Maori Healing Plants and Shrubs
The following natural medicinal plants and shrubs were commonly used by the Maori and early New Zealand settlers.
There are many persons who believe this knowledge should not be shared with 'just anybody'...but I believe very differently and I hope this knowledge, colllected from extensive trial and error, should be available to those who may just oneday, really need it.
AKAKURA, PUATAWHIWHI - Metrosideros fulgens:
The main stem of this vine attaches itself to the trunk of a mature tree, and climbs by aerial roots which cling to the tree. The leafy branches on which the yellow-reddish flowers appear do not have aerial roots; neither does the leafy foliage at the summit, which is covered with a splendid show of bloom above the forest.
Like other varieties of rata, the bark contains much tannin. The curative value of the bark was well known to the Maori people.
Bark should be taken from the side on which the sun rises. The inner bark was boiled and the liquid drunk for "Maori sickness". This also cured sores and stopped bleeding. Sore eyes were bathed with the sap.
Short lengths of the vine were cut and the sap was blown from it on to wounds and new cuts. This both sealed and cured them.
The juice of the stem was given for coughs and at the same time was an astringent and tonic drink.
Maoris have told of poisoned fingers and cut knees which had become suppurated, being cured by this vine, either by bathing them in the liquor from the boiled inner bark, or by applying the sap; and to bushmen it was a safe and handy antiseptic.
"Bushmen quench their thirst with the juice of the vine which, if cut and the bark left hanging, exudes a large quantity of clear juice tasting somewhat like cider."
HARAKEKE - Phormium tenax - Flax, New Zealand hemp:
This is undoubtedly the most valuable and versatile plant in New Zealand and one of the few with an economic value.
Rope and millions of wool bales are only two of the products produced from flax. To the Maori people, before the coming of the white settlers, it was the source of shelter, clothing (cloaks and capes), baskets to cook their food in, traps to catch fish and birds, floor mats, food mats, sails, and baskets for every occasion.
The leaf fibres were woven into ropes and sandals, and there were many other ingenious uses, as well as being one of the plants with great medicinal properties.
To quote a Mr. Dr. Bell: "The medical uses of the leaves and roots were many and proved to be effective.
In appearance it is a huge, untidy bush. The leaves, which grow from the base, are dark, glossy green, sometimes with a brown tinge, coarse, stiff and immensely strong.
They grow to a height of between six and ten feet and are two to four inches wide. The flowers, which are yellow and dull red in colour, are borne on short stalks in clusters of four to six blooms.
These come from stiff, rounded brown stems called korari, which grow high above the leaves. From November to January, when they are in bloom, they have a great attraction for birds, as they are full of nectar.
Flax grows everywhere, but best in swamps and damp ground. The Maori family of olden times (and even now in some areas) had their own stand of flax which they replaced every year.
When dried the featherweight flower stems were tied in bundles and these were then bound together to form the light rafts, or mokihi, on which rivers and lakes were crossed, using poles not paddles.
Among many other uses, the leaves were ideal for binding and holding fractures in splints. A large leaf was used as the splint itself.
It was cut with a sharp stone and placed under the fractured limb. Another one was cut at the base with a sharp shell and the outer covering pulled off.
The inner part of the leaf then sprang out as a mass of silky floss.
This was used to bind the leaf splint round the injured part.
A bleeding wound was bound with the floss, as it acted as tow and arrested the haemorrhage .
To cure a blistered heel a softened piece of leaf was put in the heel of a sandal.
The blanched base of a flax leaf beaten to a pulp, heated and applied hot to an unbroken abscess, boil or tumour would bring it to a head.
The demulcent gum which is found at the base of the leaves was put into water to soften and then used with very good effect on burns, scalds and old sores.