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New Zealand Native Herbs

By Nadia McMorran

We are so lucky to live in New Zealand for many reasons, just one of those being the access we have to native herbs, plants and trees and the knowledge of their use in Rongoa Maori (traditional Maori medicine).

Kawakawa Also known as New Zealand peppertree, kawakawa is botanically related to kava and is an important component of Rongoa Maori. It is reasonably easy to find in New Zealand, likes to grow in cool dark places away from the sun, so you will often see it on bush walks. It is commonly believed that the best leaves to use are those with holes in them – it is said that if bugs have begun to eat the leaves, the kawakawa secretes a substance to deter the bugs, becoming more medicinally valuable.

Traditionally, the leaves would either be chewed or brewed into a tea, and also used topically. It can be used to treat stomach ailments, is anti-inflammatory, works as a pain reliever (both topically and internally), to treat kidney or bladder troubles due to its diuretic properties, to stimulate circulation and is widely used topically for eczema and other skin ailments. In a pinch, you can even rub the leaves on your skin as a mosquito deterrent.

Kumerahou Kumerahou has a long history of being used for respiratory ailments including asthma, tuberculosis and bronchitis.

It was also used to purify the blood, as a kidney tonic, sedative and for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Topically, kumerahou was used as a vulnerary to aid wound healing, and even used as a soothing soap substitute.

Manuka Manuka is probably one of the best known native New Zealand herbs, mainly due to the prized manuka honey. While being from the same family as the Australian tea tree, there are actually a number of distinctions and different actions in these plants, with manuka of course being far superior!

Manuka has strong antimicrobial effects, whether used as an essential oil (topically only), a tea or infusion, or an alcohol extract. Its most common use is as a topical application for wounds, cuts, sores and various skin conditions. Also an anti-inflammatory, it can help to reduce a fever, anxiety, and even has diuretic and sedative effects.

Kanuka Kanuka has many similarities to manuka – the easiest way to tell the difference is that when you feel the leaves, manuka is mean (spiky and sharp feeling) and kanuka is kind (much softer to touch).

Horopito This is my favourite anti-fungal herb – it works quickly and effectively to treat a number of both internal and external fungal infections. Horopito also helps to stimulate circulation, helps with respiratory conditions and is anti-inflammatory. Traditionally it was also chewed to relieve toothache.

Pukatea The bark of the pukatea tree is known as nature’s morphine, providing strong pain relief for conditions such as toothache, neuralgia, migraines and topically for wounds such as ulcers.

You will find many of these trees and plants freely available for harvest in a number of public reserves and bush walks in New Zealand. There are some great books available to help you identify and use the New Zealand natives right on our doorstep.