Māori Plant Use

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Plant Use Details 

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Corynocarpus laevigatus. Karaka. Main reference.
FAMILY: Corynocarpaceae
BOTANICAL NAME: Corynocarpus laevigatus
MĀORI NAME: KARAKA, KŌPĪ (Chatham Islands).
prepared fruit: kōpī, kōpīa, ponguru
soft, mealy flesh of fruit: horehore
NOTES: ''chalacha'' (name as spelt by Solander)
MEDICINAL: 'The leaves... are wonderfully healing if applied to wounds, but care must be taken to place the shiny green uppper surface to the wound, as the duller, or whitish under surface of the leaf, draws equally as the upper surface heals'. (O'Carroll 1884)
FOOD: Important food.
Notes on cultivation, harvesting and preparation (Colenso 1881 ; Te Rangi Hiroa 1949).
Section in Best 1942. Introduction, harvesting, processing, poison effects and cures, taste.

Fruits (kernels) are poisonous, but Māori used them as food after steeping in water and baking. Toxic activity thus reduced. Extensive preparation required. Didn't last as long as tawa berries in storage. Karaka often planted around the villages. (Colenso 1869a, Colenso 1869b)
Preparation process also described in Makereti 1938. Once soaked 'the berries are free inside their tough husk. When eaten, the tough husk was cut round the middle with a shell, and each half was pressed between the thumb and forefinger to get the soft substance out'.
Pulp '...flavour not unlike that of a ripe medlar'. Describes steeping process to soften fruit, '...smell being very offensive' (Allom, in Earp 1853)
'The fruit is not unlike a date,... has somewhat the flavour of the apricot, but too strong to be agreeable; it is called kopi and koroi; the kernel, after it has been boiled and steeped in water for some days, is eaten, otherwise it produces madness, and relaxes the joints, so that they will bend the wrong way... Natives state that this tree was brought with them.' (Taylor 1855, 1847).
No karaka berries on Otago peninsula, but sent as gifts from the North (Tunuku Karetai, quoted in Beattie, MS 582/E/11, Hocken)
DOMESTIC: The wood when burnt is peculiarly offensive (Taylor 1855)
CHEMISTRY: Karakin and other compounds isolated from leaves and fruit, described in many papers. Listed in Cambie 1976, 1988 with references. The nitro-compounds isolated from the berries are rare in nature.
TOXINS: Nitro-compounds, such as karakin, are toxic to grass grub larvae Costelytra zealandica. Poisonous to stock (Allan 1944).
ENVIRONMENT: Best 1927: Planted around villages. See description of Ihupuku pā at Waitotara in Taranaki. Karaka trees shaded the houses. (p.217). Also growing at Potiki-a-rehua pā and at Ohangi pā (p.373). Thickly planted in ditch between stockades at Hikurangi pā, Whanganui River, offering concealment for besieged.(p.385)
TRADITIONS: Some notes on traditions of bringing of karaka to New Zealand (Colenso 1882a).

Also White 1887; Vol IV. Karaka used as skids on Tainui canoe, hauled up on beach in Manukau. To be seen growing at Awhitu 'to this day'.

Tradition states karaka introduced by Turi of the Aotea (Te Rangi Hiroa 1949). Roau brought seeds or plants of karaka to New Zealand in canoe Nukutere, which landed at Waiaua, near Opotiki.

'the natives affirm this tree was brought by their ancestors from Hawaiki (Taylor 1870)