Rongoa New Zealand

Information for students of Rongoa Maori

Archive for the ‘Contributed Articles’

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

Mana Wairua – Doco Series for Maori Television (Looking for Stories)

About Mana Wairua:

 Mana Wairua is a documentary series that follows the spiritual and very personal journey of individuals as they step through the darkness… and into that light.  The series will play on Māori Television in 2013. 

Mana Wairua is about focusing on the guiding light that leads us to a brighter destination – it may come in the form of creativity, whakapapa, aroha, kai, rediscovering Te Ao Māori etc…

It’s about life changing experiences with stories pertaining to all Māori.

Mana Wairua intends to take our audience on the same incredible journey that our subjects have travelled, and then leave them with the joyous sense that anything is possible and that there is always hope even when it seems like all is lost.. 

It is a showcase for stories of transformation, and of the vision/event/activity that empowers a person to create positive change in their life. It offers up hope and takes viewers on a rewarding journey of triumph over adversity.

Our spirit’s journey from dark to light, tells the story of what guides each of us there.

We are seeking stories from people that have found their way back from adversity to a place of strength. As a production crew are all experienced in capturing these types of stories in a caring, relaxed and safe environment.  There will be a range of different stories , violence, life of crime, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse etc….

If you think this might be relevant to you or someone you know please read through the requirements listed below and what the process involves.  There is no obligation to be involved if you want to make contact to find out more.  


Our people should be in a position where they are confident and comfortable enough to talk about their journey -the journey will cover where they have come from, their ultimate lows, the journey out, how they got out, where they are now, and their hopes and goals for the future.   


We will also shoot supporting interviews with people that are in their lives, people who were there during the darker times, the people helped to support them out and the people in their lives today – the positive influences.  These interviews will be filmed on a separate day to our main interview. 


It will vary from case to case but as a general marker we suggest that our people will have been ‘well’ for about two years.  However this is just a guide, its really about ensuring that our talent are kept safe. 


Following is some information regarding the filming process.  


The Process:


Step 1: Research – you will sit down with with one of our directors (who are all really approachable) and go through the details of your story.  The researcher and director will guide you through this process.   There will be no cameras at this meeting – however sometimes we will make voice recordings of the conversations as it is faster than writing.  


Step 2: Film the interview – together we will decide on a suitable date for everyone to film the interview – this process will be determined by you and how you are feeling as you tell your story, we can stop at any time.  This can take several hours but we will stop for meals and coffee breaks along the way.  


Location for the interview:

In our experience we believe that it is preferable to shoot these interviews in a neutral space away from the home environment, we will set up an interview space in Auckland and arrange for our talent and any necessary support people to come to us.  We will organise this fully at our end. 


People Involved in the Interview Process: 


The director:  This person you will have met prior to the interview, they will be the person that leads you through the story and will tell you what is coming up and what to do.  

Two camera people – they will be behind the cameras and will capture the interview.  

Sound Man – He will put a microphone on you and is in charge of making sure the sound is good. 

Support people – Anyone you want to come and tautoko you (that is completely up to you). 


After The Interview:


To compliment your story we will need to film some footage of you doing your normal every day stuff – for example if you coach a rugby team we could film you at training or at a game.  We will work together to come up with the best time to film this.  


We will need to film some support interviews with people who have been with you throughout this journey, someone that knew you when you were at your lowest and can talk about how you were then and how it made them feel. 


We also need to film someone who was there when you started to make changes, and finally someone or people that stand along side you today and can attest to how inspirational you are today (and we know you are!) 


These will happen at a separate time to your interview.  


In total it will probably take about three days to get all of this filming done, it will be split up over a few weeks to make it convenient. 

The process is very inclusive, we will work with you to decide the best way to tell your story. 


Please let me know if you need to know any more information.  

I can be contacted on the numbers listed below or by email. 



Nāku noa nā


Tena koutou katoa -I feel very grateful to have spent last weekend with Pa Ropata and Donna learning about our Rongoa. This is a summary-blog-about what I learnt and what was shared. Nga mihi nui ..He taonga tuku iho…


Traditional Maori medicine I had the great privilege to spend a weekend on one of Pa Ropata’s Rongoa Waananga in an area called Whare Tangata , Ngamanawa, Bay of Plenty.

Our group of twenty four climbed through pristine bush on Maori land especially preserved for the perpetuation of Rongoa.

Before white man came to Aotearoa(NZ) the ngahere (bush) was our main food source ,our medicine and our source of wellbeing. Maori have always maintained kaitiakitanga (guardianship)of our native flora and fauna knowing that the forest of Tane is our tuakana . The trees preceded us – the human race . This Rongoa matauranga was passed down by our ancestors so as custodians we endeavor to protect and perpetuate this taonga for our wellbeing and pass on to future generations so they in turn will benefit from Rongoa Maori for their wellbeing.

The ngahere becomes our teacher. When we go there we find stillness and presence . Our senses open and our mauri is nourished by the mauri of the whenua, trees, plants and birds. The roots , barks, leaves, flowers and berries of our native trees are our Rongoa.

Traditional healers in every generation go to the ngahere for their own wellbeing and for collection of medicine supplies to perpetuate their spiritual and cultural knowledge to play a key role in their communities. They understand,respect and care for the habitat and life cycles of the native flora and fauna.

With commercialization, rodent and possum infestations and unsustainable practices our ngahere of Aotearoa is in great danger. Only 23% of native bush remains covering our land mass compared to an original 80%.

As tangata whenua, the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand and all people who now live here we have to respect, nurture and love our whenua and all the progeny of Papatuanuku(Earth Mother). We need to ensure our government, communities and decision makers are actioning and resourcing and prioritising environmental sustainability for our health and wellbeing and perpetuation of Rongoa Maori for future generations.

Nau e IO ee


Story of Rona Legends of the Moon 28 September in Auckland

Come join us for an evening celebrating Te Ao Maori including a rongoa Maori demonstration;

When:  Friday 28 September 4-8pm

Where:  New Lynn Community Centre Auckland, 45 Totara Avenue, New Lynn

Cost:  Free

See attached program of events;

Legends of the Moon_Story of Rona Programme DL


Hoki Wairua, Hoki Wairua Atu Gathering December 2012

Kind thanks to Rae for keeping us in the loop with this panui

Whanau, Tohunga, Mareikura, Whatukura Stories

Monday 10th – 13th December 2012

Waiohau Marae, Waiohau, Bay of Plenty

Hoki Wairua Mai, Hoki Wairua Atu Conference 2012 Registration Form

Te Teko Planting Day 22 September


For more information check out this link;
Many thanks to Tania Waikato for letting us know about this.

Rongoa Maori Booklet

I would like to thank Dr Rosemary Beresford and her students from the Otago University School of Pharmacy for so graciously sharing their wonderful work and this document with our group.  This document outlines some of the traditional medicinal uses of our native plants and is available free to you by clicking this link.

Rongoa maori bklet Otago

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.

Intro to Rongoa Maori



Please click on this link to read this article;

 Introduction to Rongoa 2012



A stark reminder about the need for care with herbal medicine

This note was sent in by one of our group, who will remain anonymous. However this person is well trained as a medical herbalist both here in New Zealand and overseas. This is her story.

“I ended up in hospital after mixing up a concoction that also included some Rumex Neglectus/Maori dock. It is a rare species, an unusual dock that is threatened so I have been giving it lots of  TLC.   I had been putting leaves in salad and really enjoying it, tastes like sorrel. So next I (unwisely) JUICED 4 leaves in with carrot and celery and beetroot and cucumber. Tasted great, but the concentrated juice (without fibre to slow its process) was a poison which caused me to start going into anaphylactic shock. The next day is was in A&E, having ecgs, blood tests and a hydration drip with many worried family members. I consider myself very lucky -I saw my life passing before my eyes. 2 weeks later I have just had my first few ‘normal’ days and so very glad to be alive. It hasn’t put me off foraging one bit, but has made me a lot more conscious about what I am doing with the native plants, and a lot more TRUSTING that others who have done this longer, might know better than me. I read (after the event) that dock is edible only when well-cooked. I’d gotten away with it raw in salads, and should have realised that juicing (taking the fibre out) would concentrate its oxylates dangerously. A bit like juicing rhubarb leaves I think.”

Thank you for sharing your story us and the reminder it provides for us to never assume that because it is natural it is harmless or that just because something is harmless to eat when prepared a certain way it will remain harmless if we modify the way we prepare it. Think also karaka berries, tutu juice etc…