Māori Plant Use

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Plant Use Details 

Astelia solandri. Kōwharawhara. Kahakaha. Perching astelia.
FAMILY: Asteliaceae
BOTANICAL NAME: Astelia solandri
PREVIOUS NAMES: Astelia cunninghamii
MĀORI NAME: KŌWHARAWHARA, kahakaha (kaha-kaha, Kirk 1871), mauri (Best 1908);
Name for Astelia when in flower: tākahakaha (Best 1908)
COMMON NAME: perching astelia
DESCRIPTION: Mauri 'narrow-leaved ... grows on logs and the lower part of tree-trunks' (Best 1908)

MEDICINAL: Seeds good source of essential fatty acids, generally regarded as protective against cardiovascular disease. (Cambie, Ferguson 2003)

FOOD: Fruit crimson, of an agreeable flavour (Kirk, in Taylor 1870). Berries eaten. Best (1942) does not say which Astelia, but this species is probably more edible than Astelia banksii (Crowe 1981). Could also be Astelia nervosa.

The fruit makes a clear, pleasant jelly (Kirk 1871)
FIBRE: Undressed leaves of Astelia spp. used with harakeke, kiekie, pingao, plaited into one basket, to give different hues (Colenso 1882b).
'... some years ago considerable quantities of the shaggy leaf-bases of A. solandri, the 'tree-flax' of the settlers, were collected in the Kaipara, and purchased by an agent, who shipped them to Melbourne, but no-one seems to know the object for which they were collected' . With A. trinervia and A. banksii affords...'a material superior to Phormium for the manufacture of paper' (Kirk 1871)
'No. 761. Leaves and Down, from the Kaha Kaha, (Astelia), exhibited by T. B. Gillies, Esq....This down makes excellent pillows, quite equal to feathers, and will probably form a useful paper material. The bulbous part of this plant as exhibited, yields 10 per cent of this down' (from Catalogue of the New Zealand Exhibition 1865: 73)

DOMESTIC: Snowy white downy fibres from underside of leaves used by women to ornament heads, hair (Colenso 1869a).
Leaves used to make shallow baskets for hīnau meal. Baskets lined with pāraharaha (hound's tongue fern) (Best 1942).
Small baskets woven for cooking eels or kokopu (Best 1903).
Used by travellers in the forest for temporary baskets for food, or for mats to cover food in the hangi (Te Rangi Hiroa 1923)