Māori Plant Use

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Plant Use Details 

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Cordyline australis. kōuka. Main reference.
FAMILY: Laxmanniaceae Cabbage tree family
BOTANICAL NAME: Cordyline australis
MĀORI NAME: (general name for Cordyline); TĪ KŌUKA, tī kāuka, tī rākau, tī whanake (South Island [Shortland]), tī pua, tī para, tī awe: kōuka tarariki (narrow leaved variety), kōuka wharanui (broad-leaved variety); kiokio (in Moteatea, Grey 1853, recorded in Williams 1971).
young, undeveloped leaves: koata koeata waitau
tap root: kōpura
cooked root, stem: kōuru, kāuru; mauku (Taylor 1855). See also separate record mauku.
flowers: puhina (Waiapu, Ngati Porou, Best 1942).
COMMON NAME: cabbage tree
MEDICINAL: Drink made for internal complaints, dysentery (Taylor 1848 and 1870 ; Kerry-Nicholls 1886).
Leaves - decoction used for dysentery and diarrhoea (Goldie 1905).
Tiiti ointment. Get some tiiti leaves from a cabbage tree. Rub them forwards and backwards over a wire in a fence to soften them. Scrape out the softened part and the juice. Put it into a bottle. Use for cuts, cracks and sores, especially on the hands. Put the ointment on the cut or sore twice a day, and bandage. (P. Smith 1940).
Young inner shoots and top of stem of cabbage tree boiled and fluid drunk by nursing mothers and children with colic (T. Kururangi, 1941).

Seeds good source of essential fatty acids, generally regarded as protective against cardiovascular disease. (Cambie, Ferguson 2003)
Related pharmacology in Brooker Cambie and Cooper 1987.
See Riley 1994 for information on medicinal uses of related plants elsewhere in the world.
FOOD: An important food especially for southern Māori.

Rhizome and stem:
See description of kāuru processing in Head 1976 and Beattie 1994.

There is a detailed account in Best 1942: 87-88 of the harvesting and preparation of kāuru by Ngai Tahu and Ngāti Mamoe. Māori text in Addendum 6. The annual task continued until 3 years after the arrival of Matara (W. B. D. Mantell), when the Europeans had much increased in numbers and the kāuru producing lands had been swept by fire and everything destroyed (Best 1942).
The para rubbed from the fibre was mixed with water in a bowl. Known as waitau. Resembled jam in sweetness and consistency.

'Root in great use amongst natives in the vicinity of Otago. Contains large quantities of saccharine matter' (Allom, in Earp 1853).
'The root of the young tree is eaten; when cooked it contains much saccharine matter; it is then called mauku. Large roots cooked and eaten (Kirk, in Taylor 1870 ; Colenso 1869a, 1869b).
Roots took long cooking time, used more in times of scarcity of vegetable food (Colenso 1881).
Taproot, upper part of trunk eaten - steamed, fibrous matter rejected. (Best 1908, 1910).
Dried root cooked; has sweet taste...something like the cooked potato (Servant 1973).

At Waiateruati, Shortland given a basket of kāuru, baked roots of , for which the area was famous. Dug just before flowering of the plant, when saccharine content the highest. (Shortland 1851).

Proper kāuru was the side-shoot; ''when it was taken the tree did not die, as it did if its root (more-) was taken. If the kauru you were eating was called more-ti you would know it was from that root only. Sometimes the people would leave a bit of the root in the ground and in a few years another tree would grow in its place. The root could be cooked at an open fire or in an umu (oven). in the old days the umu in which the kauru was baked was often called a puna-ti, puna meaning a hole and ti being the cabbage tree. It would cook quicker at an open fire, and its rough skin prevented it form charring, but it did not taste its best unless placed in an ipu (basin) and soaked in flax-honey (wai-korari). Or the kauru could be taken and laid flat, and the flax-honey dripped on it, when it would absorb it. Then if you were travelling and were thirsty you could up-end your kauru root and let the moisture trickle down your throat. This was called unu- wai-korari, and it was a good sweet drink. ''(Māori informant in Beattie 1920).

Sago-like meal from Cordyline mixed with flax honey and aruhe (fernroot). Used by the explorer Brunner in Westland. South Island Māori did this (Best 1942).
There is an old Waitaha pā at Mairangi and at Kapukariki (present day Cust). White's informants, Wiremu Te Uki, Henare Pereita, and others who frequented the place gathered stems to make kāuru, 'which grew luxuriantly there in soil enriched by the fat of man'. White 1887

The tender shoot also is edible, though rather bitter.' (Taylor 1855)
Young, inner blanched leaves and heart eaten raw and cooked (Colenso 1869a, 1869b).
Blanched heart-shoot (kōrito), bases of youngest leaves eaten raw or roasted - more by travellers than as regular food item. (Colenso 1881)
Tops cut off certain species of Cordyline, intended for food, before the sap rises in the spring. (Best 1908, 1903)
Te kōrito, the blanched heart shoot, cooked and eaten. Also eaten raw, or roasted in hot embers. 'It tasted like an artichoke to me' (Makereti 1938)

Leaves said to contain a bitter sap, absent in the leaves of C. indivisa (tōī). Tī much frequented by pigeons in the season, valuable tree to old-time Maori. (Best 1908).

Beverage: 'The missionaries brewed good beer from the baked root' (Taylor 1855).
'Juice of roots and stems... been used for procuring alcohol' (Buchanan, in Catalogue of New Zealand Exhibition 1865).
The roots, slowly baked and bruised, yielded up a sweetish drink (Colenso 1869b).
Best 1942: Form of gruel or beverage made from root by South Island Māori. Early missionaries brewed beer from the tap-root (Hochstetter, ibid). Tī produces tolerable molasses (New Zealand Journal, 1842, ibid).
FIBRE: Clothing, cloaks, mats, baskets woven from leaves. Spun into threads, cords, ropes.
Notes especially a four-sided rope, used for anchors and other heavy canoe and house requirements (Colenso 1869a, 1869b, 1892b).
Mats called topaki made of leaves. Used to cover food baskets in bad weather (Best 1916).
String, cordage. Leaves provide paper-making material of high value. (Kirk 1889 ; Buchanan 1869).
Waterproof cloaks used on fishing trips made from prepared leaves of Cordyline (Matthews 1911).
Rough shoulder capes made from leaves. (Best 1908, 1910).
See also Te Rangi Hiroa 1923.
Waist mat called pakipaki mainly worn by women. Made from leaves of flax or . (Beattie 1994)
CONSTRUCTION: Leaves used for thatching (Colenso 1869a).
Thatching storehouses (Best 1916).
Shelters called uhi (for produce being sundried) made of leaves or tussock (Beattie 1920).
FISHING AND HUNTING: Durable leaves used in making snares and other articles exposed to the weather. Fibre more durable than Phormium tenax. (Best 1908, 1910).
Stronger and longer lasting than flax. Strips held over smoke of fire to make them strong. (Makereti 1938)
For hauling a new canoe to the sea, ropes made of leaves, skids of green wood, preferably C. australis. (Ngāpuhi and Tūhoe). (Best 1925).
Leaves of C. australis were plucked, dried, steeped in water for a time, then plaited into a rope by the rauru method of 5 strands. Used as a cable for stone anchors. Also hauling logs, canoes. (Tuta Nihoniho, in Best 1925 ; Best 1927 ; Colenso)
CHEMISTRY: Seed oil very rich in linoleic acid, a fatty acid essential for nutrition. Root contains large quantities of fructose. Leaves contain sapogenins. (Brooker, Cambie and Cooper 1987).

See also papers by Fankhauser 1983, 1985, 1986a.
PASTIME: Among Ngāti-Porou, head of kōuka, with a short piece of stem, used as toboggan (called pānukunuku, horua, tōreherehe) (Best 1925 ; Te Rangi Hiroa 1949)
TRADITIONS: Mentioned in early traditions (Te Rangi Hiroa 1949).
Sayings related to in Best 1942, p.87.
Sir George Grey, quoted in Best 1908: 'Ehara i te e wana ake' (When man dies he dies completely; no suckers or shoots spring from his decaying body, as they do from the stump of a ti)