Pseudowintera colorata is a species of small, woody evergreen flowering shrub part of family Winteraceae. The species is endemic to much of New Zealand. It is abundant in upland and mountain forests in the North Island and extends down to sea level. It grows up to eight metres in height. The upper surface of its light-green, elliptical leaves is often splotched with red, especially if the plant is exposed to sunlight. The leaves undersides are a blue-grey colour.
Tiny greenish-white flowers appear in early spring, followed by black berries in autumn. The berries are very palatable to birds.
Pseudowintera colorata is continually exposed to attack by various insects and parasites and its occurrence in high rainfall areas makes it particularly susceptible to attack by fungi. This has led to efficient built-in defence mechanism of a compound called Sesquiterpene dialdehyde polygodiali which has anti-fungal properties.
Pseudowintera colorata leaves and an extract from the leaves are now used in a number of commercial antifungal products based on the results of scientific research.
The characteristically sharp, hot peppery taste of a leaf when chewed is primarily due to these polygodial compounds which cause pungency on the tongue in concentrations as low as 0.1 µg. Ground up leaves are used as a condiment in ethnic foods.
As the leaves taste bad to deer and stock and are not eaten, this shrub often dominates the understorey vegetation in heavily browsed forests.
Maori uses: Horopito has long been used by the indigenous Maori population of New Zealand both internally and externally for many purposes. As far back as 1848.
Horopito is documented in the treatment of skin diseases such as ringworm, or for venereal diseases. “The leaves and tender branches of this shrub are bruised and steeped in water, and the lotion used for ringworm; or the bruised leaves are used as a poultice for chaffing of the skin, or to heal wounds, bruises or cuts".
Infection due to Candida albicans (Maori – Haha, Haka) is documented as being a major cause of death of Maori babies, due to their being fed an "unsatisfactory diet."
I do not suggest - please take other medicines less harmful and more pleasant Leaves used, like horopito, to wean a child from the breast. Leaves crushed and rubbed on breasts (Best 1908).
I do not suggest :The juice of Horopito leaves was placed straight in the mouth, or alternatively, leaves were steeped in water to extract the juice and this decoction was used in the treatment of what we now understand as oral thrush (candidiasis).
Early European settlers to New Zealand also used Horopito for medicinal purposes. For internal use, leaves were either chewed or prepared as a tea. "
The leaves and bark are aromatic and pungent; the former is occasionally used by settlers suffering from diarrhoeic complaints.
A decoction of the leaves was taken for stomach ache and was known as "Maori Painkiller" and "Bushman's Painkiller."
There are accounts of the bark being used in the 19th century as a substitute for quinine:
"The stimulating tonic and astringent properties of which are little inferior to winter's bark.". A French nun, Mother Aubert, went to live among the Maori at the end of the 19th century, and the native plant remedies she later created became commercially available and widely used throughout the colony of New Zealand.
Horopito was one of the two ingredients in her patent medicine, Karana.
In a letter to the French Consul - 2nd December 1890, she described it as "superior to Quinquina [quinine] in the treatment of chronic stomach sickness.
It has been very useful to me in cases of anaemia of debility, of continuous diarrhoea etc and in recovery from temperatures".
Pseudowintera colorata, or mountain horopito, is an evergreen shrub or small tree (1–2.5 m) commonly called pepperwoodbecause its leaves have a hot taste. It is also known as the New Zealand pepper tree, winter's bark, or red horopito. It is so named because early taxonomists recognized the similarity between horopito and the South American Drimys winteri that provided the herbal remedy "winter's bark." They are both members of the Winteraceae family, which are mainly found on the land masses that once made up the great southern continent of Gondwana - South America, Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea. Its yellowish-green leaves are blotched with red, with new leaves in the spring being bright red. It is distributed within lowland forests up to higher montane forests from 36° 30' South as far southward as Stewart Island/Rakiura. A characteristic plant association for P. colorata is within the podocarp forests of Westland, where alliantunderstory plants such as Rumohra adiantiformis, Ascarina lucida, Pseudopanax colensoi, Pseudopanax edgerleyi and Blechnum discolor are found.
The reproductive parts of the Winteraceae family are primitive, reflecting their origin among the first flowering plants. In New Zealand, Horopito appears in the fossil record for more than 65 million years. It is particularly unusual in that its flowers come directly off the older stems rather than from among the leaves. It is a very slow growing plant that lacks the specialist water conducting tubes found in nearly all other flowering plants.
The evergreen horopito plant is continually exposed to attack by various insects and parasites and its occurrence in high rainfall areas makes it particularly susceptible to attack by fungi. This has led to efficient built in defence mechanisms. Consequently, horopito has a rich source of secondary metabolites that have an interesting range of biologically active properties.
Pseudowintera colorata is grown as a spice, as an ornamental, and as a traditional medicine plant.
Horopito has long been used by the indigenous Maori population of New Zealand both internally and externally for many purposes. As far back as 1848, Horopito is documented in the treatment of skin diseases such as ringworm, or for venereal diseases. "The leaves and tender branches of this shrub are bruised and steeped in water, and the lotion used for ringworm; or the bruised leaves are used as a poultice for chaffing of the skin, or to heal wounds, bruises or cuts". Infection due to Candida albicans(Maori – Haha, Haka) is documented as once being a major cause of death of Maori babies, due to their being fed an "unsatisfactory diet." The juice of Horopito leaves were placed straight in the mouth, or alternatively leaves of Horopito were steeped in water to extract the juice and this decoction was in an effort to treat what we now understand as candidiasis (oral thrush).
Early European settlers to New Zealand also used horopito for medicinal purposes. For internal use, leaves were either chewed or prepared as a tea. "The leaves and bark are aromatic and pungent; the former are occasionally used by settlers suffering from diarrhoeic complaints."  A decoction of the leaves was taken for stomach ache and was known as "Maori Painkiller" and "Bushman's Painkiller." There are accounts of the bark being used in the 19th century as a substitute for quinine: "The stimulating tonic and astringent properties of which are little inferior to winter's bark." A French nun, Mother Aubert, went to live among the Maori at the end of the 19th century, and the native plant remedies she later created became commercially available and widely used throughout the colony of New Zealand. Horopito was one of the two ingredients in her patent medicine, Karana. In a letter to the French Consul dated 2 December 1890, she described it as "superior to Quinquina [quinine] in the treatment of chronic stomach sickness. It has been very useful to me in cases of anaemia of debility, of continuous diarrhoea etc,., etc and in recovery from temperatures".
The main biologically active chemical component isolated from the leaves of P. colorata is polygodial. The chewed horopito leaf has a characteristically sharp, hot peppery taste. This is primarily due to polygodial which causes pungency on the tongue in concentrations as low as 0.1 µg.
An ex vivo study used a horopito and aniseed mixture (Kolorex) to inhibit the growth of C. albicans in the oral cavity. This research concluded that the antifungal action of Kolorex was constant against all species tested (including C. albicans, C. tropicalis, C. glabrata, C. guilermonii, C. parapsilosis and C. krusei) with a minimum inhibitory concentration of 1:20 (diluted with sterilised distilled water) of Kolorex.
Another study concluded that a mixture of horopito (containing polygodial) and aniseed (containing anethole) protects the gut of mice from colonization and dissemination of Candida albicans. After mice were inoculated with C. albicans and treated with Kolorex, testing of intestinal samples showed that Kolorex treated mice had a much reduced concentration of C. albicans per gram of tissue. The data suggested that the horopito and aniseed product might exert an early competitive effect against colonisation
Pseudowintera axillaris and P. colorata
Horopito, Peppertree, Ramarama Distribution: Occurs naturally throughout both the main islands of New Zealand, except in the very north of the North Island. It is found in the lowlands, to the mountain forests and can form thickets after forest destruction.
Anti-fungal – an agent that inhibits or destroys fungi.
Antiseptic – an agent used to prevent, resist and counteract infection. Counter-irritant/rubefacient – an agent that increases the circulation to that area of skin, stimulating the dilation of capillaries, causing redness.
A stringent – an agent that contracts tissues, making them firmer and reduces discharges.
Circulatory stimulant (internal use)
Stimulating expectorant (internal use) – supports the body in the removal of excess amounts of mucus.
Fungal infections, including Candida albicans, ringworm (Trichophyton spp)
None, though not recommended during pregnancy or lactation
None known to date
10-30ml per week of a 1:2 fluid extract (available by prescription through a Registered Medical Herbalist)
5 large tomatoes finely diced
1 C of plain flower
1 tsp baking powder
salt & freshly cracked black pepper
2 Tb Horopito infused avocado oil
2 heaped Tb finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 bunch of fresh Coriander chopped
Sift flour, baking powder, salt and pepper together in a large mixing bowl. Add tomatoes and coriander. Whisk egg, milk and horopito infused avocado oil together and stir into the dry mixture until smooth. If too thick, add a little more milk or horopito infused oil. Drop dessertspoonfuls on a medium hot griddle, BBQ or frypan, until lightly brown. Turn when mixture slightly bubbles. Serve with a stunning fresh green herb salad, some Turkish bread and salsa.
Finely chopped tomatoes, red onion, Lebanese cucumber, coriander mixed together with Horopito infused avocado oil – absolutely delicious
Horopito Seafood Jambalaya
½ kg assorted seafood.
16 fresh mussels.
2 cups of rice.
1 900 gm tin organic peeled tomatoes.
1 chopped onion.
1 grated carrot.
1 Tb Horopito infused avocado oil.
Sprinkle of kawakawa powder.
4 Pikopiko (fiddleheads) salad shoots
1 tsp chopped garlic.
Place rice in pot. Add horopito infused avocado oil and mix thoroughly. Cover with water and cook for 1 hour. While rice is cooking sauté onion, garlic and carrot until tender. Add chopped organic tomato. Bring to boil and place on low element with lid on for 1 hour.
Once rice is cooked lightly sauté seafood in oil. Lightly mix seafood into salsa. Place the hot rice in a lightly oiled ramekin dish. Place the tomato and seafood in a soup bowl.
Lightly sauté Pikopiko shoots and cooked mussels in the shell. Finish with a light sprinkle of Kawakawa powder. NB. Horopito infused avocado oil can be purchased at some specialty shops or supermarkets
“One of the best-known natural painkillers in our native bush is called the horopito, which is the pepper tree. “It’s a very interesting product because I think scientists have identified about 29 different compounds in that particular plant. “It has powerful antioxidants, and about four active anti-fungal compounds: significant antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial properties.” Tipa says he was sea kayaking at Lake Te Anau several years ago and camped on the beach, and with no insect repellent the group was “monstered” by sandflies. “Our hands were swollen up, faces were swollen up, so I had a stroll along the shore of the lake and I found some horopito bushes growing nearby, we picked a few leaves, threw them in a billy of hot water, heated it up then applied the leaves to our hands. “In the space of the time it took for the leaves to cool down the swelling had gone and what was a red welt became just white - white marks where the leaves had been.” Tītoki
The main biologically active constituent of Horopito is known as polygodial. Polygodial is a component of the “hot taste” in peppery spices common in traditional Japanese cuisine, and it has been shown to exhibit significant antifungal and antibacterial activity. Researchers in New Zealand demonstrated the ability of polygodial, isolated from Horopito, to inhibit the growth of Candida albicans (the yeast that causes thrush), and other researchers have shown it to be effective against a variety of yeast-like fungi.
Horopito has a long list of traditional uses both by New Zealand Maori and by early European settlers. There is also some promising scientific research done in New Zealand that highlights some specific therapeutic benefits of Horopito.
Traditionally, fresh leaves of Horopito were chewed or boiled for toothache and stomachache. Early settlers used Horopito as a substitute for quinine to treat diarrhoea and gastric infections. It was used for stomach aches and known as the ‘Maori Painkiller’ in such cases. It was also utilised for coughs, colds and asthma.
Topically, Horopito was used for skin diseases, wounds, cuts and burns as well as for painful bruising and sore joints.
As the heat implies, it can also be used for promoting circulation, and is useful for those with chill-blains, and impaired circulatory function.
Research completed in New Zealand in more recent years shows a clear anti-fungal action for Horopito, specifically against Candida species (which causes thrush) but also other fungal organisms such as Trichophyton species which causes ringworm. The active constituent here appears to be polygodial, which has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial activity.
The powerful combination of antimicrobial components (such as polygodial) that kill bugs, or stop them replicating, with tannins (that make tissues tighten up and have a range of positive biological activities) has been shown to enhance antimicrobial activity while also improving resistance to disease.
Horopito, when applied topically to the skin in Manuka Paint, can be utilised to stop the spread of fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, and to enhance skin and nail health. When combined with the equally powerful extracts of New Zealand native Manuka, as well as New Zealand-grown Thyme, a potent skin lotion is produced. This can be applied neat to the skin of the body, feet and hands, or diluted for use in more sensitive areas for the treatment of thrush. For stubborn nail infections, a good tip is to use a file or emery board to buff the nail first to allow the ‘paint’ to penetrate the nail to the bed beneath.
Horopito, for all its peppery glory, is gentle on the skin when used in the right doses. Once again, herbal medicine offers up some powerful natural options for treatment of some of our most common ailments.
Pepper tree is a common name for two distinctly different native trees – horopito and kawakawa. Horopito has peppery tasting leaves and belongs to a primitive flowering family – the Winteraceae. Kawakawa has heart-shaped leaves and belongs to the Piperaceae family, which is the true pepper family. Kawakawa is closely related to the Polynesian kava plant.
Horopito (Pseudowintera colorata) is a shrub or small tree that grows to eight metres in height. It grows throughout much of New Zealand, with the exception of the far north. It is abundant in upland and mountain forests in the North Island, and extends down to sea level in the southern South Island. It regenerates well after the destruction of tall forests and at high altitudes forms dense secondary shrublands and low forest.
The upper surface of its light green, elliptical leaves is splotched with red, especially if the plant is exposed to the light. The underside is blue-grey. Tiny greenish-white flowers appear in early spring, followed by black berries in autumn.
Horopito leaves have a hot peppery taste and leave a burning sensation in the mouth. The taste is caused by polygodial, a compound that also has some anti-fungal properties. As horopito tastes bad to deer and stock, it often dominates understorey vegetation in heavily browsed forests.
Lowland horopito (P. axillaris) grows to about 10 metres in height. It is common in forests of the North Island up to about 700 metres and lowland forests in the northern half of the South Island. It has glossy green leaves, slightly larger than those of its upland relative. Like horopito, it flowers in early spring, producing tiny lime-coloured flowers along its branches. Its fruit is a dark red berry.
Kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum) is found in coastal and lowland forests throughout the North Island and the northern half of the South Island. It is a small tree, growing to six metres tall, with dense branches. It is easily recognised by its heart-shaped leaves and jointed stems, which resemble bamboo stalks. The leaves are often pocked with holes caused by the looper caterpillar Cleora scriptaria.
The tiny male and female flowers are arranged in upright spikes and grow on separate trees. In summer female spikes ripen to a deep orange and their swollen fruits are a favoured food of forest birds.
Kawakawa was often used by Māori. The leaves were placed over cuts and boils to speed up healing, and a tea was made from an infusion of its leaves.
A shrub or small tree, horopito grows throughout much of New Zealand, with the exception of the far north. An antioxidant, it was traditionally used both externally and internally in Maori medicine to treat fungal infections and stomach upsets and has been shown by researchers to be extremely effective against yeasts such as candida albicans. Horopito is also known as 'bush pepper' as the leaves have a hot peppery, citrusy taste and can be used as a seasoning on food, similar to black pepper. Buy it dried from specialty food stores and health stores, as a tea or as a seasoning. Use horopito as a rub for meat (including game), fish and vegetables or to add to sauces or marinades.
Horopito (Pseudowintera colorata).
Māori traditionally used 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 bite, also has antifungal properties (the greater the red margin of the leaf, the greater the polygodial concentration). The plant is also astringent (contracts body tissues and reduces bleeding) and antiseptic, so it's still used today for wounds, cuts and bruises.
For home DIY:
* 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.