NZ Lifestyle Block - - Cover Story -

Kawakawa ( Macropiper ex­cel­sum) is one of the most im­por­tant herbs in tra­di­tional Maori herbal medicine. It is still use­ful to­day for treat­ing con­di­tions due to its an­timi­cro­bial and anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties. It is use­ful for stom­achache, toothache and indi­ges­tion, and is also said to treat in­flam­ma­tion. A kawakawa poul­tice ap­plied to the skin can treat eczema, rheuma­tism, bruises and abra­sions. The seeds are used as a culi­nary spice.

Cen­tral North Is­land-based hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Hera Tu­ranga makes her own nat­u­ral medicines. She says kawakawa was the first plant that opened her eyes to na­tive New Zealand plants.

“Kawakawa has been used by our an­ces­tors for many gen­er­a­tions. It has a wide range of medic­i­nal prop­er­ties and pur­poses. It can be used for skin ail­ments, mouth or throat ail­ments, right through to heal­ing body wraps. It is my favourite for mak­ing throat lozenges, with its great heal­ing prop­er­ties.”

Taken in its nat­u­ral form, kawakawa has a pep­pery, bit­ter taste.

“It can be used in the form of a warm tea,” says Hera. “It’s amaz­ing in smooth­ies.”

Kawakawa was and still is used in an an­i­mal fat base, although you can also use an oil or co­conut base says Hera.

“You can add kawakawa to melted co­conut oil, leave it to su­per slowly in­fuse and it makes the best body, face and hair oil.”

Kawakawa is en­demic to New Zealand, grow­ing nat­u­rally through­out the North Is­land and as far south as Banks Penin­sula.

“Many of us who gather, use or grow kawakawa fol­low old-school pro­to­cols, done with tra­di­tional tikanga and karakia – gath­er­ing cor­rectly and prayer. But ev­ery­one has their own way and har­vests in dif­fer­ent ways.

“One way I was taught is to pick from the north side of a plant, mak­ing sure it’s healthy. Do not pick kawakawa near the road be­cause of car fumes, and pick leaves that have holes in them. These leaves are said to hold the high­est heal­ing prop­er­ties.”

ho­ley leaves con­cen­trate the medic­i­nal prop­er­ties, a nat­u­ral re­ac­tion by the plant to be­ing eaten by cater­pil­lars.

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