Top 3 medicinal native New Zealand plants
During a recent biking trip on the Waikato River Trail I met a Maori gentleman and his daughter, who were out collecting watercress for their lunch and to include in their ‘boil up’ dinner.
We began talking about the medicinal properties of New Zealand’s plants, and how many Maori traditions are passed down by the spoken word. Unfortunately, much of this ancient knowledge can be lost without written records.
Traditionally, the Maori used more than 200 native plants to deal with illness, including the kawakawa, flax, rata, kowhai and manuka – all important for healing as part of drinks, poultices or lotions.
Today, around 80% of New Zealand’s native flowering plants grow nowhere else in the world, which not only gives us wonderful opportunities for enjoying our forest and bush habitats, it also makes New Zealand home to countless unique forms of life and native food plants.
Here are just three of New Zealand’s plants commonly and traditionally used for medicinal purposes that you will see during an Auckland nature tour with Habitat Tours.
Medicinal uses of kawakawa
Kawakawa is a favourite here at Habitat Tours, and one we offer in our selection of teas while on tour.
The tea is refreshing, with a slightly peppery taste, and is said to be a great detox. When making this tea from raw leaves, you must only chose the ones with holes in them, as the bugs and insects only eat the non-toxic leaves, which is a great indicator for which ones are fit for human consumption. You would boil these holey leaves for 10 minutes, then strain.
The shiny side of the leaves also make for a good antiseptic, while the flipside is used in poultices for toothache. The leaves were also traditionally used in steam baths for sexually transmitted diseases, the vapour used for rheumatism and the root chewed to help cure dysentery.
Medicinal uses of manuka
Perhaps the best known of the medicinal plants is the manuka. Captain Cook used manuka leaves to make tea, which is where its other name, ‘tea-tree’, comes from.
New Zealand’s Manuka honey is sold worldwide and has been used medicinally since ancient times. More recently, it has been discovered that antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities are present in the honey. Since some honey can be up to 100 times more potent than others, all manuka is given a potency rating called UMF, with a minimum requirement of 5 UMF.
The bark of the manuka tree also has its uses, as it is a sedative. The bark ash has also traditionally been rubbed onto skin to help treat some skin diseases.
Medicinal uses of koromiko
Also known as hebe, the koromiko was the first NZ native plant to be listed in the British ‘Extra Pharmacopoeia’ as a cure for dysentery. During World War II, leaves were dried and sent to troops in Northern Africa as a remedy for this debilitating illness.
The Maori uses included a decoction for headaches, ulcers, sores, kidney and bladder troubles, and sexually transmitted diseases.
Interestingly, these three plants are all somewhat nondescript, but look a little closer and you will find many uses amongst their leaves, barks and roots. It truly makes you wonder what other hidden secrets some of these most uninteresting-looking plants may be hiding.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist