Māori Plant Use

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Plant Use Details 

Urtica ferox. Ongaonga. Tree nettle.
FAMILY: Urticaceae Nettle family
BOTANICAL NAME: Urtica ferox
MĀORI NAME: ONGAONGA, taraonga, taraongaonga; okaoka (Tikao, Rāpaki chief; in Beattie MS 582/I/17, Hocken Archives, Dunedin), Beattie 1920; houhi, puruhi (both recorded in Best 1903)
COMMON NAME: tree nettle
DESCRIPTION: ''The ongaonga is said to begin life as a number of small plants, which spread (papa uku) over the ground, and are afterwards replaced by a single large stem.'' (Best 1903)

Re houhi or lacebark: ''The Tuhoe natives call it houhi-ongaonga, because they have a belief that it is a mature form of the ongaonga (Urtica ferox), saying that the latter eventually developes a single stem which grows into the large deciduous houhi - a very singular theory'' (Best 1908)
MEDICINAL: Bark boiled with kawakawa leaves and used externally and internally for eczema and venereal disease (Adams 1945).

Related pharmacology in Brooker, Cambie and Cooper 1987.
See Riley 1994 for information on medicinal uses of related plants elsewhere in the world.
FOOD: ''It is the inner bark which is eaten, a thin film resembling the inner layers under the bark of the houhi (Hoheria populnea). It is not cooked in any way, and has a sweet taste.'' (Best 1903)
If you can clip off the leaves, said to be good, if cooked (Mason 1950)
CHEMISTRY: Toxic principle, triffydin, has been isolated but not yet characterised (Fastier & Laws 1975)
TOXINS: Nettle has poisonous stinging hairs. Can kill animals and a fatal poisoning in man has been recorded (Connor 1977).
TRADITIONS: Tutekoropaka was chased to New Zealand and brought the okaoka (nettle), tātaraheka (lawyer), and tūmatakuru (wild Irishman). He planted them around his hiding place to enable him to elude his pursuers. Tama, who canoed up and down the West Coast looking for his missing wives is also blamed for introducing prickly plants to that area (Hone Taare Tikao, Rāpaki chief, to Beattie. MS 582/I/17, Hocken Archive, Dunedin). Similar tradition related by Anderson 1954.