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Maori Medicinal Herbs and Shrubs - KOKIHI, RENGAMTU Tetragonia tetragonioides - New Zealand spinach, warrigal cabbage

This perennial creeping plant, with flat, thick, roundish leaves, is grown in most vegetable gardens.

The leaves are cooked like spinach and taste much the same. It is a coastal plant and eaten by the Maori people, and was far more plentiful in its wild state before sheep came into the country.

Sir Joseph Banks took this plant back to England and grew it in his own garden.

Recommended Books:

Te Rongoa Maori MedicineTe Rongoa Maori Medicine
Pip Williams spent his life observing and recording the use by local Maori of native plants for medical purposes. This book brings together his observations on 43 New Zealand plants and the health problems they were used to treat, colourfully interspersed with anecdotal evidence and beautifully illustrated with watercolours and engravings. Much of the information was told to the author by kuia and kaumatua over 40 years ago.


A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New ZealandA Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand
Plant Heritage New Zealand looks at the unique characteristics of New Zealand's plants, and what makes them so special. It delves into the origins and evolution of the plants, how they have inspired songs, poems and works of art, Maori myths, stories and proverbs associated with them, and their many uses as a natural resource. Part 2 presents a selection of the plants and looks at classification, names, botanical description, traditional and modern uses, cultural heritage and significance to Maori. Tony Foster's stunning photos highlight the beauty of the plants, as well as helping with identification.

Please visit our Rongoa - Medicinal Plants Books section for more useful books.
Check out our great selection of English-Maori dictionary.

Captain Cook fully realised its importance as a green vegetable for his crew, and had it gathered in quantity.

Dr. Sparrman, who joined the Discovery in 1772, writes that "the green stuffs which were cooked with pease and broth, or used as salads, consisted of wild celery (Apium prostratum), wild spinach (Tetragonia expansa), and Cook's scurvy grass (Lepidium oleraceum).

The following is taken from a note in Captain Cook's diary for 13 April, 1769:

The Sour Krout, the men at first would not eat it, until I put it in practice - a method I never knew to fail with seamen - and this was to have some of it dressed every day for the Cabin Table, and permitted all the Officers, without exception, to make use of it, and left it to the option of the men either to take as much as they pleased or none at all; but this practice was not continued above a week before I found it necessary to put every man on board on an allowance; for such are the Tempers and disposition of Seamen in general that whatever you give them out of the common way - although it be ever so much for their good - it will not go down, and you will have nothing but murmurings against the Man who first invented it; but the moment they see their superiors set a value upon it, it becomes the finest stuff in the world and the inventor an honest fellow.

(Which proves that he was as good a psychologist as he was a sailor!)

KOPAKOPA - Plantago - spp. Plantain

There are a number of native species of this plant, as well as the introduced European variety.

They are common weeds found in most areas, but have valuable medicinal uses, as both the Maori people and later the pakeha settlers knew. It has a corolla of broad flat leaves growing out of the root stock, with the flower head, a tall spike of dark purple stamens, as its most conspicuous feature.

The leaves contain a soothing mucilage, much the same in effect as linseed, but their best use is the ability to "drain" poison from festered wounds. First the wound was tapped with a stick to draw blood.

Then leaves were heated over the hot embers of a fire and the upper sides of the leaves wrapped to the wound, as this side "drew" as a poultice.

When the wound began to heal the under sides of the leaves were placed next to the skin, as this had a soothing effect. Sometimes the hot juice from the leaf was expressed on to the wound first. This was the treatment for boils and ulcers.

The liquid from boiled leaves was good also for scalds and burns.

Leaves of this plant, clover and sow thistles, were all boiled together and the liquid was used as a uterine stimulant to bring away the placenta after childbirth (Best).

The bruised leaves were also used as a pack on any suppurating sore.

Piles, were cured by the liquid from boiled leaves, either by bathing with the hot liquid or by sitting over the hot water in which the plant had been boiled, and in effect this was a well known steam bath.

Cracked lips and pierced ears were eased by rubbing with plantain leaf juice. It is interesting to note that the ancient Greeks used the European plantain for the same purposes.

Dioscorides wrote of its curative properties, every part being used in all countries from ancient to modern times, the mucilage from the leaves being listed in many Continental pharmacopoeias as an emollient.

PAEWHENUA - Rumex spp. - Dock

An introduced plant, used in much the same way as plantain. Children all over the world rub on dock leaves for scratches and bee stings.

KOPATA - Geum urbanum, var. strictum - Herb bennet, Common avens

A member of the rose family. This is a widely distributed plant, the New Zealand variety being known as var. strictum.

The English plant is a wild flower called common avens. In this country it is seen in many areas, but is not a common plant.

The leaves rise directly from the rootstock, composed of seven to twelve serrated leaflets in pairs on opposite sides of the stem, the terminal one being much longer.

The stem is from one to three feet high. The flowers are yellow.

The leaf is astringent and was sometimes used as a substitute for arnica in treating bruises. A lotion of the leaves was found to cure pimples.

It was also used as an aid in healing burns.

The astringent properties of the leaves were useful in cases of diarrhoea and dysentery.

The raw leaves were chewed and swallowed for foul breath.

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