Indigenous rituals lead to skin infection treatment

Published 05 September 2014

A group of scientists from the University of New England have discovered a link between traditional indigenous smoking rituals and the treatment of skin infections such as acne, staph infections, boils and athlete’s foot.

Associate Professor Graham Jones said they have simulated traditional smoking ceremonies in the laboratory using a plant called the ‘Emu Bush’ in order to identify components in the smoke.

He said heating the plant produces compounds that are highly active against bacteria and can be used to treat skin fungal problems.

“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.”

Recently completed UNE PhD student Nicholas Sadgrove who did the isolation work said this has the potential to be used in anti-fungal creams to treat acne, staph infections, boils and athlete’s foot

“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.”

A/Prof. Jones acknowledged the intellectual contribution of the elders from 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 indigenous communities are interested in developing business opportunities using these traditional medicinal plants.