Numerous common pharmaceuticals, including anti-cancer, antiviral and antidiabetic drugs, are derived from traditional plant-derived medicines. With approximately 25,000 species of flora occurring in Australia that are adapted to the harsh environment, there is a plethora of novel compounds awaiting research in the context of their medicinal properties. Anecdotal accounts of plant-based medicines used by the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples clearly illustrates high therapeutic activity.
This review aims to demonstrate the medicinal potentials of selected native Australian plants based on scientific data. Furthermore, it is anticipated that work presented here will contribute towards enhancing our knowledge of native plants from Australia, particularly in the prevention and potential treatment of disease types such as cancer, microbial and viral infections, and diabetes. This is not meant to be a comprehensive study, rather it is meant as an overview to stimulate future research in this field.
The EBSCOhost platform which included PubMed, SciFinder, Web of Knowledge, Scopus, and ScienceDirect databases were searched for papers using the keywords: medicinal plants, antioxidative, antimicrobial, antibacterial, anticancer, anti-tumor, antiviral or antidiabetic, as well as Australian, native, traditional and plants. The selection criteria for including studies were restricted to articles on plants used in traditional remedies which showed antioxidative potential and therapeutic properties such as anticancer, antimicrobial, antiviral and antidiabetic activity.
Some plants identified in this review which showed high Total Phenolic Content (TPC) and antioxidative capacity, and hence prominent bioactivity, included Tasmannia lanceolata (Poir.) A.C. Sm., Terminalia ferdinandiana Exell, Eucalyptus species, Syzygium species, Backhousia citriodora F.Muell., Petalostigma species, Acacia species, Melaleuca alternifolia (Maiden & Betche) Cheel, Eremophila species, Prostanthera rotundifolia R.Br., Scaevola spinescens R. Br. and Pittosporum angustifolium Lodd. The majority of studies found polar compounds such as caffeic acid, coumaric acid, chlorogenic acid, quercetin, anthocyanins, hesperidin, kaempferol, catechin, ellagic acid and saponins to be the active components responsible for the therapeutic effects. Additionally, mid to non-polar volatile organic compounds such as meroterpenes (serrulatanes and nerol cinnamates), monoterpenes (1,8-cineole and myodesert-1-ene), sesquiterpenes, diterpenes and triterpenes, that are known only in Australian plants, have also shown therapeutic properties related to traditional medicine.
Australian plants express a diverse range of previously undescribed metabolites that have not been given full in vitro assessment for human health potential. This review has included a limited number of plant species of ethnomedicinal significance; hundreds of plants remain in need of exploration and detailed study. Future more elaborate studies are therefore required to screen out and purify lead bioactive compounds against numerous other disease types. This will not only improve our knowledge on the phytochemistry of Australian native flora, but also provide a platform to understand their health-promoting and bioactive effects for pharmaceutical interventions, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, and as functional foods. Finally, plant-derived natural compounds (phytochemicals), as well as plant-based traditional remedies, are significant sources for latent and novel drugs against diseases. Extensive investigation of native medicinal plants may well hold the key to novel drug discoveries.