What is horopito?

What is horopito?

Dean Fountain

The Maori people of New Zealand accumulated a vast storehouse of knowledge about Horopito. This is evident in the myriad of spiritual and practical uses that intertwine with the medicinal use of the 200 or so plants used by the Maori for ritual or herbal purposes.

This article written by Campbell Berry-Kilgour, BSc (Hons.)  gives insight into the traditional medicinal uses of one such New Zealand plant, horopito (Pseudowintera colorata).

Ethnobotanical Profile

Horopito also is known as New Zealand pepper tree, winter’s bark, or red horopito. 

Horopito is particularly unusual in that its flowers come directly off the older stems rather than from among the leaves. It’s not surprising that New Zealand has such unique flora and fauna. Situated at the bottom of the South Pacific, plants were able to evolve in isolation from other landmasses in a climate ranging from subtropical to glacial.

Historical and Traditional Use

Maori traditionally used horopito for many complaints, several of which bear some relation to recent scientific discoveries about the plant’s properties. As far back as 1848, horopito is documented in the treatment of skin diseases such as ringworm, or for venereal diseases. When the leaves and tender branches of this shrub are bruised and steeped in water, 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.” The leaves of horopito were steeped in water to extract the juice and this decoction was used in the treatment of what we now understand as oral thrush.


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