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Ritual keeps the bacteria at bay

Saturday, 6th September, 2014

The traditional Aboriginal “smoking’ rituals in which smoke from a smouldering bush is let drift over the body has been found to have not just a spiritual but a very practical application.

The smoke is a very effective antibacterial agent, according to scientists from the University of New England.

Associate Professor Graham Jones said they have simulated traditional smoking ceremonies in the laboratory using “Emu Bush” in order to identify components in the smoke.

He said that heating the bush produces compounds that are highly active against bacteria and can be used to treat skin fungal problems such as acne, staph infections, boils and athlete’s foot.

“There is a key ingredient in the Emu Bush that is only activated when the leaves are heated. 

“We have characterised the compound and found that it kills microorganisms very efficiently and we are now using it to develop antifungal creams and ointments.”

PhD student Nicholas Sadgrove said Aboriginal people had always known that smoking served a medical purpose.

“The indigenous people used these smoking ceremonies after child birth and circumcision when the antibacterial effects were very useful. It also helped bring on breast milk and stop bleeding after childbirth,” he said.

Assoc. Prof. Jones acknowledged the intellectual contribution to the study from of the elders of the Kamilaroi Nation.

“We are building intellectual bridges between modern science and traditional medicine.

“The knowledge the indigenous people have is impressive; they knew this a long time before we did. We have just demonstrated what they have been doing for years.”

He said the Aboriginal communities were interested in developing business opportunities using these traditional medicinal plants.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

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