Māori Plant Use

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Plant Use Details 


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Beilschmiedia tawa. Tawa. Main reference.
FAMILY:
BOTANICAL NAME: Beilschmiedia tawa
PREVIOUS NAMES: Nesodaphne tawa
MĀORI NAME: TAWA; taua (sic. Taylor 1847)
Tawa fruit: pokere, pokerehū
Unripe fruit: māriri
Dead, dry, light wood: waipawa (Best 1908)
COMMON NAME: tawa; white tawa (Best)
MEDICINAL: Bark used for stomach-aches and colds (Taylor 1870 ; Kerry-Nicholls 1886).
Bark decoction for wounds (with rimu and tutu) used by Tūhoe (Goldie 1905).

Related pharmacology, see Brooker, Cambie and Cooper 1987. Isoboldine and other alkaloids isolated from the berries (Russell and Frazer 1969).
See also Cambie 1976 - beta-sitosterol recorded as isolated from the bark of tawa. It is a major component of an American proprietary drug used to lower blood cholesterol levels.
See also Riley 1994 for information on medicinal uses of related plants elsewhere in the world.
FOOD: 'The fruit of this tree has somewhat the appearance of a Wine sour plum, it is very sweet, with a slight flavour of turpentine; the kernel, when cooked, is also eaten; the bark when infused furnishes the traveller with a wholesome as well as a grateful beverage which does not require the addition of sugar.' (Taylor 1847). Also Taylor 1855.
Large berries extensively collected for food (Kirk 1870).
Seeds collected, steamed for food. Dried, the kernels kept a long time (Colenso 1869b, 1881).
Tawa berries cooked on coals or hot ashes like popcorn (Te Rangi Hiroa 1949).
Fruit, 'not bad eating.' Kernel eaten when cooked (Taylor 1855).
Berries called towha by Nicholas 1817.
Pleasant tasting fruit (Servant 1973).
The roe of paua 'produces flatulency, like the tawa berry'. The tawa berry is cooked in a hangi in the same way as karaka, but after tawa is cooked is not kept in water so long as karaka, but may be eaten in a few days (White 1887; Vol III)
The prepared berries were among the foods presented at a feast attended by T. H. Potts (Potts 1879)
See 4 page section in Best 1942 on processing berries. Pulp not so pleasant. Turpentine flavour. Berries put in water, trampled, kernels steamed for more than 12 hours, dried. Steamed again when wanted, to soften, sometimes crushed. Berries could also be gathered and steamed in a hangi for 2 days or more (the process is called taopaka). Tūhoe lined hangi with 6 different plants - karamū, heruheru, manono, hangehange, rautāwhiri, pāraharaha. First 5 plants for a desirable brown appearance, pāraharaha for flavour. When required for food the dried kernels were stoneboiled and pounded. The kernels were sometimes roasted before a fire, and, when heated, explded with a popping sound. (Best 1908, 1942, 1903).
Ovens used for steaming tawa kernels were long ones, not the small round kind generally used (Best 1903). Ripe tawa juicy.. not unpleasant to taste. The kernel is very like the seed of the date, and very hard. The collection and processing are described in Makereti 1938.
'Berries which were needed for immediate use could be eaten as soon as they were cooked, but the dried and stored tawa had to be soaked in water and placed in a hangi for several hours until they were soft. They were dark brown, and the water in which they were soaked was quite thick when the tawa was ready to eat. We had plenty when I was a child and I used to enjoy them. With a little sugar, they were very nice indeed' (Makereti 1938).
DOMESTIC: Wood only used as fuel, 'as it soon takes the worm.' (Taylor 1855).
Among Tūhoe, used to make adze handles (Best 1912).
Wallace 1989 found a paddle and 2 eel clubs made of tawa among museum artefacts he tested.
Splendid fuel timber (Best 1908)
CONSTRUCTION: Timber tree. Fence rails. Shingles. (Colenso 1869a) (N.B. - details on colonial timber uses generally not part of this database). Battens for sides and roofs of houses (Colenso 1869a, 1869b, 1892b).

White tawa (so called by Europeans) has very white, easy-splitting, soft wood , excellent chopping, splendid fuel. (Best 1908)


FISHING AND HUNTING: Very long bird spears (30-36 ft.), 'the working of which out of a large tree with only their stone implements, obtaining as they did but two spears from a single tree, was indeed a most patient and admirable performance, often taking two years for its completion.' (Colenso 1869a, 1869b, 1892b).
Bird spears. (Kirk 1889; Best 1908)
Among Ngapuhi, tawa and taraire used to make fires for hollowing out logs when making canoes (Best 1925). Sometimes used for making canoe paddles (Tuta Nihoniho, ibid).
SCENT: Aromatic bark may have commercial use - 'belonging to the same natural order with those producing the cinnamon, cassia, sassafras, benzoin, and camphor of commerce' (Colenso 1869a)
TRADITIONS: Menstruating woman could not cook tawa berries. If she did, they would not be cooked. (Makereti 1938)
PROVERBS: Of a noisy child, it is said ' Ko te ahi tawa hai whakarite' (It resembles a tawa fire). Ahi tawa refers to the fire at which tawa kernels are roasted (and popped).

The tawa tree is sometimes termed tawa rau tangi, from the rustling sound made by its leaves in a breeze. (Best 1908)

'Ka mahi te tawa uho ki te riri! Well done tawa-kernel fighting away!

He tawa para! he whati kau taana! A tawa pulp! he only runs away!'

'The tawa... bears a large purple fruit, in which there is a single stone or kernel, not wholly unlike that of the date; this is exceedingly hard, and cannot easily be broken; the pulp.. of the fruit is very soft when fully ripe; hence, from the one fruit, the comparison is drawn of the hero and the coward.' (Colenso 1880: 138)


LINK WORDS: Phymatosorus, Leptopteris, Coprosma, fern, Pittosporum, Microsorum, Hound's tongue, Geniostoma
RECORD NUMBER: 1083