RANGIORA, PUKAPUKA, WHARANGI - Brachyglottis repanda
This well known small shrub is found from the Auckland Province to Greymouth and Kaikoura in the South Island.
Its height depends on whether it is growing in shelter or out in the open. It does best in shade and when not exposed to wind.
The leaves are most distinctive pale green on the upper surface and with a white felt covering on the underside.
They are seven to twelve inches in length and four to six inches in width. They grow singly on a short stalk and have lobed, wavy edges, often turned back.
The flower heads are grouped in branching clusters of small, white daisy florets.
The leaves contain a small quantity of an alkaloid poison which has some antiseptic qualities.
They were placed over wounds to keep dust and flies away, and their huge size and antiseptic properties made them ideal for this purpose.
The bark and tips of the branches on the west side of the bush were cut and the gum which exuded was chewed (but not swallowed) for foul breath. First the gum was dissolved in oil, or kept soft in water.
The leaves were bruised, mixed with olive oil and applied to boils as a poultice.
This method was also used by early settlers, but their best known use of the leaves was as a substitute for toilet paper; hence the common name for it - "the bushman's friend". It is poisonous to stock, causing "staggers".
Wild honey found near this plant should not be gathered until all the flowers have dropped; otherwise it is very poisonous.
RARAUHE, MAROlD, TAKAKA - Pteridium aquilinum var. esculentum - Bracken fern
The common fern of hillsides and shrub lands found throughout New Zealand, though in damp places and in good soil it can grow to a good height, six to eight feet, and with correspondingly longer fronds and better roots.
To the Maori of olden times the root was a principal item of food. The following is an extract from the Journal of A.S. Thomson, 1847:
The Waipa County is noted for its fine fern root (aruhe), which is generally found in rich alluvial soil on the banks of rivers, or in deep valleys. Some of the choicest spots are made tapu to ensure a supply, and fierce quarrels have happened between different tribes from the spots having been set on fire. Much pain is taken in selecting it.
The roots are dug up in August and September, and those only are taken which are eighteen inches below the ground.
The small fibres are stripped off and they are roasted at a fire, and become very palatable, not unlike in taste to the Cassava bread used by the negroes in the West Indies.
As well as being palatable, the roots are full of starch and very nourishing.
The roasting takes four hours, and to cook the young coiled shoots, takes an hour to cook. They cut off the tender top curls, rubbed off the hairy coat and boiled them for an hour.
When young they have a sticky juice. The roasted roots were given to babies and to invalids.
The Maori ate them before a sea voyage to prevent sea sickness. The small tender shoots were chewed for dysentery.
They burnt the fronds and used the charcoal dust and ashes for severe burns, covering the skin with this preparation, sometimes mixing it with water to make a paste.
A decoction of fern root made by Maoris was used with good effect by them in the influenza epidemic of 1918-19.
Bracken is regarded by farmers today as one of the worst weeds in pasture land, but in inaccessible and non-productive areas, a long-term view should be taken.
It provides shelter for seedlings in the regeneration of native forest, and many lambs have been saved in cold frosty weather and in rain by taking refuge under fern fronds.
To the early settler, bracken fern was ideal material for a mattress and for cover when caught in the rain