesting nettle to protect yourself from the tiny stings. Good nettle harvests can be obtained after times of heavy rain if you live in a temperate climate.

8. Midyim or Midgen Berry

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Midyim Berry is a cute little shrub that bears white flowers and soft sweet fruits. Native to the coastal regions of northern New South Wales and south east Queensland, these berries have supple skin and tiny edible seeds. A hardy native berry, these fruits are wonderful in pies and preserves.

Therapeutic benefits

Because these berries are native and hardy, you can grow them without the aid of pesticides and harmful chemicals. It is always better for your digestive system to take in fruits that are grown locally, as you avoid introducing toxins and pesticides into your body.

How to grow midget berry plants

Plant in late winter or early spring to enjoy your flowers in early summer. Midyim can flourish in both pot plants and the ground, and can be fashioned into a sweet-smelling hedge.

Make sure you keep it well fed with water and mulch to get a good berry harvest. Once you pick your berries, be sure to give it a trim to reap the rewards next fruit season.

9. Aniseed Myrtle (Backhousia anisata)

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The aniseed scented leaves from this tree are used to flavour both desserts, preserves, marinades and salad dressings. Aniseed myrtle can also be used medicinally, and they make for a beautiful ornamental tree in any backyard.

Therapeutic benefits

Aniseed myrtle is traditionally used for weight loss, lactation and stomach complaints. You can make a tea from either fresh or dried leaves – it has quite a refreshing flavour.

How to grow aniseed myrtle

The aniseed myrtle tree is native to only a few areas in north eastern New South Wales. You can tell it is a rainforest tree thanks to the lush density of its foliage. Those lucky enough to have an aniseed myrtle tree will enjoy the tiny white flowers that appear come spring time.

Aniseed myrtle can grow up to 45 metres when let loose, but is usually kept to around 10 metres in your average garden. It’s also possible to keep a potted aniseed myrtle, or to prune it into a hedge.

 10. Native ginger

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Native ginger, or alpinia caerulea, is an edible perennial herb that grows in subtropical, warm temperate climates. This tough, woody climber vine rewards you with clusters of yellow flowers and deep blue berries with medicinal properties.

Therapeutic benefits

The leaf shoots and berries have a mild ginger flavour and can be eaten fresh from the plant or used in cooking. Indigenous Australians would crush the berries and mix with water to form a gargle to soothe sore throats.

How to grow Australian native ginger plants

Native ginger plants are found naturally in forested areas of eastern Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. They are sensitive to frost and prefer at least partially shaded areas to thrive. They also like rich soil and regular watering.

Be careful if you plant native ginger in your garden – this common climber is prone to taking over large areas. But keep it in check and you’ll enjoy sweet berries and lovely pronged leaves for a long time to come.

Reap nature’s benefits

Now we’ve come to the end of our series on the therapeutic flora that flourishes best in Australia. While we’ve included the plants and trees with the best benefits, we encourage you to get out there and research even more about the various therapeutic flora this land has to offer, as well as trying to grow some yourself! We hope that this 3 part series has inspired you to explore your local flora, and reap the medicinal and therapeutic benefits that nature has offered us.

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