The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as "the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness". Plants, indigenous to a particular geographic region constitute the sophisticated traditional medicine systems of that area. They developed traditional medical systems (for example, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine) in which herbal therapies were used.
Indigenous cultures (for instance African and Native American) used herbs in their healing practices. With one of the oldest surviving cultures in the world, Australian Aboriginal people have developed immense knowledge about the diverse Australian flora. These Aboriginal people hold significant traditional medicinal knowledge related to the use of different plant species for indications including infection and inflammatory conditions.
The present issue of Medherb Green Pages (MGP) has focused on exploration of Australian medicinal plants. Australia is classified as one of the world's 17 mega diverse countries, possessing rich plant biodiversity, with many species endemic to the continent. Due to the harsh conditions seen in many parts of Australia, plants have developed unique survival methods and phyto-chemicals specific to the environmental conditions of their habitat. Such plants may be the source for many therapeutic agents.
The Aboriginal people of Australia who have existed on this continent for at least 40,000 years have developed a series of specific treatments for various ailments. Aboriginal medicine also referred to as 'bush medicine' uses plant leaves, seeds, tubers, minerals as well as some animal products. Their knowledge of plant and animal lore was encyclopedic. A practitioner of bush medicine is called an "Ngangkeri". Aboriginal people believe that their healers, their 'medicine men', have special powers which are imparted upon them by their divine ancestors to cure. There were no comprehensive remedies used by all tribes. Traditions in southern and eastern Australia have largely been lost, but efforts are being made by anthropologists to record traditions from Aborigines in central and north-western Australia. In the Northern territory, however, it is still relatively well-preserved. Ngangkeres are said to be present in health clinics to perform rituals and give medical advice when necessary.
Much of the present understanding of the medicinal potential of Australian native plants is from accounts of Aboriginal ethnopharmacology. Scientific investigation of some Australian medicinal plants has demonstrated interesting pharmacological activities and chemistry.
Prior to European settlement (invasion) the Aborigines of Australia were not exposed to many ailments that are common in Europe. Europeans also brought items that changed the way Aborigines processed plants. Although this made processing the plants faster, it may have changed the composition of chemicals extracted from plants due to the addition of heat.
In Australia the most commonly found cultural types of herbal medicine are Western, Aboriginal, Chinese and Ayurvedic (Indian), although there are also many other cultures represented in Australia that utilise their own unique and traditional herbal treatments. Complementary medicines, including herbal medicines in Australia are regulated under therapeutics goods legislation. Based on risk, Australia has developed a two tiered approach to the regulation of therapeutic goods. Listed medicines are considered to be of lower risk than registered medicines. An important feature of risk management in Australia is that early market access for low risk complementary medicines is supported by appropriate post-market regulatory activity.
In Australia the currently self-regulated status of the profession (as of April 2008) resulted in formation of different associations setting different educational standards, and subsequently recognising an educational institution or course of training. The National Herbalists Association of Australia is generally recognised as having the most rigorous professional standard within Australia.The Therapeutic Goods Administration regulates therapeutic goods through: pre-market assessment, post-market monitoring and enforcement of standards, licensing of Australian manufacturers and verifying overseas manufacturers' compliance with the same standards as their Australian counterparts.
Around 150 medicinal plants are traded in Australia; at the same time it is the twelfth largest importer of Indian medicinal plants and medicaments. Many Australian plants such as Tea tree, Eucalyptus, Callistemons and Santalum Species yield essential oils of commerce.
I hope the information compiled will help our stakeholders in strengthening their business relationship with Australia.
Janak Raj Rawal