Some of the native New Zealand plants that we use for our rongoā
New Zealand Pepper Tree (Micropiper excelsum)
Found mainly around the coastal areas of New Zealand, Kawakawa is closely related to the KavaKava tree of Fiji, Hawaii and South Sea Islands it is easily identified by its heart shaped leaf.
The Kawakawa tree has always played a significant role in the Maori spiritual and physical world, tracing the life cycle from birth to death. Like other sacred trees with great powers, it is to be treated with respect.
Considered the pharmacy of the forest, some of its benefits come from the compounds it contains that have an increasingly relaxing effect on the nervous system and skeletal muscle.
Kawakawa improves detoxification and aids elimination of metabolic wastes within the body. Relieves smooth muscle spasm and reduces inflammation. Kawakawa also has antiseptic, analgesic, and diuretic and diaphoretic properties.
It is used for skin conditions including eczema, cuts, wounds and boils. chilblains, venous insufficiency and Raynaud’s disease.
Black Tree Fern (Cyathea medullaris)
According to Maori lore the mamaku was originally a member of a sea tribe until driven off by Tawhaki, the lightening being, to hide away in the depths of the forest where its present form of the tallest of the ferns was assumed.
Not that its troubles were over then for along with the ponga and other tree ferns it managed to offend the forest elves, those evilly disposed hakuturi, who act as guardians of the forest. As an act of revenge for having broken some tapu the hakuturi caused the fronds of all these ferns to assume a drooping position, a circumstance alluded to in a Maori tangi “ I bow my head as droops the mamku and weep for those my children.”
For external use the leaves were boiled and the liquid obtained used as a strong, soothing and healing agent for sores, wounds, rashes and skin irritations.
Tohunga made an ointment from the leaves and applied to skin cancers.
Taramoa is a vine that is found in bushy areas throughout New Zealand. The origin of the common name "bush lawyer" comes from its ability to cling onto anyone that brushes up against it. The maori name tataramoa translates to “a heap of prickles” and refers to the thousands of backwards pointing spikes that the plants uses to grow upwards against the side of the trees. The plant is very difficult to handle and can often scratch the skin and rip clothing. Despite all this, it is valuable for rongoā.
Gumdiggers Soap / Poverty Weed (Pomaderris Kumarahou)
Commonly known as poverty weed or gum-diggers soap, it was used by the gum-diggers in Northland, New Zealand in early colonial times. The flower head was crushed and mixed with a little water to produce a soapy lather. The name is thought to come from the planting rituals connected with the Kumara, for it was when the golden blooms of this shrub burst forth the planting time of the Kumara was fast approaching.
Still widely used today, the leaves are boiled and the liquid obtained used as a strong, soothing and healing agent for sores, wounds, rashes and skin irritations.
Common names; Comfrey, Common Comfrey, Knit-bone, Bone-set, All heal, Bruisewort, Blackwort, Knitback, Bugle, Ass-ear.
There are over 25 different varieties of comfrey. Most commonly cultivated is the variety ‘Russian comfrey’, a winter dormant perennial herb with a central leafy stem that can grow up to a meter high.
Comfrey has been used by so many cultures for food and as a medicine, in agriculture as a fertilizer and stock-feed. There are references to it’s use 400BC in Ancient Greece, to arrest bleeding and later for bronchial complaints.
High levels of allantoin stimulates cell proliferation which promotes the granulation and formation of epithelial cells, hence it is a plant par excellence for wound healing. Deep wounds, burns, sunburn, sores and ulcers can benefit as well as sprains, osteoarthritis, back and joint pain, inflammatory swellings and bruising.
Manuka’s health benefits come from its properties as an anti-dandruff, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-histaminic and anti-allergenic. It is a cicatrisant, cytophylactic, deodorant, and relaxant substance and an antidote to insect bites and stings (New Zealand Manuka is not the same as the Australian Tea Tree)
Rongoa -This highly valued this shrub is a staple of Maori medicine and Maori life from its growth preparing the way for the new forest, to the use of its wood in everyday life. Traditionally Maori used Manuka bark, berries, leaves and gum for a variety of conditions. Burns and scalds were treated with the white manuka gum Boiled leaves and bark and seeds were used to treat inflammation and any type of open wound.
Nga mihi tatou ki a tatou tuakana, he Manuka. He rakau toa, he rakau kaha, he rakau manawanui. Nga mihinui ki a koe.
We pay great tribute to you, our elder sibling, Manuka, adept, strong and full of heart.
(from Donna Kerridge)