Discovering Maori herbal remedies
On a clear Spring morning, you are most likely to find the revered rongoa expert, Olive Bullock, harvesting medicinal plants in her rambling, abundant garden. “Most gardens have so many (therapeutic) plants growing in them that people don’t need to make a trip to the chemist,” says the energetic 81-year-old, pointing out that we have numerous edible wild greens in New Zealand filled with super nutrients and suitable for herbal remedies.
Olive’s school and clinic for Rongoa Maori, Te Kopere, sits adjacent to the ancestral family homestead where she lives with her sister and close collaborator, Kuia Sue Jones. Over the fence lies the sweet family church where Dalvanuis Prime is buried, an iconic landmark that looks back towards the majestic mountain Taranaki.
Olive is well versed in the therapeutic properties of plants and their various uses. She was trained in Rongoa Maori (herbal medicine) by Te Whare Mamaku Haddon, an esteemed Tohunga (rongoa expert, priest and scholar) who was taught by Te Kooti, the famous prophet.
Rongoa has a long-standing history, with ancient Maori sourcing all their remedies from the bush and using bark, stems, leaves and roots for internal and external use. “Ancient Tohunga gathered their knowledge of the healing plants in the forest because they were guided – having greater sensitivity to sprit and nature,” says Olive.
She is quick to point out that Rongoa is not just about herbal remedies, but has a strong spiritual component where the physical and spiritual worlds are seen as being inextricably linked. Good health depends on the interconnected balance of mind, body, spirit, whanua and land.
In her own practice and teaching Olive uses karakia, kapa haka, clairvoyance and meditation. She combines this with adept skill in growing, harvesting and preparing the plants according to the moon, sun and seasons.
At present she’s busy teaching organic gardening and Rongoa to young people in schools and Kohunga Reo. “If we have healthy soil, then we are healthy,” she says emphatically.
Olive has spent a lifetime devoted to practicing, teaching, and advocating health and wellbeing for her people. Among many activities she also chairs, and acts as trustee/member, for Maori health organisations (she helped set up Te Oranganui Iwi Health Authority with Tariana Turia) and also participates in international indigenous exchanges and summits.
“Rongoa is not about commercial gain; it’s for sharing, for the health and betterment of humankind.”
Te Kopere runs courses in Rongoa Maori throughout the year, with the rst of three installments starting October 3. Contact Olive through her website for further details www.tekopere.com