May 07

Magical Maori bush remedies

Kawakawa Plant

Kawakawa bush cures colds

When the farmer was afflicted with a cold, instead of dosing up on vitamin C and its ilk he decided to take a Maori bush remedy, having recently caught up with a visiting member of the local iwi who was collecting leaves on the roadside.

“Steep a handful in water and drink the brew,” the chap had said.

Consequently the sniffling, snuffling farmer and I set off to the spot where he’d seen the wise Maori.

“It could be these,” he said, stripping tender leaves off a tree. “Or maybe these.” And with a swipe, a branch of another tree was denuded.

“Are you sure it’s not this?” I pointed at a shrubby bush with heart-shaped leaves.

No, he insisted, the leaves he’d seen being picked were higher up.

Rather than have him poisoned, I suggested we visit a Maori friend who promptly led us into her garden and pointed out a small plant with the above-mentioned heart-shaped leaves. It’s a koromiko, she told us. A friend in Auckland had given her the cutting. What!?

Then she confessed to knowing nothing of Maori remedies. Her mother knew, but had died while our friend was too young to listen to her wisdom.

En route home the farmer and I detoured to the magic spot where we picked more leaves from the plant we’d been told was koromiko – then found thousands of the plants on the roadside as we drove home.

I was so uncertain the plant was koromiko, we checked the Internet and determined it was kawakawa – and a wonder plant.

Drinking the juice purifies blood and alleviates digestive complaints, chest troubles (the farmer’s woe), constipation, blood pressure and asthma. The leaves and bark can help heal wounds, ulcers, skin diseases, eye inflammation, scalds and burns – and more.

Koromiko is pretty handy as well. During WWII it was used to relieve diarrhoea and dysentery. It can help cure ulcers, sores, headaches, kidney and bladder troubles, STDs and British cholera, whatever that is.

The farmer cooked up a kawakawa brew which he sipped only twice. He said it tasted awful, but then he turns up his nose at all herb teas.

As an experiment I left the brew in the fridge. It was still there two weeks later and the Vitamin C tablets were also sitting around. Surprise, surprise, the farmer’s cold was still around as well.

About the author

Rae Roadley

Rae is a journalist, freelance writer and writing tutor. Soon after returning to her hometown to work for Northland's daily newspaper, she met beef and sheep farmer Rex Roadley. He lived in a historic home at Batley on the Kaipara Harbour and after moving there, Rae reported on farming then wrote a newspaper column, The Country Side. Her wryly amusing tales of country life earned many followers and led her to learn more about the local people, past and present. She tells the story of her new life in 'Love at the End of the Road: Finding my heart in the country'.


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  1. Donna

    Kia Ora if you live in the city most reserves would have Kawakawa, where I live Mangere I usually go to Hillsborough Waikowhai reserve there is Kawakawa & Kumarahou when bathing use the leaves to rub yourself down get most out of it don’t need a synthetic scrubby & tea warm with teaspoon honey 🙂

  2. Estelle

    Hi where can I get kawakawa leaves?

    1. Rae Roadley

      Hmmm. Well, if you do a google you can find out what they look like. They are sometimes on the edges of rural roads, but you could probably get plants from garden centres and grow your own. Good luck.

      1. Melissa

        Hi. Do not harvest Rongoa from roadsides, unless you want all the fluid toxins inside your internals. Rural roads or not. It’s a B.I.G NO,NO!

        1. Rae Roadley

          Thanks for that – very wise idea.

    2. Makere Simpson

      Hi Estelle, As you still wanting kawakawa leaves?


        Yes please

  3. paddy

    when is the best time to transplant a kawakawa plant

  4. Pauline Simpson

    Hi Rae,
    I consulted the Maori Health where I live and they were able to sell me Kawakawa ointment plus leaves to boil and make up
    as a drink for my son. The ointment was for his leg which was all crusty and infected plus swollen and a deep purple in colour especially around the ankle. I steeped the leaves three times a day for the drink, he bathed the leg morning and night with about a cup of the water from the leaves I had boiled, added to about 3/4 of a bucket of warm water. After about 10 days there was a remarkable difference to the leg. He kept on using the drink and wash for a few more weeks, and now all he has is a little scaring on the leg. I am so pleased with the result.
    Thank you Ladies
    Regards Pauline

  5. Mr Tamati

    Suggestion. Try and pick kawakawa as far from the road as possible, they haven’t absorbed as much fumes from cars etc.
    Kawakawa Leaves with holes have more medicinal properties as the insects have been enjoying themselves.

  6. Lynn

    My mum had an ulcer on her leg. 3 lots of antibiotics & still had it. My friend picked some Kawakawa leaves & poured boiling water over the leaves. Let it sit then we out the whole leaf on the ulcer & changed twice a day. The next day the ulcer had shrunk at the edges & we got mum to drink the liquid off the leaves. Sipped a coffee cup of the liquid during the day. It took a couple of leaves but the ulcer healed. I have it growing in my garden & it is the first thing I take if a sore throat or feel I need a boost. Love the plant

    1. Rae Roadley

      Thanks for this – really helpful. I’m inspired to start using it again. We have so much of it on our roadsides.

      1. Lynn

        Also used Kawakawa on dog that had red itchy rash on tummy from dragging her tummy on grasses. Cleared up in couple days, saved a visit to vets.

        1. Marjorie

          Hi Rae, I brought a kawakawa ointment jar and was wondering if it would be ok to use on my dogs tummy, he has a red itchy rash as well.
          Cheers Marjorie.

          1. Rae Roadley

            Hi Marjorie, I’m not an expert on this – a naturopath could help you.

          2. Mrs Simpson

            Hi Rae, I have a friend in Napier who has a massive Kawakawa bush. Please contact me if you require her details.

            Kindest regards

            Mrs Simpson

          3. Rae Roadley

            Thank you – am all sorted in this regard.

  7. shirlena

    Hi there,Im Shirlena,Kawakawa tonic can i use it for blood clot in my partners leg which is visible

    1. Rae Roadley

      Shirlena, I’m thinking the doctor is the person to advise you on this. Good luck.

    2. cody

      yup use it

  8. sarah

    I was wondering if you would know what chemicals are in the kawakawa that give it its healing properties?

    1. Rae Roadley

      Sorry, no idea. Maybe some more googling could give you an answer – or a naturopath perhaps.

  9. kristiane discombe

    Kawakawa leaves can be purchased at common sense organics in nz

    1. Rae Roadley

      Thank you so much for this info . . . who’d have thought.

  10. Estelle

    Hi do you know where I can purchase Kawakawa leaves?

    1. Rae Roadley

      Hi, I’d be surprised if you could buy the leaves – they’re scattered through native bush – suggest you look at some photos online and pluck a few leaves or buy a plant from a garden centre and put it in your garden. They’re easy to grow. Good luck.

      1. Sydney Clarke

        Kawa kawa can be purchased from a company called Natural Solutions. The company is on the East Coast of Nth Is. They can supply with leaf processed in different ways.Give them a call on 06 8644824.

        1. Rae Roadley

          Great – thanks for this. No website. White Pages give the number as 06 8544826.

    2. Makere Simpson

      Hi Estelle, I have the kawakawa growing throughout my property. Did you manage to get a plant? If not, I could send you one.

      1. Estelle

        Hi yes I would be interested in a plant

      2. Eric Dittmer

        Hi Makere
        I see you have Kawakawa plants on your property, we are after some leaves to expereriment with, would we be able to get some from you please would you please ph me on 021597550 thank you Eric

        1. Estelle

          Hi yes I would love one I had one before but it died. How much?


  11. Kathy

    I am just starting to make smoothies from plants and weeds. Can the leaves of Kawakawa be used in a smoothie rather than a tea? I would like to include it to hopefully lower my blood pressure

    1. Rae Roadley

      Hi, Sorry, I’m no expert. I’ve only heard of infusing the leaves and drinking the liquid and if it was me, I’d use that as a base for the smoothie rather than whizzing up the leaves which might be tough and chewy – not ideal smoothy material. Good luck with sending your blood pressure southwards.

      1. Kathy

        Thank you. I will try that and let you know what happens.

      2. Trish

        I have just found out that you can eat the kawakawa berries (didnt know berrys grew on kawakawa) (NOTE from Rae: best work with a qualified herbalist before taking this past) are edible but cannot have too many because they are a potent if the minerals found in the leaves. They are a good flusher of toxins in your digestive system. That plant is an awesome natural remedy for most skin and inner body illnesses. I watched on a t.v program with Havoc that was on 10 or so years ago call ‘are you my tribe?’ Or something like that. He was in Tuhoe country. He wasnt as welcomed into their district as he thought he would be. He was hanging with the Kuia of the marae. They were doing a day of māori rongoa. Havoc had a turn and they placed boiled kawakawa leaves on his puku and left them there for like 10-15 minutes. Giving him a chance to chat with the aunties and kuia. Them giving him a slight bit of greif. Then they revealed the out ome. Some of the leaves turned black. And the woman asked him a few medical history questions which where all true. Then one of them told havoc her diagnosis and what he need to. It was spot on with just those leaves and the colour the turn when absorbing the toxins.

        1. Rae Roadley

          Interesting. Note that re the edible thing – I suggest working with a qualified herbalist before trying them.

  12. Mike Waldegrave

    Hi Rae, great story and insight into the most interesting little plant and some of it’s uses.I intend to find out more about it.
    On different topic– i really enjoyed seeing you on Country Calendar on this past Saterday.
    Over the past 6-10 years i have found out that i have got blocked arteries in my legs and am now prone to getting Cellulitis from very minor cuts that very quickly turn into major infections, one of these resulted in 2 weeks in middlemore hospital and a total of 6 weeks off work.The leg from below the nee was very red and black and swollen.I was told that if i dident get to the doctor when i did that i would have most likely lost the the leg from the nee down.
    Recovering at home ment that i was wheel chair bound for 3-4 weeks b4 i could put any weight on the leg.
    Now i have discovered Colloidal of silver. So now when i get another case of Cellulitis coming on i have a swig of it and soak a paper towel in it and place it on the infection for about 10-15 mins and by the morning the infection is gone.
    This is bought on by poor circulation, the doctors recommend lying down with the leg raised higher than your heart
    but instead i get out of the house and go for a good long walk to promote good circulation.
    Naturally i keep a good supply of it at home.
    My interest into Kawakawa the plant is that I might be able to fix my skin on my leg- gray in colour and real thin.

    Thanks for reading……….Mike.Waldegrave.


    1. Rae Roadley

      Hi Mike, Good luck! I hope it works for you. Rex’s dad was a huge believer in colloidal silver – he even had a kit so he could make it himself. I have no idea whether kawakawa will work, but perhaps something in the plant line will solve it. Best wishes and thanks for visiting my website and saying hi, Rae

  13. Gardening Auckland

    Wow, I am so going to take the time to learn more about native remedies. These types of remedies will often work a lot faster and efficiently. Thanks for the info.

    1. Rae Roadley

      You look well-placed to find this out. Good luck and thanks for visiting.

  14. Aroha

    I remember my grandfather sitting in a bath full of leaves and steam….towel over his head i don’t know if that was the same plant, but yes he did drink some type of juice to get rid of the flu as well.

    More leaves and more towels.

    1. Rae Roadley

      Great to know that, thanks. I guess it was kawakawa – it grows everywhere and many people seem to know about its medicinal uses.

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