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Maori Medicinal Plants and Shrubs

PIRIPIRI, HUTIWAI - Acaena sanguisorbae - Bidibid

This plant belongs to the rose family, bidibid being a corruption of the Maori word piripiri.

It is a creeping herb, common throughout New Zealand, though it's seen more often in the South Island.

It has long, prostrate stems which trail along the ground. They are woody at the base, but the outer ends are green and leafy above the stems.

The leaves are pinnate, with seven to twelve leafletys, each pair larger than the one below.

The fruits are green at first, but turn brown and are covered with burrs, or spiny barbs.

These stick to stockings and trousers in hundreds, and are a curse to sheep farmers, as they cling to the sheeps wool and can spoil a whole fleece.

The piripiri was a useful plant to the Maori. They boiled the leaves and left the liquid until cold; then drank it as a remedy for kidney and bladder complaints, and sometimes for venereal disease.

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Check out our great selection of English-Maori dictionary.

This liquid, with added water, was given to babies whose mothers had no milk.

The leaves, steeped in hot water, were applied to open wounds and to bruises and sprains.

A weak decoction of the leaves was drunk as a tonic, and it alleviated rheumatic pains and stomach ache.

A watery mixture made by boiling leaves in a quantity of water was used to bathe people with an itchy skin disease called hakihaki.

Veterinary doctors gave an infusion of this herb to calves to prevent "scours".

Bruises may be treated by rubbing them with the fresh leaves. We did this as children.

The whole plant, leaves, flowers, stem and roots, were boiled up together, and the liquid was drunk for gallstones.

Because of their trailing herbaceous look, they are used in hanging baskets and in rockeries.

PUAWANANGA, PIKIARERO - Clematis paniculata - Bush clematis

This beautiful climber is found all over New Zealand. Sometimes its presence is not suspected in the bush until the spring, when the tops of trees, large and small, burst into a cascade of thousands of snowy white star like flowers.

They festoon the tree tops and hang in garlands. The flowers have daisy like petals with a yellow centre.

The seed heads are just as lovely. They are feathery white clusters composed of seeds with long, silky plumes when ripe.

They are carried in all directions by winds. The sensitive leaf stems twine round any twig or branch they find in their upward climb.

The leaves are produced when the vine reaches the sunlight. These grow from the stem in leaflets of varying number.

They are a soft green with brown splotches on the larger leaves. The stem ends with smaller leaflets and twining, curled tendrils, much the same as the European Clematis jackmanii.

The leaves were applied to blisters as a counter-irritant. The bark and stem wood were scraped, and the shavings were inhaled for head colds.

Another and unusually interesting use was made of the stem, which contained sap. A short length was cut off and one open end was held to a wound. The other end was blown through and the sap ejected on to the cut.

This method was used also to cure a stye in the eye. When the fetlock of a horse was chafed by a rope or cut by wire, the sap was blown on to the wound in the same manner.

Clematis hexasepala, is a smaller variety: Maori girls wore the flowers of this climber as chaplets on ceremonial occasions.

PUWHA, TIOTIO - Sonchus oleraceus - Prickly leaved sow thistle PUWHAPORORUA, RAURIKI - Sonchus oleraceus - Smooth leaved sow thistle

This is the definition given in' the Dictionary of the Maori Language by Williams (1957), but it is difficult to be specific, as some Maori tribes had their own names for these plants.

Puwha is the native variety, mentioned by Captain Cook in 1769, as it was one of the plants he had gathered and cooked as an anti-scorbutic.

It is a coastal plant. Rauriki, the soft leaved variety, is the introduced one and is found everywhere, especially in damp places, and near creeks; also in wet places in the bush, the seed being wind-borne.

It is now a common garden weed. The leaves are finer and softer than those of other thistles, and, though without prickles, are indented in the same manner.

A little, upright foliage plant, it is a foot or less in height, with the end leaflet larger than those below.

The whole top of a young plant is cut off and cooked in the same way as spinach.

The old Maori used it for boils and carbuncles. The leaves were crushed until the milky fluid exuded, which was then poured over the boil before the leaf itself was placed on top as a cover.

Leaves were crushed and then bound over fresh cuts to prevent poisoning. I have often done this myself when working in the garden, especially for a rose prick.

The leaves have been proved to be anti-scorbutic, a blood purifier, and to contain vitamin C (Pickmere). But if you dry the juice until it forms a gum and take that, it then becomes a strong purgative.

Old-time Maori women expelled the juice of the wild turnip (pohata) and rauriki and these together were taken for haemorrhage after childbirth.

Another purgative was made by the thickened juice mixed with the fresh gum resin of kohukohu, and this was chewed as a masticatory.

For stomach complaints the juice of boiled leaves was drunk. A note by Colenso states that the Maori later preferred to eat the introduced sow thistle as it was less bitter.

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