So whats all the fuss about NZ native herbs? well Kawakawa is a versatile herb and one of the most important in Māori traditional medicine. It is still used to treat cuts, wounds, stomach and rheumatic pain, skin disorders, toothache and most recently after getting "inked".
The plant is popular with many non-Māori too. "A basinful of these leaves steeped with boiling water mixture, applied to the bruise, has great curative powers."
Kawakawa's antimicrobial and analgesic properties make it useful for treating skin infections, and reducing inflammation of psoriasis, eczema and rashes. It is also antidyspectic (counters dyspepsia or indigestion) and antispasmotic (eases muscle spasms or cramps), so it makes an excellent digestion tonic.
Pharmacy and supermarket shelves are packed with a myriad of herbal remedies for common ailments, especially with winter on its way.
On closer inspection these products are mostly derived from non indigenous plants, which have a long history of medicinal use in Europe.
We need to embrace of NZ native plants.
For instance, Murdoch Riley’s book “Maori Healing and Herbal” has pages of medicinal information, reflecting the depth of Maori knowledge developed over centuries of observation and use.
These plant remedies are still widely used today, by both Maori and pakeha (non Maori) the ritual and spiritual aspects are still relevant in Maori communities.
But we don't use them??? I think knowing about their special properties enriches our experience of native plants, and provides another reason to keep biodiversity in Aotearoa.
Kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum, or pepper tree)
Kawakawa is an easily recognized shrub, with aromatic, heart-shaped leaves, that grows widely in coastal regions.
Kawakawa gives us a clue as to why the first arrivals here from Polynesia called it that. The leaves are like its relative, kava (Piper methysticum), used widely in the South Pacific, Kava has a narcotic effect.
Kawakawa leaves are highly valued for relieving bronchial complaints. Boil a handful of the fresh, young leaves in a small saucepan of water for 15-20 minutes, then drink half a cup of the liquid to relieve chesty coughs.
To make a distinguished tea, for use as a general tonic, it’s best to dry the leaves first, then use a small quantity in a teapot. It’s very good for relieving indigestion.
The fruits and leaves were chewed for toothache – swallow the saliva and keep the leaf matter in your mouth for some time. (The active ingredient is myristicin, which is related to eugenol, a dental analgesic)
Kawakawa leaves were commonly used in hot baths for rheumatic and arthritic pains.
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