Traditional Plant Use By Māori
Rongoa is the Māori term for medicines that are produced from native plants in New Zealand. Also included in this page are all other uses of native plants by Māori.

             

Akeake


Used for tools and weapons

This small tree has hard black wood with creamy-white stripes. The slender trunk was favoured material for weapons and tool handles.

Dodonea viscosa
Akeake, Dodonea viscosa
Akeake

Aruhe


Used for food

The roots of this common fern were dug in winter and roasted. When required for food they were pounded to release the starchy material. Young shoots were eaten fresh.

Pteridium esculentum

Aruhe, Pteridium esculentum
Aruhe
Photo, Iain MacDonald

Hangehange


Used for flavouring food and medicine

A small coastal tree with very brittle branches. To add flavour, food was wrapped in the shiny leaves prior to steaming in the hangi. Sap from green leaves was applied to skin diseases on children.

Geniostoma rupestre
Hangehange, Geniostoma rupestre
Hangehange

Harakeke


Used for beliefs, clothing, fishing, medicine and boats

The dark green leaves of flax contain one of the strongest natural fibres known. The leaves were plaited for baskets, clothes and fishing nets. The tohunga (keeper of knowledge) used the leaves for healing rites, by applying the root juice to skin problems, like boils. A bundle of dried flower stems made rafts.

Phormium tenax

Harakeke, Phormium tenax
Harakeke

Hohere


Used for clothing, food and medicine

The bark of this small tree was soaked in water for two days in order to release an edible jelly. This jelly was also employed in bathing sore eyes .The lacelike inner bark was dried to make a rough cloth known as aute, used for clothing.

Hoheria populnea
Hohere, Hoheria populnea
Hohere

Horopito


Used for beliefs and medicine

The small oval leaves of this shrub have a hot peppery taste. They were chewed to relive toothache. Small branches were used by the tohunga (keeper of knowledge) to lift tapu (something sacred or forbidden)

Pseudowintera colorata

Horopito, Pseudowintera colorata
Horopito

We would like to acknowledge bushmansfriend.co.nz for the use of their image.

Horokaka


Used for medicine

The juice from the fleshy leaves of this rocky seacoast plant was applied to boils and other skin ailments.

Disphyma australe

Kahikatea


Used for food, snares, tatooing and medicine

A tall forest tree with small red (edible) fruits. They were also used as lures in bird snares. Green leaves placed on hot stones were one of the types of foliage used in remedial steam baths. Charcoal from the heartwood was used in tattooing moko.

Dacrycarpus dacrydioldes

Kahikatea, Dacrycarpus dacrydioldes
Kahikatea

Kaikomako


Used for starting fires

A sharp pointed stick was rubbed vigorously along a groove in a dry piece of pata or ma hoe to make fire.

Pennantia corymbosa
Kaikomako, Pennantia corymbosa
Kaikamako

Kanuka and Manuka


Used for building and weapons

Small aromatic "tea trees", which frequently form dense shrub. Weapons and tools were fashioned from heavy straight stems. The trunks as well as the brushwood were used as building materials.

Kunzia ericoides, Leptospermum scoparium

Kanuka and Manuka, Kunzia ericoides, Leptospermum scoparium
Flowering Manuka

Karaka


Used for food and medicine

This coastal tree was so valued that it was one of the few trees cultivated for its clusters of orange fruits, which were known as kopi. The hard seeds, which in their raw state are extremely poisonous, have an edible fleshy covering. To remove the poison the fruits were steamed for several hours and immersed in running water for several weeks. The kernels were ground into flour and baked into a bread The shiny upper surface of the leaves healed wounds.

Corynocarpus laevigatus
Karaka, Corynocarpus laevigatus
Karaka

Kareao


Used for cordage and medicine

The long supple stems of this tall vine formed ladders to climb cliffs, trees and enemy palisades. Also used for lobster pots and baskets. Together with rata, it was the most valuable tying material for fences, houses and canoes. Burning stems cauterised wounds.

Ripogonum scandens

Kareao, Ripogonum scandens
Kareao

Kauri


Used for building canoes

This massive tree was second only to the totara for canoe building in the north. After an elaborate ritual, the tree was felled and the trunk hollowed out, using stone tools and fire from burning dry rewarewa wood.

Agathis australis
Kauri, Agathis australis
Young Kauri

Kawakawa


Used for beliefs, insect repellent and medicine

This large shrub with shining green leaves is one of the most important in Māori cultual lore. Leafy shoots were used in ceremonies connected with birth and death as well as for lifting tapu. A branch laid at the entrance of a marae signified disaster in the village. The leaves were chewed to relieve toothache. Burning the leaves deterred insects from food crops.

Macropiper excelsum

Kawakawa, Macropiper excelsum
Kawakawa

Kiekie


Used for cordage and medicine

Flowers and fruit of this climbing plant were eaten. The leaves of this and several others incuding oioi were used for weaving and tying

Freycinetia banksii
Kiekie, Freycinetia banksii
Kiekie flower
Photo by John Braggins

Kohuhu


Used for ceremony

Small leafy branches of this and other trees are waved to accompany a chant welcoming important visitors to the marae.

Pittosporum tenuifolium

Kohuhu, Pittosporum tenuifolium
Kohuhu

Korokio Taranga


Used for beliefs and medicine

Small branches were used by the tohunga to lift tapu from food being cooked in the hangi. The hard dried wood was also used as a medical instrument for excising wounds.

Corokia buddleoides
Korokio Taranga, Corokia buddleoides
Korokia Taranga

Koromiko


Used for beliefs and food

Used in many rituals including by the tohunga to ensure a good crop of kumara. Tips of shoots chewed to alleviate hunger.

Hebe stricta

Koromiko, Hebe stricta
Koromiko

Kotukutuku


Used for food

The largest fuchsia species in the world forms a small tree with flaking bark. When ripe the sweet black berry, konini was eagerly sought for food.

Fuchsia excorticata
Kotukutuku, Fuchsia excorticata
Kotukutuku

Kumarahou


Used for tools

The opening of the bright yellow flowers would signal time to plant kumara. When placed in water the leaves produce soapy bubbles.

Pomaderris kumeraho

Kumarahou, Pomaderris kumeraho
Kumarahou

Makomako


Used for food

A small tree bearing reddish, almost transparent leaves. The current sized berries were sought for food.

Aristotelia serrata
Makomako, Aristotelia serrata
Makomako

Mangemange


Used for bedding

Wiry stems of this climbing fern werre bundled and used as bedding.

Lygodium articulatum

Mangemange, Lygodium articulatum
Mangemange

Miro


Used for snares

The bright colour fruit attracts the kukupa (native pigeon) who gorge on them. These birds were easily caught. The imparted turpentine flavour was considered a delicacy.

Prumnopitys ferruginea
Miro, Prumnopitys ferruginea
Miro

Neinei


Used for musical instruments

Used for making flutes. The stems were heated, hollowed and the bark removed. This together with the pahu, a drum made from the hollwed trunk of porokaiwiri or pigeonwood, was among the instruments known to early Māori.

Dracophyllum longifolium

Neinei, Dracophyllum longifolium
© (2005) Paul Ashford, www.NZplantpics.com


Nikau


Used for food, roofing and canoe paddles.

With a name meaning "no coconut" this palm is widespread in coastal areas. Young shoots are edible. The leaves were valued for roofing. Leaf stalks doubled as makeshift paddles for a canoe.

Rhopalostylis sapida
Nikau, Rhopalostylis sapida
Nikau

Oioi


Used for weaving

Rush-like plants used for fine weaving.

Leptocarpus similis





Pate


Used for fire making and medicine

Sap from the leaves of this small forest tree was used against ringworm (fungus) affecting the skin. A groove in a dry log was rubbed vigorously with a kaikomako stick to make fire.

Schefflera digitata
Pate, Schefflera digitata
Pate

Pokaka


Used for medicine

Leaves and habit of this tall forest tree alter considerably when passing from juvenile to adult stage. A solution made from the bark was used for severe skin disorders.

Elaeocarpus hookerianus

Pokaka, Elaeocarpus hookerianus

Ponga


Used for building and medicine

The pith from the leaf stalk of this tall fern was used for skin problems. Trunks of various tree ferns often formed walls of a whare or house.

Cyathea dealbata
Ponga, Cyathea dealbata
Ponga

Poroporo


Used for canoes and tattooing

Juice from the leaves, mixed with soot was rubbed into the wounds made by tattooing instruments. Sap was used to size canoes before painting with red ochre. Unripe berries are poisonous.

Solanum laciniatum

Poroporo, Solanum laciniatum
Poroporo
Photo by Larry Jensen

Powiwi


Used for food

Long white roots of these coastal sand plants were roasted and eaten.

Calystegia soldanella
Powiwi, Calystegia soldanella
Powiwi
Photo, John Braggins

Puriri


Used for food and dye

An infusion of the leaves from this noble tree contains a powerful germicide. It was valued for bathing sprains. The bark was a source of dye.

Vitex lucens

Puriri, Vitex lucens
Puriri
We would like to acknowledge bushmansfriend.co.nz for the use of their image.

Ramarama


Used for food and medicine

A small tree, typically with blistered leaves, a decoration of which was o benefit in treating bruises. Small black berries added flavour when cooking the starchy material obtained from fern root.

Lophomyrtus bullata
Ramarama, Lophomyrtus bullata
Ramarama

Rangiora


Used for medicine

The large felted leaves of this shrub are poisonous if chewed and swallowed. They were however used as a poultice for wounds.

Brachyglottis repanda

Rangiora, Brachyglottis repanda
Rangiora

Rata


Used for cordage

Tough, supple stems of this vine were much valued as a tying material, for making eel and crayfish traps as well as pirori and morere (hoops and swings) for children.

Metrosideros fulgens
Rata, Metrosideros fulgens
Rata

Raupo


Used for building and food

When cut, separated, dried and bundled the leaves of this marsh plant made a valuable building material. Pollen from the flowers was gathered and formed into small cakes before being cooked on a heated stone.

Typha orientalis

Raupo, Typha orientalis
Raupo

Rengarenga


Used for food

Fleshy roots of this lily-like coastal plant were formerly cooked and eaten.

Arthropodium cirrhatum
Rengarenga, Arthropodium cirrhatum
Rengarenga

Rewarewa


Used for medicine

The inner bark of young branches from this tree was bound over wounds to check bleeding and aid recovery.

Knightia excelsa

Rewarewa, Knightia excelsa
Rewarewa

Rimu


Used for medicine

The aromatic leaves of this conifer were used in vapour baths.

Dacrydium cupressinum
Rimu, Dacrydium cupressinum
Rimu

Tanekaha


Used for dye and tools

Bark from this coniferous tree was beaten in a trough of water heated with stones, to make red-brown or black dye. Walking sticks were fashioned from sturdy shoots.

Phyllocladus trichomanoides

Tanekaha, Phyllocladus trichomanoides
Tanekaha

Tarata


Used for cosmetics

Flowers or gum from this tree mixed with bird fat and other ingredients made scented balm to rub on the skin.

Pittosporum eugenioides
Tarata, Pittosporum eugenioides
Tarata

Tauhinau


Used for fishing

Hard dry twigs from this bushy shrub were formed into fishhooks.

Pomaderris phylicaefolia

Tauhinau, Pomaderris phylicaefolia
Tauhinau

Tawa


Used for food and weapons

The willow like stems of this forest tree were made into long spears. The blue-black fruits could also be eaten if left to mature before being consumed.

Beilschmiedia tawa
Tawa, Beilschmiedia tawa
Tawa

Tawapou


Used for adornment, food and medicine

Hard polished seeds were made into fine necklaces worn by the chief. Berries were heated in water for three or more hours, the liquid then applied to the region as a relief for sprains. The pulpy fruit could be eaten.

Planchonella novo-zelandica


Ti Kouka


Used for clothes, food and weaving

Both the cooked roots and base of young shoots were eaten. The leaves were used for making garments, baskets, mats and twine.

Cordyline australis
Ti Kouka, Cordyline australis
Ti Kouka

Titoki


Used for beliefs

Fine oil from pounded seeds used to gloss the hair. Women mourners at a tangi (funeral) wore headbands anointed with titoki oil scented with the bitter leaves of heketara.

Alectrion excelsus

Titoki, Alectrion excelsus
Titoki

Totara


Used for boat building, carving, food and roofing

A familiar conifer with red, easily worked, straight grained wood. Much favoured for use in all types of carving. Bark, made good roofing material. Fruit was gathered for food.

Podocarpus totara
Totara, Podocarpus totara
Totara

Waiu-o-kahukura


Used for medicines

The leaves and stem of this now rare and poisonous plant was heated in water, the liquid applied to skin eruptions such as warts.

Euphorbia glauca

Waiu-o-kahukura, Euphorbia glauca
Waiu-o-kahukura

Whau


Used for fishing

Extremely lightweight wood. It was shaped into marker buoys and floats for fishing lines.

Entelea arborescens
Whau, Entelea arborescens
Whau

Whauwhau


Used for tools

Small logs stripped of their bark made slippery skids to move heavy canoes.

Pseudopanax arboreus

Whauwhau, Pseudopanax arboreus
Whauwhau
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