5 Native Plants Used In Māori Medicine


by Helen Cordery

The tangata whenua of our forest is known as Rangitāne o Wairarapa, and they are one of many iwi across Aotearoa New Zealand.  The forest is their domain and is often described as a ‘living pantry’, a place to find food and live off the land. Plants have always been extremely important, being used for both spiritual and medicinal reasons and Pūkaha is home to an extraordinary number of them. Here we introduce you to five native plants used in Māori medicine – how many can you find in the forest?

1) The many uses of harakeke

Phormium tenax

This flax has always been prized by Māori, who used it to make kete (baskets) as well as clothing and mats. Before a fishing trip, they would pull out a harakeke leaf – if it made a noise, the trip would be successful so a karakia would be said before heading off.

The amazing thing about harakeke – like so many of our plants – is that it has lots of medicinal properties. Its gel was often used to treat cuts and infections while its leaves could be wrapped around wounds like a bandage.  The finest of strands would even be used to tie umbilical cords!

2) The magic healing powers of kawakawa

Pepper tree/ Macropiper excelsum

This is the most widely used of all the native plants. Māori would use it as a good luck charm to conceive, and it is also used to remove tapu (bad energy) at meeting houses, among many other reasons.

It’s very well-known for its healing uses as well. Kawakawa is often used to help people suffering from colds or bladder issues, to treat eczema, and is high in magnesium and iron. Burning it even helps to drive away pestering insects! It also has a great taste – look out for kawakawa pepper in the Kākā Café!

3) The spiritual importance of kowhai

Sophora tetraptera, sophora microphylla

Kowhai (which also means yellow) is easily recognised by its yellow flowers and is very spiritually significant. Kowhai is said to symbolise personal growth and helps people to move on from the past with a renewed sense of adventure.

The bark of the tree can be used in a bath to help with bruising and has long been used by Māori to help with broken bones as well as itching, shingles, dandruff and gonorrhoea.

4) Connecting with mahoe

Whitey wood/ Melicytus ramiflorus

They say that mahoe helps to ignite passion of all kinds, including guiding us towards our destinies. Mahoe has always been very important both spiritually and physically, creating awareness and helping to connect the consciousness with ancestors. Its berries were also mixed with kauri gum to create the pigment for tattoos while its leaves could be boiled to help with menstruation and diarrhoea.

5) Seven gifts of patete

Seven finger/ Schefllera digitata

A huge favourite of our resident kōkako, Kahurangi, the patete is said to contain seven sensory gifts that are considered taonga (treasure). Patete helps us to tap into the extraordinary abilities of clairsentience, clairaudience, clairvoyance, clairknowing, clairgustus, clairconnectedness and claircommunication.

It can also be used for a number of different medicinal things such as helping to induce labour and was often wrapped around newborn babies to prevent nappy rash.

Want to know more?

Come visit us at Pūkaha! We are love to show off the incredible variety of fauna that we have and best of all you can see how our ngā manu (birds) love them! To make the most out of your visit, we recommend booking a Guided Tour so that you can go around the forest with one of our rangers who will be able to point out all the wonderful plants along the way. Have fun!