How Harekeke was used traditionally by Māori – Aotea Store

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How Harekeke was used traditionally by Māori

Harakeke is a plant in the flax family found in the New Zealand native bush that Māori traditionally used for a variety of purposes. 

Ideally, Harekeke grows in wet locations and has straight, long bladed leaves strengthened by a robust mid-rib. They grow in a circular fan outwards from a central fleshy point called rito.  

The reproductive part of the plant is the dry, straight, tall flower-stalks or kōrari. 

Harakeke has a smattering of flower-stalks which bloom in shades of crimson, yellow, orange or magenta. The nectar in the flowers attracts pollinators, and this fertilizes the ovules, producing seeds. Seed pods develop on the stalks, below the flowers. As the seed pods dry, they crack open, releasing to the wind seeds that may grow into a new plant.

Harakeke leaves can be harvested, but the central two to three parent leaves bordering the rito (central fleshy point) should never be taken as it destroys the plant. 

Traditional Use of Harakeke

In traditional Māori life, harakeke had great practical value.

The harakeke leaf can be stripped into strands to be woven into kete (baskets) and whāriki (mats) using traditional weaving and plaiting (raranga) techniques, including warp and weft. 

A prepared harakeke fibre that has been softened in boiling water or beaten til pliant is called muka. The treated fibre was commonly incorporated in cloaks and other forms of dress.

Apparently, Māori made a range of hunting devices from harakeke fibre such as fishing lines, lashings, and bird-snares 

Māori also used harakeke for medicinal purposes. A boiled tonic of harakeke was an antidote for diarrhea and poor health.

There is a gel exuded on the base of leaves of the harakeke which is mildly astringent and antiseptic. Māori used this gel to disinfect, soothe, hydrate and cool the skin when aggravated by burns or wounds. They also treated ulcers and boils with the juice of harakeke.

Today, planting harakeke is an art form, as well as a science. It is a versatile, tough, hardy fibre that can be woven into skirts and cloaks, mats and baskets and metaphorically represents the interweaving of cultures, and of people’s hearts.

Harakeke gel is sold as a soothing antiseptic and humectant (hydrating) topical agent.

Flaxseed oil was in the spotlight of dietary science as a "super food” and it is now found everywhere in urban delis. The oil we press from native harakeke seeds is a very closely related substance.

Why Aotea incorporate harakeke in our skin care range

We incorporate the oil from the harakeke seeds into our range of products as it is rich in linoleic acid, a natural oil that the skin needs to nourish, repair and replenish itself. Harekeke is rich in omegas 3, 6 and 9 are brilliant at replenishing dry skin. Further, the recorded use of harakeke in healing wounds and burns and in rongoā recommends it as topical skin treatment.