Knowledge and use of traditional plants by Ngunnawal and Yuin peoples of Australia

Barriers to knowledge and transmission


  • Emily Heaney Australian National University
  • Stewart Sutherland Wiradjuri
  • Tyronne Bell Traditional Custodian of ACT region
  • Craig Moritz Australian National University



Food, Medicinal plants, Traditional knowledge, Aboriginal Australians, Australia


The study investigated the knowledge and current usage of traditional food and medicinal plants of the Ngunnawal and Yuin Elder in South Eastern, New South Wales (SE NSW) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) as located on the Australian National University (ANU) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Trail. Insights to barriers to passing on and retaining knowledge were also identified. Elders (3 males and 4 females) were selected through systematic, non-probabilistic and snowball sampling. Ethnographic methods and techniques included informal, semi-structured interviews, participant observation and field diaries. Interviews were conducted at the ANU campus and on South Coast of NSW. Elders reported knowledge of traditional food and medicinal plants, including uses and preparation of plants. Some use of traditional plants was maintained. Multiple plants were identified on ANU Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Trail and had a variety of uses. Barriers to knowledge acquisition and dissemination to younger generation were reported. Challenges navigating Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal expectations of plant use and lack of young people’s engagement with traditional plant use was identified. This suggests that knowledge of traditional food and medicinal plants by the Ngunnawal and Yuin peoples is still present, but there are still significant barriers in maintaining and retaining this knowledge into the future.


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Author Biography

Stewart Sutherland, Wiradjuri

Australian National University


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How to Cite

Heaney, E., Sutherland, S., Bell, T., & Moritz, C. (2020). Knowledge and use of traditional plants by Ngunnawal and Yuin peoples of Australia: Barriers to knowledge and transmission. Mahika Kai Journal, 1(1), 52–95.