Māori Plant Use

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Plant Use Details 

Laurelia novae-zelandiae. Pukatea. Main reference.
FAMILY: Monimiaceae Trees or shrubs in this family are often aromatic.
BOTANICAL NAME: Laurelia novae-zelandiae
PREVIOUS NAMES: Atherosperma novae-zelandiae
MEDICINAL: Decoction of inner bark used for ulcers, scalp eczema. Very strong decoction held in mouth for toothache. Taken internally and applied locally for syphilis (Brett's Guide 1883; Goldie 1905).
Bark steeped in hot water, pulp placed over pain for neuralgia (O'Carroll 1884).
Bark used for scrofulous sores and toothache (Kerry-Nicholls 1886 ; Taylor 1870).
An opening medicine; inner bark used for scrofula and venereal disease (Bell 1890. [Bell says puketea, pukutea is Griselinea littoralis, broadleaf, but almost certainly means this plant. Ed] ).
On West Coast, piece of bark chewed for toothache (Best 1906).
To make a decoction, scrape out the inner part of the bark, put into a thin cloth and squeeze the juice out. To make pulp, scrape out the inner bark and sap. Bottle. For toothache, dip some cotton wool, or pukatea pulp, in the liquid and place in the hollow tooth. The pulp may be used by itself. (P. Smith 1940).
Used for tubercular trouble (Given 1940)

For related pharmacology, see Brooker, Cambie and Cooper, 1987.
DOMESTIC: Wallace 1989 found 3 bowls, 2 mauls, an eel club and a hoto made of pukatea among museum artefacts he tested. Pukatea is a very light wood. The mauls were found waterlogged in swamps. They may have been kept wet to increase their density and thus their usefulness. Pukatea increases its weight threefold when saturated.
CONSTRUCTION: Timber tree. Boatbuilding. (Colenso 1869a) (N.B. Details on post-European timber uses generally not part of this database)
FISHING AND HUNTING: Carved figureheads on canoes (Colenso 1869a).
On East Coast, heartwood sometimes used to make canoe paddles (Tuta Nihoniho, in Best 1925).
CHEMISTRY: Colenso 1869a suggests that a valuable essential oil might be extracted from the leaves and bark.

The bark contains various alkaloids including pukateine. Pukateine has strong analgesic properties similar to morphine. Aston 1909, 1923b. Also references in Cambie 1976, 1988.

Brooker, Cambie and Cooper 1987 state that pukateine does not have the after-effects of morphine. Fogg, pers. comm. to H. H. Allan, suggests otherwise. In a communication to Dr. C. Barnard, Canberra, 21/8/44, H. H. Allan, Director, Botany Division, reported from Dr. Fogg. that pukateine resembles more the apo-morphine than the morphine action. Pukateine can definitely alleviate pain but may have worse after effects than morphine. See correspondence on Botany Division, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research file 22/12,1940s, in National Archives, Christchurch). See also Fogg 1935.
PROVERBS: ''Te waka pukatea; te waka kohekohe. The canoe (made of the) pukatea tree; the canoe (made of the) kohekohe tree.
The wood of those trees is alike soft, and won't last long in the water; besides canoes made of them are both heavy (when water-logged) and slow.
This proverb is used of cowards.'' (Colenso 1880: 138)