Natural Plants, Shrubs and Herbs used by the Maori People
RAUPO - Typha orientalis - Bulrush
This beautiful reed grows in swamplands, the lower stems sometimes submerged in water.
The flower heads are carried on long, brown straight, slender stems high above the leaves.
They are densely packed together in long, rounded velvety spikes, first green, then turning bronze as the seeds ripen.
The top of the spike is yellow and, when shaken, sheds great quantities of edible pollen (pua).
The Maori made bread from this, called pungapunga, and to them it was a most important source of food.
The process was most ingenious and showed how well they used the crude materials at their disposal.
The seed heads were collected with great care. in late afternoon and laid on mats under shelter, and taken out each day to dry in the sun.
At the same time they made bags of bark which they stripped off the trunks of the hinau tree.
These were doubled up to make a bag and the sides sewn, leaving a hole at the top.
At the same time many baskets of tightly woven split flax were plaited, each about six irtches in diameter, though a few were specially made smaller. The raupo flowers were stripped and placed in these.
The men of each family shook the baskets over the open bags, into which they tipped the sifted pollen (throwing away the flower petals and stems).
A karakia by the tohunga was chanted during this process. A small hole was then cut in the bottom of each bag and the pollen poured back into the small flax baskets. Large leaves, perhaps rangiora, covered the pollen, and the basket tops were sewn together.
They were then put into the hangi and steamed. When the hangi was opened and steam was seen coming from the baskets, the bread was ready. This bread was called pungapunga.
The chief of the tribes divided the loaves among the families, but first the tohunga was offered one of the small loaves.
This he accepted and ate, and so lifted the tapu. Another old use of raupo was to pull out the seed head and pack the floss-like substance against wounds to keep out dust and flies, and, in effect, act as cotton wool.
The most valuable and nutritious part of this reed is the root stalk which acts as a food storage and contains much starch and some sugar.
It has most food value in autumn and winter. The outer covering should be stripped off and the inner part eaten raw, or grated and then boiled for some time. There is a certain medicinal value as. well, as the root stalk is known to be astringent and diuretic. It is said to taste like asparagus.
Small shoots can easily be pulled out from the base of the plant and treated in the same manner.
Today campers can shake out the pollen, mix it with water as a kind of porridge, or make it into cakes and steam them.
Raupo was used to make canoes and small rafts called mokihi.
Bundles of the reeds were tied together and then these bundles lashed together with flax, flat for a raft and with sides added to form a small narrow boat.
They were used to cross rivers. Punting poles were used in place of paddles.
These reeds formed the most common and best thatching for whares, often with totara bark on top. They kept the huts warm and dry.
Early settlers used the long leaves, or reeds, as a roof, especially in the Christchurch area. Charlotte Godley, in her book, Letters from Early New Zealand, discusses her raupo roof.