Māori Plant Use

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Plant Use Details 

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Macropiper excelsum. Kawakawa. Main reference.
FAMILY: Piperaceae Pepper family
BOTANICAL NAME: Macropiper excelsum
Fruit: tākawa (used for whole plant by Whakatohea - Kora 1941)
MEDICINAL: Leaves and bark:
Poultice of leaves applied to neuralgic affections, toothache, etc. (Kirk, in Taylor 1870). Leaves, fruit chewed for toothache. Pulped leaves (poultice) applied to swollen face, also rheumatism. Decoction of young leaves, twigs taken for stomach pains. Also taken for several days for gonorrhoea. Leaf and bark used for cuts and wounds, paipai, stomach pains and gonorrhoea; steam baths (Taylor 1870).
Infusion of leaves used to cure toothache (Armstrong 1870).
Leaves in lotion with other plants applied to bruises (O'Carroll 1884); In a footnote, Skinner says 'From my own experience this elaborate mixture ... is quite unnecessary. The great virtue contained in the leaves and succulent shoots of the Kawakawa shrub .. is quite sufficient in itself to deal with the most serious bruises and abrasions. A jug or basinful of these leaves steeped with boiling water, and the mixture applied rather hot to the bruise, has great curative powers.'
Leaves - for skin disorders, and to heal cuts and wounds (Kerry-Nicholls 1886).
A stimulant and an aphrodisiac. It excited the salivary glands, kidneys, and bowels slightly (Baber 1887).
Aromatic, diuretic. Useful for gonorrhoea, intestinal worms, toothache (Bell 1890).
Leaves and bark used in decoction for wounds, skin disorders, gonorrhoea, vapour baths. Infusion used for boils. Leaves and young shoots in decoction for abdominal pains. Pulp for rheumatic joints. Leaves chewed for toothache (Goldie 1905; Best 1906).
Crushed leaves rubbed on mother's breasts to hasten weaning (Best 1929).
Aston (1923b) found the decoction 'an efficient remedy for the cure of boils'.
Juice from roasted leaves used as dressing for bad wounds (Cowan 1930).
Blood purifier. Cures boils. Also effective in bladder complaints. I know of a fairly severe case of this cured by kawakawa, a decoction of the leaves being used. (K. Pickmere 1940).
Get some kawakawa leaves and put them into a tin. Just cover with water. Boil for about 15 minutes. Used for hakihaki (scabies). Bathe with the liquid. (P. Smith 1940).
In making a poultice, the kawakawa leaves were swayed over heat to make them wilt. After rupturing the cells and freeing the oil, an application was made for boils. (K. Given 1940).
Decoction of leaves used for general tonic and kidney troubles. Boiled with bark of ongaonga (tree nettle), used externally and internally for eczema and venereal disease. Hot liquid from boiled leaves used on serious bruises (Adams 1945).
Leaves - pleasant infusion taken for chest troubles (Collier 1959).
Fruit: Fruit and seeds, ripe or unripe, more powerful than the leaves though the latter generally used (Baber 1887).
Ripe fruit (tākawa) applied to sore tooth.(T. Kora 1941)
Roots: Bitter root used for urinary complaint (Polack 1840).
Root chewed for toothache (O'Carroll 1884; Makereti 1938)
Root chewed for toothache, dysentery (Goldie 1905; Best 1906).
Roots of tākawa boiled, liquid applied to tooth (T. Kora 1941).
Rhizome used for dysentery. Pulp applied to the joints for neuralgic pain such as arthritis. (Given 1940)
Related pharmacology in Brooker, Cambie and Cooper 1987 (other Piper species used extensively throughout the Pacific).
See Riley 1994 for information on medicinal uses of related plants elsewhere in the world.

FOOD: Possibly fruit referred to in Nicholas 1817 - ' a hot and spicy taste, rather pleasant than otherwise' (p.232).
Leaves a good substitute for tea (Dieffenbach 1843).
Settlers use leaf as a tea, make a very palatable beer from it. Green fruit resembles the Jamaica long pepper, and when ripe, it has a rich luscious flavour (Taylor 1855).
Berries eaten (Colenso 1869a; Best 1942).
Pulp of fruit eaten when fully ripe, rejecting the numerous seeds (Colenso 1881).
Brewed infusion a refreshing beer (Hochstetter, in Aston 1923b).
Juice 'makes a strong and intoxicating liquor' (Servant 1973).
Leaves used in hangi. For example, hīnau cakes, karaka berries, placed on thick layer of leaves for steaming. Said, with karamū and korokio leaves, to impart an appreciated flavour to karaka kernels (Best 1942).
DOMESTIC: head wreaths, pare kawakawa, made in time of mourning (Te Rangi Hiroa 1949 ; others)
CHEMISTRY: Chemical compounds listed in Cambie 1976, 1988 with references.
TOXINS: Green leaves, twigs laid between rows of kūmara and burnt, acrid smoke a pesticide (Colenso 1869a ; Brett's Guide 1883 ; Neil 1889)
TRADITIONS: 'It is a delicate plant, and seldom seen in the forest, at a distance from the abodes of men; the natives say they brought it with them. If a branch of the kawakawa were laid on the marae, or public square, it was regarded as an aitua, or omen of death.' (Taylor 1955)

Branches used in ceremonies (Best 1942).