Our kaumatua (elders) had well developed systems for treating illness long before Europeans arrived in New Zealand.
New Zealand’s isolated geography has contributed to the development of a distinctive and diverse range of plants, many of which were used by early Māori as rongoa (natural medicinal remedies).
Increasingly, this is being backed up by scientific investigation, and knowledge of their healing potential is just as relevant today as it ever was.
Kawakawa and horopito, for instance were harvested for medicinal purposes.
The leaves of kawakawa are “shaped like a heart and said to be good for the heart” (Charles Royal, Kinaki NZ), along with an even wider range of uses. They were commonly placed over cuts and boils to speed up healing. A tea was made from an infusion of its leaves to help with stomach and circulation problems, and as an anti-inflammatory tonic. It is naturally anti-microbial and helps fight infection.
Horopito leaves are an attractive green and yellow with splotches of red, depending on the season, and have a hot peppery taste. These were harvested for their anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties and used both topically and internally for a wide variety of skin and digestive ailments.