Kawakawa (Macropiper Excelsum) would be, without doubt, the most renowned and recognised medicinal plant traditionally used by Māori. It can be found in abundance across the upper half of New Zealand’s South Island and all through the North Island.
Kawakawa is an extremely important plant in the Māori world and carries much mana (prestige).
One kōrero (story) we have heard is, Tāne Mahuta (Māori God of the Forest) recruited Patupaiarehe (mythical people who live in the bush) to help plant the forest trees. As the first of the healing plants to be planted, Tāne imbued the healing qualities of all other plants in kawakawa, and in doing so bestowed upon it pride of place among our rongoā rākau (healing plants). This is possibly why many say, “if in doubt of which plant you should be using, select kawakawa”. That said, if you are in the care of an experienced Rongoā Māori practitioner (Kairongoā), they will assist selecting the plant that is the most beneficial for your condition.
Kawakawa is part of the varied “pepper” family. Peppers have and continue to play a significant role in food and medicine globally. Modern uses of kawakawa span the food industry from craft beers, fancy teas, and high value food seasonings to the cosmetic and natural health products industry.
Māori widely promote harvesting the leaves with holes. Some say, “nature is showing us which leaves are best”. There are perhaps 2 kōrero (stories) associated with this (1) insects will only eat the best healthy leaves, and (2) the plant exudes its medicinal properties to that leaf when bitten/bruised. Those are the medicinal properties that heal us too. Kawakawa, just like many traditional plant leaves prepared into a tea/tonic, gently bruising them prior to making your tea/tonic helps to maximise release of those properties.
Kawakawa leaves contain a component called myristicin which helps trigger the release of nitric oxide from cells. Nitric oxide is the body’s anti-inflammatory response. So kawakawa supports and aids the body’s response to inflammation.
Diayangambin, another bioactive found in kawakawa, exhibits anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant properties. Bioactive alkaloids including ‘Piperchabamide A’ found in kawakawa, have known gastroprotective properties. Some scientists acknowledge there is still some way to go before they are able to accurately isolate and identify all the active properties of kawakawa and its potential for future medicinal applications. On the other hand, Māori have long had their own explanations for what scientists are now learning about the healing properties of kawakawa.
Despite a bitter taste, it is revered for its calming and relaxing properties. Its analgesic effects also assist in relaxing tight muscles. Māori have used kawakawa for a significant range of health complaints since arriving in Aotearoa. These include the internal consumption of decoctions for a variety of conditions, or topically as a hot compress. Poultices from the bark and leaves are applied for a range of infections. The smoke from burning aerial parts is also used as an insecticide, rectally for pain and vaginally for helping new mothers release placenta. Macerated leaves are also applied topically and orally to relieve pain. This is to name but a few of the healing uses of kawakawa, which is truly the cure all of the ngahere.
”It is gratifying to see traditional wisdoms and modern science converging yet again. Perhaps in time we might also see a converging respect between the two worlds in an effort to better serve those who seek the help of both modern and traditional health professionals”. Donna Kerridge BHS – He Kairongoā & NZAMH Registered Medical Herbalist
Kawakawa was and continues to be a significant botanical in the rongoā Māori (holistic Māori health & wellbeing system). Numerous scientific studies in New Zealand and around the world are investigating the medicinal properties and potential future medicinal applications for kawakawa. A recent study by Auckland University is confirming much of what Māori have claimed and passed down through the generations.
Actions of this plant -
- Mild psychoactive
- Mild Laxative
Benefits that may be experienced -
- Immunity boost
- Pain relief (deep muscle tissue and joints)
- Expel toxins and pathogens from the body
- Heals burns, sores, boils, cuts, grazes, bruising
- Helps many skin disorders
- Help muscular conditions
Ailments that may benefit - Stomach complaints, rheumatic pain, toothache, infection, leg ulcers, burns, sores, cuts, boils, grazes, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, rash, insect bites, hypertrophic scars, and acne. COVID-19, flu, common colds. Deep tissue muscular pain, spasms, cramps, and joint pain. Some digestive, kidney, liver, lymphatic and urinary system conditions.
The following are directions for making your own kawakawa balm.
Acknowledgement: Thank you to Whaea Donna Kerridge (Kairongoā) for authorising us to share her recipe with you all.
Prior to harvesting leaves offer a quiet karakia to acknowledge Tāne’s gift and the purpose for which we need to harvest this taonga.
In a double boiler gently tear up about 10 Kawakawa leaves appropriately harvested and add 500gm of carrier oil of your choice, a dollop (5-10gms) of shea butter (optional), 100gms of beeswax and gently heat for about 5 hours.
Strain the oil through a clean muslin cloth or strainer to separate the leaves from the oils and melted beeswax. Give the oils a gentle stir as they begin to cool and pour into small jars.
Return the spent leaves to Papatūānuku (mother earth). Never discard your used leaves in the rubbish.
its not magic, its nature® - ehara i te mahi tūmatarau, ko te ao tuturu
Natures Therapeutics Limited™ incorporate hemp seed oil and/or botanicals traditionally used successfully by Māori to treat ailments and conditions and/or simply aid overall better health and well-being. Our product range has been developed allowing both tradition and science to merge and provide a modern delivery of ancient well-being applications and techniques. Natures Therapeutics Limited™ make no claim that our products can heal/cure any condition or ailment.
Product manufactured, bottled and/or packaged by Medicorp New Zealand Limited™ under licence from Natures Therapeutics Limited