3 Native Plants Used In Māori Medicine
The traditional medicinal system used by Māori in Aotearoa prior to European colonial contact to treat the sick and injured was called rongoā Maori. Rongoā Maori was a holistic approach to health that incorporated spiritual, psychological, physical and family aspects of wellbeing. Māori tohunga were trained expert practitioners of this medicinal system, and they had deep knowledge of the rongoā rākau (medicinal plants) and would say a karakia (prayer) before treating the sick patient. It was believed that illnesses could be a consequence of breaking the laws of tapu. The ngāhere (bush) was the source of rongoā rakau. There were many different uses for a wide variety of rongoā rākau, and this knowledge was highly prized. Pre-European Māori were susceptible to illnesses like pneumonia, arthritis and rheumatism. Due to the prevalence of fighting and inter-tribal warfare, injuries were common. However, certain new illnesses were brought from Europe or developed in European times.
The Māori view of health incorporates spiritual, psychological, physical and family aspects. Today, many Māori still prefer to see Māori doctors, who understand the Māori view of health. However, the range of diseases that affect Māori today has increased since pre-European times and many western antibiotics and pharmaceutical medicines are needed to treat common conditions that afflict Māori.
In 1907, the Tohunga Suppression Act was passed, as a result of some concern that “rogue” tohunga who lacked the training of traditional tohunga were practicing rongoa unsafely. This pushed the practice of rongoa underground. In 1962, the Tohunga Suppression Act was repealed. Rongoa Māori has resurged along with other aspects of Māori culture in recent decades.
Here are some of the uses for three of the native plants in our range that were also traditionally used in rongoā Māori, kawakawa, mānuka and harakeke.
Kawakawa, commonly known as the Māori Pepper Tree.
The leaves were chewed to cure toothache, to reduce swelling in the face and to stimulate the kidney and bowels. The leaves were boiled as a treatment for boils, as a diuretic, for “blood purification,” for paipai (a skin disease resembling ringworm), gonorrhoea, syphilis, arthritis, and used for bruises. A smokey, steamy inhalation of the leaves and branches was used for chest congestion. The roots were chewed for dysentery. The whole leaves were applied to wounds and in bandaging. Some common science explanations for kawakawa's healing qualities lie in two of the phytochemical compounds it contains, myristicin and diayangambin. Kawakawa contains the compound myristicin, which is anti-inflammatory and psychoactive in large quantities (it is also found in nutmeg). Kawakawa also contains diayangambin, an immunosuppressant. Autoimmune disorders are treated with immunosuppressants. Kawakawa has a bitter but refreshing taste.
Mānuka, commonly known as tea tree.
An infusion of the leaves was taken for kidney and urinary problems, fever, cough and gonorrhoea. A decoction of the bark was taken for diarrhoea, dysentery, pain, inflamed breasts and as a sedative. The seeds were chewed for stomach problems. The seeds were made into a poultice to dress wounds and were boiled into an anti-inflammatory solution. The oil was used as antiseptic and the gum was used for burns and coughing. Mānuka has been found to contain a compound called methylglyoxal, which has extremely strong antibacterial properties.
Harakeke, commonly known as flax.
The roots and leaves were made into a poultice to dress wounds, abscess, swelling and chilblains. The juice of the root was used in treating ringworm, skin irritations, flatulence and toothache. The roots were crushed to make a treatment for constipation, and boiled to make a treatment for diarrhoea and dysentery, as well as a blood purifier. The gum was used for rheumatic pain, burns, and sunburn. The leaves were used in bandaging, stitching wounds and splints.
Long before pharmaceuticals arrived in Aotearoa, Māori relied on these native plant based remedies to keep themselves and their mokopuna healthy. It is these traditional remedies, with a modern twist, that form the basis of our Aotea Skincare range. Everything is sourced sustainably and made with our tīpuna in mind.
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