~ Kawakawa ~ (Macropiper excelsum) has long held a sacred place in Māori traditional medicine (Rongoā). The leaves, bark, and berries of this evergreen shrub are used to address a diverse range of health concerns including to treat wounds, skin ailments, and digestive issues, showcasing the depth of its healing capabilities.
Kawakawa is abundant in vitamins A, C, and E, as well as essential minerals including zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, niacin, copper, manganese, and potassium.
One of the standout features of Kawakawa lies in its prowess as a skin healer. The plant is rich in compounds such as thymol, carvacrol, and limonene, which exhibit potent anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties. Kawakawa-based balms have proven effective in alleviating conditions such as eczema, skin rashes, boils, sores, and fungal infections. The application of Kawakawa extends to insect bites, burns, and even sunburns. You’ll find my Kawakawa balm on my website under ‘Botanical Skincare’, infused with fresh Kawakawa from my homegrown garden.
Kawakawa's natural analgesic properties make it a valuable ally for pain relief. Its traditional use for ailments like rheumatism, arthritis, and neuralgia is rooted in its ability to reduce inflammation and soothe discomfort. The presence of myristicin, a compound related to eugenol, imparts mild antiseptic properties, contributing to its efficacy in dental pain relief. Simply chew Kawakawa leaves or stems to feel the numbing sensation on your inflammed gums.
Kawakawa's leaves and berries can be used for internal healing. Infusions and teas made from Kawakawa leaves can be taken to address digestive issues, providing relief from stomach ailments and bladder problems. The plant's diuretic properties make its fruits a natural choice for promoting healthy kidney function. My favorite way to use Kawakawa is in a simple herbal tea, which has a unique flavor.
Kawakawa's also acts as a mild insect repellent. The practice of burning dried Kawakawa leaves, reminiscent of sage smudging sticks, has been a traditional method for creating a natural insect deterrent. When in the bush and the bugs start biting, simply mash up some fresh Kawakawa leaves and rub all over your skin to deter insects.
Everyone will tell you to gather the holey Kawakawa leaves. It’s the native looper caterpillar moth that comes out at night time to feast on the leaves. Some say the caterpillar knows best & only eats the leaves with the most potent medicine. Others say that the plant in retaliation and to heal itself sends all it’s healing properties to the chewed on leaves. However I like the story that my Rongoā teacher Donna Kerridge shared with me. That is that all of the beings in the forest are our Tipuna (ancestors), (this includes the caterpillar), and so to respect our ancestors that have come before us we allow our tipuna to first feast and nourish themselves, before we collect & gather our Rongoā. Therefore we choose the leaves that the caterpilla has already feasted from. This is my favorite story as to why we collect the holey leaves.
If you’d like to learn more about NZ Native plants there are many wonderful Rongoā practitioners in New Zealand who are able to thoroughly teach the appropriate tikanga involved in preparing effective Rongoā. This is a really important part of the process and not to be underestimated.
P.s Kawakawa is covered in depth in my online foraging course which is currently on offer with $100off, sign up now: