The oil, which has been long used by Aborigines to treat skin wounds, was discovered to be capable of speeding the repair of the intestines and treating a variety of common bowel diseases.
Scientists in Australia have found that emu oil – taken from the fat of the native flightless birds – can help chemotherapy patients by repairing bowel damage.
Researchers at Adelaide University found the oil is an effective anti-inflammatory and can accelerate the repair of the bowels by stimulating growth of intestinal "crypts", which assist with absorbing food.
"We have now done sufficient studies in the laboratory to show that emu oil has potential to help reduce the debilitating symptoms of these conditions and to enhance intestinal recovery," said Professor Gordon Howarth, the lead researcher.
The study showed the oil produced greater elongation of intestinal crypts – which demonstrated enhanced recovery and repair – and reduced the severity of damage in intestines affected with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease.
"We are now looking at further work to look at emu oil dosages, and whether the beneficial effects can be reproduced in clinical trials," Professor Howarth said.
The healing powers of emu oil were recently celebrated by the Australian actress Cate Blanchett, who told Elle magazine that she uses an oil-based cream on her skin.
"Being an Aussie, it's my home secret," she said.