Rongoa New Zealand

Information for students of Rongoa Maori

Archive for the ‘Rakau’

About Manuka

This article on Manuka was published in AVENA  the Journal of the New Zealand Association of Medical Herbalists Autumn 2014

Multi-talented Manuka

Botanical Name: Leptospermum scoparium
Common Name: New Zealand Tea tree
Maori names: Manuka, Kahikaatoa, Kaatoa, Pata, Rauwiri, Rauiri

This insignificant and sometimes weary looking shrub might well be considered the backbone of the New Zealand bush.  Manuka thrives in any climate and soil type – even in poisonous thermal regions, wind blown rocky outcrops, swampy marshes, arid coastal margins and large expanses of disturbed or poisoned

If I were asked to describe Manuka using human characteristics I would say:

  • male
  • scrawny yet strong
  • adaptable
  • resilient, determined and dependable
  • not showy preferring to get on with business without a fuss
  • revealing brief moments of softness in spring

(actually, sounds more like the perfect woman…..)

In contrast, Kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum) is our diplomat – sociable, good looking, astute, and a powerful healer who led the charge for renewed interest in Maori traditional herbal healing.  Harakeke (Phormium tenax) is the weaver, bringing together people, land, and matauranga/traditional Maori knowledge, Manuka, is the hardworking healer tenacious yet humble, quietly supporting the land and people in the background.

Let us not overlook this tireless worker, amidst its  flashier and more fashionable counterparts that adorn the New Zealand landscape. Without Manuka to expand bush margins, we would have even less native healing plants available to us today. Manuka claims new ground and prepares the way for other plants to repopulate desolate areas or damaged ground. Once it has done its job and provided safe haven for the development and growth of larger plants it dies away. Alternatively it will persist as shelter for smaller life forms in areas where mightier trees dare not venture.

Highly valued by Maori, many whakatauki (prophetic sayings) are recorded that re ect the mana (prestige) of this
impressive plant including this one:

“He iti Kahikatoa pakaru rikiriki te Totara”

The Kahikaatoa (Manuka) can reduce the Totara to small pieces.  This saying refers to Manuka wedges which are used to split  Totara.

Manuka is often confused with Kanuka (Kunzea ericoides) as they can populate similar sites. Recognising Manuka is less difficult when you are able to compare the differences associated  with the two plants:

  • Manuka is smaller than the much taller growing Kanuka
  • Manuka’s bark is generally darker than the lighter, stringier Kanuka bark
  • Manuka will almost always display its larger seed capsules all year round unlike Kanuka which sheds it capsules around autumn
  • Crushed Manuka leaves smell different to the more milder Kanuka fragrance

A commonly used acronym says that Manuka leaves are ‘mean’ (ie. prickly) and Kanuka leaves are ‘kind’. However, this may not always be true of some young Manuka trees whose leaves can bequite similar in texture to those of the Kanuka.

Sadly Manuka has a greater profile internationally than it does in New Zealand where it is not unusual for it to be
considered as nothing more than pesky scrub.  at is, unless there is sufficient to produce economic quantities of the much prized Manuka honey or essential oil.  Many New Zealand manufacturers cannot produce enough Manuka honey or essential oil to meet international demand. Yet here in New Zealand many gardeners or landscapers consider Manuka as little more than a ‘ ller’ rather than a fundamental element in the New Zealand landscape. Some medical herbalists will use exotic plants with modern monographs and expensive research supporting their medicinal application over our equally effective native plants.  This may be due to there being more literature and education on exotic medicinal plants than on New Zealand natives.

People and Plants
Public health services are masters at matching disease with medicines made from plant extracts or plant derivatives.
However, I like to think that we herbalists and rongoa Maori practitioners strive to match people with plants. Limiting our perception of the patient as a disease or seeing a plant simply for its constituents may be invaluable in emergency or acute care, but to facilitate deeper healing we need to get to know the person and our plants intimately.  is means learning what makes this person smile, what makes them cry, when do they feel at their best, at their worst, and what really matters to them.  is approach also means getting to know the plant in its natural habitat, understanding in what conditions it thrives or withers, what environmental factors it has learned to overcome, how animals interact with and respond to it, understanding its role on Earth and what gifts it readily offers to us. By observing Nature (human and environmental) the answers to our healing questions will become obvious.

“Kia aho matuahia te taketake, Kia tuwaerea te tau.”
“When intuition replaces intellect, knowledge turns to wisdom”

Manuka has sustained the people of this land (both Maori and early European travellers such as Cook) as a medicine,
nutrient rich tea, ingredient for food preservation and preparation, wood for spears and building materials. It has helped pave the way to establishing this beautiful land we call home. It continues to thrive no matter how badly we treat the Earth.

Medicinal Uses
A rongoa Maori healer once told me that “Manuka is the only rakau (tree) that doesn’t get sick. If you have ground that needs healing then burn some Manuka and spread the ash over the sick land and it will start to heal” Traditionally Maori used Manuka for a variety of conditions including:

  • burns
  • infections (topically and internally)
  • vapour baths
  • urinary infections

Some of Manuka’s widely acknowledged actions include:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • anti-microbial
  • astringent
  • diuretic

Manuka is one of my top  ve rongoa plants.  I use it in a diverse range of applications:

  • Topically in ointments for dry  flaky skin conditions, cuts and grazes and in insect repellents to prevent and treat minor infections (decoction, essential oil or tincture).
  • Topically in poultices or dressing for leg ulcers (decoction or essentialoil mixed with Mamaku gel or Manuka honey)
  • In mouthwashes and toothpaste to treat inflammation and to maintain good oral health. (essential oil, tincture, decoction or hydrosol)
  • In preparations taken internally for colds and systemic conditions such as impetigo and recurring skin inflammations (decoction)
  • In a vaporiser solution for young children with colds (essential oil).

Let us change the all too common pattern of thinking that sees Manuka as a last resort for planting where nothing else seems grow, or as a medicine only when other remedies have failed. Manuka is far more than a pesky weed, or simply a lucrative cash crop.  Next time you are looking for a plant, whether it is for the garden, re-establishing native bush, shelter or aesthetics let’s look first to Manuka. As medical herbalists looking for plants for a medicine garden or to provide medicine in a clinical situation, especially where antibiotic resistance may be an issue let us look  first to our natives (including Manuka) to assist in treatment protocols.

Only when we come to know a plant (the whole plant) can we truly appreciate its beauty and healing gifts.

Nga mihi tatou ki a tatou tuakana, he Manuka. He rakau toa, he rakau kaha, he rakau manawanui.
Nga mihinui ki a koe.

We pay great tribute to you, our elder sibling, Manuka, adept, strong and full of heart.

Written by Donna Kerridge

Tupakihi Use

Tupakihi in Flower (Photo: Bushman’s Friend)

The following is an email sent in by one of our course participants;

I just wanted to share my mother’s korero with you about her use of Tupakihi for my brother.
I wondered if you  have heard of the use of Tupakihi as described to me by my mother .
This method was used by my father to heal my brother’s foot. My brother was
about 9-10 years old when he jumped over a fence and landed in long grass on a
broken bottle which cut the back of his foot across his Achilles Tendon.
He was taken to the family doctor who  treated it with powder and bandaged the
foot. My mother tells me that it was not healing and it eventually became infected. She says that
she and my father ended up taking him to the Ngawha Springs outside of Kaikohe
to try and heal it, but when my mother’s elderly uncle saw my brother’s foot, he told them to get some Tupakihi and prepare it in the following way and put it on his foot.
My father removed the leaves from the young branchlets of the Tupakihi and cut
the branchlets in half. Then the soft insides were scraped out and put on a
clean bandage. After my mother bathed his foot in boiled Tupakihi, the bandage
with the soft Tupakihi pith ( I guess that is what she is referring to) was put directly on the wound.
She tells me that within a week his foot had improved and he was moving around on his foot, and within the next couple of weeks it healed over.
As far as I know  my brother did not have any problems with his foot during his lifetime,. He was athletic and played rugby without any problems..
My mother says that they took  my brother back to the doctor when he was walking and after the doctor checked the area, he wanted to know what they had done because he didnt expect the wound to look so good.  She says they told the doctor that they used Tupakihi. Apparently, he had heard of it from other older Maori
Thank you for sharing this with us.

Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium)

Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium)
thankyou to for this photo
Description: Broom like shrub or tree to 10m tall. Bark brown, thin, shedding in long strips. Branchlets and leaves silky hairy when young.  Leaves glabrous, coriaceous , stiff and acute, 4-12 x 1-4 mm, dotted with oil glands which give a distinctive gingery peppery smell. Flowers generally hermaphrodite, sometimes unisexual, solitary.  Sepals and petals five, commonly white but sometimes flushed pink, 12 mm diam. Capsules 5-valved, 6-7 mm diam., woody, long lasting. Sometimes flowering when only a few cm tall (ref: Eagle’s Complete Trees and Shrubs of New Zealand vol. 1 p.232)
How to distinguish Manuka from:
Kanuka:is softer to touch in adult forms, seed capsules are different, Kanuka bark is lighter, kanuka can grow to 30m.
Mingimingi: does not have the same smell as Manuka & Kanuka, flowers are much smaller and not solitary, has fleshy drupes rather than woody capsules.
Traditional Uses include: vapour baths to treat colds & invoke anti-inflammatory & sedative properties, decoctions for urinary complaints & fever, seeds were chewed for diarrhoea, honey used for  wound healing .
Where to find Manuka: Mountains, seashore, swamps, dry land, rocky cliffs, poor soils, disturbed sites