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Plant identification guides:
Bush tucker food forest

Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


As with all medicinal applications of Australian bush foods, please do your due diligence and consult with First Nations or other Australian herbal specialists before utilising as a remedy for any condition.


Some parts of the plant may not be edible or some may need preparation before they are safe to eat or use in any way. We do our best to describe their traditional & modern uses. It is the reader’s responsibility to ensure they are fit for their intended use.


We can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.


Scientific name:

Other Names:

Hibiscus tiliaceus

Cotton tree, Sea Hibiscus, Beach Hibiscus, Native Hibiscus, Green Cottonwood, Cottonwood Hibiscus, Sea Rosemallow, Kurrajong.




Basic info:

This plant has a worldwide distribution. It is a common coastal plant in most of tropical Africa, South Asia, Pacific Islands and Eastern and Northern Australia. It grows along shorelines, mangrove edges, tidal streams, brackish swamps and wherever soil moisture is available.  

The flowers are bright yellow with a deep red centre upon opening. Over the course of the day, the flowers deepen to orange and finally red before they fall. The branches of the tree often curve over time. The leaves are heart shaped.

Uses and Interesting Information:

The young shoots and flowers are edible (either raw or boiled), as well as the roots. In the West Indies, the gel-like bark was also used as a food source, and sucked to remove the gel.

When the Cottonwood is flowering in spring and early summer, Indigenous people would know that it was a good time to catch River Whiting, which have yellow on the fins the same as the Cottonwood flowers. The fish was cooked and served in the Cottonwood flowers and leaves and eaten together.

The plant has also been used for a range of medicinal purposes:

“The inner bark and sapwood were heated in water to make an infusion that was used as an antiseptic to pour on wounds; the bark was used to bandage wounds; leaves were heated over a fire and pressed on wounds to staunch blood flow; flowers were used in Tahiti to treat sores.”  (from R Melzer & J Plumb (2007), Plants of Capricornia, Rockhampton: Belgamba, p172)

A tea made using the bark and roots has also been used to alleviate fevers and menstrual issues. A tea made from the leaves and bark has been used to treat stomach pains and diarrhoea.

Indigenous people soaked the bark until the fibres could be separated which were then used to make baskets, fishing lines, nets, ropes, mats and ceremonial dresses.

The women harvested smaller branches, stripped the bark, soaked them in water until they were fibrous, then dried them out before adding different dyes (berries and ochre) to colour them, and finally weaving the fibres.

The wood itself is close grained, very tough, polishes beautifully and is widely used throughout the Pacific for boat building and wood carvings.

It was also traditionally used to make fire. The cottonwood bark was used as the base, while the Xanthorrhoea or grass tree flower stalk was used as the fire stick. The cottonwood base represented the female, the grass tree flower represented the male.

As Bridgette Chilli Davis (from the Kabi Kabi nation of the Sunshine Coast) explains:

“You place male on female and rub to make fire. It’s all in balance, everything in our culture is in balance.” (source:

The leaves are used as plates to protect food from spoilage in the dirt (



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