Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Bookfest Haul

This weekend the Lifeline Bookfest is being held in the city, and being a book lover I had to have a look. I wasn’t expecting to find much that piqued my interest, but I was pleasantly surprised!

One rare find was a book by Kathleen MacArthur, a fellow wallum enthusiast. The late Kathleen hailed from the Sunshine Coast, where once upon a time wildflowers ruled the land. Unfortunately now, the land appears to be ruled by developers.

Kathleens books

Kathleens books

Kathleen has presented a beautiful book in the form of a diary, filled with her paintings of and dedicated to wildflowers, with a history of each flower. I now have two of her books in my collection.

Another book that I am looking forward to reading is I, the Aboriginal. While not actually written by an Indigenous Australian, it tells of the accounts of a white man’s 30 year relationship with local people, in particular a man named Waipuldanya. Hopefully I will learn more about the plants I love, and how they were a part of people’s lives.

Amazing book for grass identification

 I obtained a set of three volumes that I have never heard of before, weed identification books, including grasses, which I have found decent books on hard to come by. These books have wonderful illustrations making identification quite simple!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Alphitonia excelsa

Alphitonia excelsa

This Australian native medicinal plant is found on rainforest edges and is used as a painkiller.

Alphitonia excelsa
Red Ash, Soap Tree

Tree<18m, or shrub. Young shoots smell like sarsaparilla. Alternate eaves oblong to ovate or narrow; apex obtuse, acute or acuminate; base cuneate, margin slightly recurved; dark green glabrous above;white pubescent beneath (hairs curly).
Inflorescences axillary panicles; cream flowers. Fruits immature shiny green, mature black.
Closed forest, rainforest edges, creek banks.
Found in QLD, NT, NSW and the tip of WA.
Flowers  April-May
Fruits   September-January
Immature green  fruits present in May (S.E.QLD)
None recorded
Anti-inflammatory, Analgesic

I first noticed Alphitonia excelsa when driving up the coast. It stands out from the other trees that line the road, being white against the dark green backdrop, and its habit is noticeably spreading, forming horizontal stripes of pale contrast.

I haven’t come across any records of Alphitonia being used as a food source, and even accounts of it being used internally are rare, and limited to chewing of the young leaf tips for stomach aches, although no mention was made of whether they were swallowed or not. The majority of Indigenous Australian remedies are used externally, and one reason given for this is that the Indigenous peoples lacked containers in which to boil water, so relied on overnight soaking of plants in water instead, and that this method was less reliable in terms of dosage (I’m really not sure what the reason was). I have tasted an infusion of Alphitonia, and it has a distinctive flavour, very hard to describe, I guess burnt cloves and soap would be closest.
Shaken Infusion

Making an infusion
Known as soap-bush, due to the lather the leaves produce, this plant is difficult to get a lather from. I made a very strong infusion, and only achieve a lather after vigorously shaking it.

Antibacterial handwash; Alphitonia, Leptospermum & Cymbopogon

Known as soap-bush, due to the lather the leaves produce, this plant is difficult to get a lather from. I made a very strong infusion, and only achieve a lather after shaking it.  I have used it as an antibacterial hand wash, and an antibacterial wash for my dog’s ears. To make this, simply pour freshly boiled water over the crushed leaves, and let sit for a few hours, for external use. I wet a cloth in the warm solution and wash daily inside her ears, drying afterwards, and her ears are now odour free.
Alphitonia with some bark removed. Note hoe red the inner
bark is.
 The bark of Alphitonia is not normally so dark as in the photo with some bark removed, which was taken immediately after a rain. It actually gives quite a light appearance, in part due to the lichens covering it.

Normal colour of the bark

Its main use seems to be based around anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, and its uses include; leaves have been used to sooth sore eyes; as a bark and wood decoction gargle for tooth-ache; and as an infusion of bark, root and wood as a liniment for body pains. The timber has been used as a dye for cloth (red-brown to orange-yellow).
I used the strong infusion as a liniment, but its effects were rather transitory. When I have the opportunity to collect enough of the bark, I will try making a stronger infusion and see how that works.

Cribb, A.B. & Cribb, J.W.1986. Useful Wild Plants in Australia. Fontana Books
Cribb, A.B. & Cribb, J.W. 1981. Wild medicine in Australia. William Collins, pty, ltd
Lassack ,E.V. & McCarthy ,T.2001.  Australian Medicinal Plants. New Holland Publishers
Stanley, t, & Ross, E. 1995. Flora of south-eastern Queensland. Department of Primary Industries