Horopito aka Pseudowintera colorata is an evergreen shrub or small tree with red-blotched yellowy-green leaves. It makes a fine specimen on its own or as a low-growing hedge, but the leaves are useful too, both for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Known as bush pepper, the leaves have a hot spicy flavour, used in place of chili. Dried leaves make a great spice or rub for meats, or the flakes can be added to vegetable oils, marinades and sauces.
Māori still use the leaves to treat skin diseases and disorders, and modern science has indeed confirmed the plant is effective against ringworm and Candida albicans.
Polygodial, the bioactive compound that gives the plant its spicy taste, also has antifungal properties (the greater the red margin of the leaf, the greater the polygodial concentration). The plant is also a powerful astringent (contracts body tissues and reduces bleeding) and antiseptic for wounds, cuts and bruises.
For home use:
* Infuse horopito leaves in olive oil (simmer fresh leaves on low heat with olive oil for four hours) as a rub for fungal conditions.
* Make a horopito tincture (steep in vodka for 4-6 weeks) and add it to a base cream with mānuka essential oil.
* To make up a 100g cream, use 70g of base cream (available from an online natural source supplier), and add 26ml horopito tincture and 4ml mānuka essential oil.
Horopito will grow in both sun or semi-shade, but the best foliage colour occurs in the open. Plants are frost tender in the first year, so keep sheltered when young. They can be propagated by semi-hardwood cuttings or seed. Soil should be free-draining but reasonably moist and rich in organic matter.