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Healing Plants Shrubs, Herbs used by Early Maori and Settlers

KOROMIKO - Hebe salicifolia - Veronica

This is a very beautiful low spreading shrub, the abundant flowers of which range in colour from white through pink and blue to purple and red, according to their many varieties.

The flowers come from the base of the leaves and look rather like a bottle brush, with their sweet scented flowers closely packed on a short stiff spike.

Their glossy green leaves grow out from the stems at all angles. They are narrow, thick, single and about an inch in length.

Koromiko is found in both Islands, and does best on the lower levels and in rich soil. In sparse country and in alpine regions this shrub has fewer and smaller leaves.

Nowhere else in the world does the hebe grow as well as in New Zealand, and nowhere else are there so many varieties and hybrids of this species. They number nearly a hundred.

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.

The astringent qualities of the young leaf tips were so well regarded by the Maori as a cure for diarrhoea and dysentery that during World War II they sent them to the Maori troops in the Middle East who were suffering from these complaints.

The leaves were eagerly accepted by their pakeha soldier comrades as well! For these illnesses, also "summer sickness", the top unopened buds and young leaves were gathered by Maori women and treated in several ways.

They were chewed raw, but not swallowed, or the leaves were steeped, and the liquid drunk, and also stored in gourds for later use. King Country Maoris drank it to cure kidney and bladder trouble.

A very early Wellington chemist, T. Fitzgerald, made and sold a preparation for the relief of diarrhoea, but said that it must be an infusion of fresh leaves (Best). A weak infusion was taken as a tonic, and to chew a leaf awakened a keen sense of hunger.

The fresh young leaves were steeped in hot water for a period to make an infusion which was given to expectant mothers to bring on an easy and rapid childbirth.

Many pioneer women used this as well as Maori women (Rout).

The leaves were bruised and applied as a poultice for an ulcer or boil and for venereal disease.

They used the sap for a child's skin disease called hawiniwani (Best). Leaves were used also as a pack for a sore on a baby's skin.

The liquid from boiled leaves was an effective mouthwash and gargle. Branches of koromiko formed part of a medicinal vapour or steam bath taken by women after childbirth (Goldie). 

KUMARA - Ipomoea batatas - Sweet potato

This plant was brought to New Zealand on the last voyage from Polynesia' in A.D: 1350.

The wife of Hoturoa, chief of the TAINUI waka (canoe) carried small tubers of kumara "wrapped about her person", which may be an allegorical description of the care with which they were preserved on this voyage.

The kumara superseded the fern root as the most valuable food plant of the Maori people.

Its cultivation gradually changed them from a semi-nomadic way of life to one of settled tribal communities.

They had to stay near the crop until it was ready for digging, and as it grew best in coastal areas where fish was plentiful this was another factor in making families stay in one area and begin to build homes in better and more permanent "materials.

It belongs to the convolvulus family and is the same species as the climber known as Morning Glory, with similar flowers and leaves.

This sweet potato has a flavour somewhat like a parsnip, the flesh creamy and fine, with a soft reddish-brown skin. It is anything from two to six inches long, very irregular in shape and has many "eyes". 

Great preparations were made before planting. The ground was cleared of weeds and dug well, and wood ash and sand sprinkled over the soil.

The shoots of the tubers were planted on raised heaps of earth, nearly a foot high, in rows from east to west on a northern slope.

Sometimes a little sand was sprinkled in each hole first, but before this the shoots were grown for a time on a starter bed, which was first heated by a fire being burnt on top of the prepared ground.

They were planted out when well sprouted. Earth was heaped round the plants as they grew and the leaves lifted at intervals to prevent further shoots being formed.

Manuka or other brush fences were erected to give shelter from winds and, if grown inland, mats were placed over the plants at night, as they were easily killed by frosts.

Green branches of kawakawa were laid between the rows and, as they slowly burnt, the acrid smoke killed any insects which otherwise would have eaten the plants.

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