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Maori Medicine (continued)

The tubers were planted when the tohunga judged the time was right. They were lifted when the leaves turned brown, and then sorted.

The larger kumaras were cleaned of all earth, without breaking the skins, and tightly packed in large flax baskets, which had to be all the same" size. This basket was called a kete.

Kumaras needed cool storage, so a rua, or pit, was dug so that half was underground," with a weatherproof roof above ground.

The pit was cleaned and gravel spread over the floor. Then the baskets were put in side by side. This method kept the kumaras fresh through the winter and spring, and were the staple diet during the winter.

They were cooked in baskets in a hangi, or earth oven. The smaller ones were eaten at once. Kao was a delicacy made in the autumn after gathering the crop.

The method was to wash large kumaras, clean all earth from the "eyes", wrap them in puriri leaves, and cook them slowly on hot stones in an earth oven for some hours.

They were then dried in the sun for about two weeks. This was the food taken by hunters on an expedition.

The Maori women boiled the tubers and leaves together and drank the liquid to bring down a low fever, and also washed skin rashes in it.

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.

KUMARAHOU, PAPAPA Pomaderris kumeraho (prev. P. elliptica) Poverty weed, Gumdiggers' soap, Golden Tainui

An attractive shrub belonging to the buckthorn family and often seen in gardens because of its ornamental appearance.

The leaves are distinctive, having the undersides covered in soft, white, tangled hairs, and are one to four inches long. The flowers are a golden yellow in colour. It is a plant of the North Island shrublands.

The leaves have good curative properties which are well authenticated and widely known.

It is advertised by herbalists for skin diseases and an ointment made from it is sold today.

The liquid obtained by steeping the leaves in water was well known as a relief for all chest complaints.

It was taken internally for colds and asthma, and in particular for bronchitis. The Maori people used it also for tuberculosis. It is a blood purifier .

This liquid was used with good effect as a bath for skin diseases, especially for children. For this reason it was one of the plants gathered for steam baths by the Maoris of the North.

This bath was given also to people suffering from kidney troubles. The liquid from boiled leaves was able to be bottled and kept, unlike so many other decoctions which lasted only a month before deteriorating.

In olden times it was kept in a gourd. The name "Gumdiggers' Soap" is given to kumarahou because the yellow flowers make a soapy lather when crushed in the hand.

Tainui, Pomaderris apetala, another variety of this plant, got this name as it is traditionally reported to have grown from the skids of the Tainui canoe, one of the great fleet which sailed to New Zealand A.D. 1350 

MANONO - Coprosma austral is (prev. grandifolia) - Mikimiki - KARAMU Coprosma robusta KARAMU Coprosma foetidissima - Stinkweed

Karamu is the common name among the Maoris for any of the large leaved coprosmas. There are over 45 varieties of the 90 varieties of this species indigenous to New Zealand.

Some are shrubs, and some are trees. They are found from the Coromandel Peninsula to Stewart Island, and grow in coastal areas as well as inland forests and open country.

The comprosma flowers are unisexual and carried on separate plants. They are greenish and not conspicuous, but later the flowers develop into bright berries in numberless clusters on short stems.

These are in many colours, according to the variety - blue, black, orange, yellow, red and cream. As these plants belong to the madder family, the berries can be used for dyes.

The leaves come from the stems in opposite pairs, joined across the stem by a stipule. They are long, single, glossy and smooth-edged.

Common names for the shrubby varieties are "wiggy bushes" and "miki-miks"; also stinkweed, as some varieties have a disgusting smell.

The Maori in the South call them mikimiki; so the common nickname may be a corruption of this. "Wiggy bush" is probably given because of the many twiggy branches. Manono is a shrub and had many medicinal properties, which were made good use of by Maori.

For scabies and itch they used the sap from the inner bark, bathing the affected parts.

They made a decoction by boiling up leaves and twigs and, while still warm, bathed festered sores, cuts and bruises, doing this frequently. This mixture was used with good effect on shrapnel wounds that had not healed. This was used after the last war.

The leaves were boiled and pasted on broken limbs and bruises.

The inner bark was steeped in cold water and put over places where there were aches and pains . For venereal disease manono bark and the leaf tips of white manuka were boiled together and applied externally. 

Karamu is one of the larger varieties and, as the name implies, a sturdy tree. Maori people seem to have found different uses for this variety of coprosma.

In King Country they boiled the leaves and drank the liquid for kidney troubles. It was drunk as a febrifuge too.

The young shoots of karamu were boiled and the liquid drunk for bladder stoppage and inflammation. They boiled the inner bark, and the water was taken in small amounts for stomach ache and to stop vomiting.

It was a sacred plant to the Maori people and the tohungas held a branch of it when intoning a karakia over a sick person.

Another well known coprosma is taupata, C. repens, well known as a hedge and shelter tree, especially on the coast round the Wellington area.

The coprosma belongs to the coffee family, and the following note may be of interest. "The roasted seed heads of karamu and taupata made a satisfactory coffee, but the seeds are too small to compete with imported beans."

NAU - Lepidium oleraceum - Cook's scurvy grass

Once a very common herb found on the coasts and islands round New Zealand, but rare now. It has been said that cattle and sheep have eaten it down. At one time it was used plentifully by the Maoris as food.

The leaves are narrow, serrated and pointed. They come from opposite sides of a slender stem, and the flowers appear at the top of the leaf stem on narrow spikes of tiny florets.

The leaves are pungent and, as its nick­- name implies, were found to be a good antidote for scurvy.

Captain Cook had boatloads of these plants collected along with other "green stuff" and taken aboard to be cooked.

He did not discover the other merits of fresh vegetables, but the vital thing was that he recognised the value of the right' diet as a preventive against scurvy, and enforced such a diet.

The following extract from the diary of Alexander Home, Master Mate on the Discovery, explains very clearly what use was made of these plants, and what was thought of them on the lower deck!

It was his practice to Cause Great Quantities of Green Stuff to be Boiled among the Pease Soup and wheat and Cared not much whether they were Bitter or Sweet so as he was but certain they had no Pernicious Quality, and frequently to one who considered only the Pleasing of their Taste with out having Respect to health, the Messes were somewhat spoiled.

But as there was nothing else to be got, they were obliged to eat them, and it was no uncommon thing when swallowing over these messes, to curse him heartily and wish for God's sake that he might be obliged to eat such damned stuff mixed with his broth as long as he lived.

Yet, for all that there was none so ignorant as not to know how right a wrong it was.

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