Plants that heal the land are the ones that heal us. Kawakawa is one of those plants. It is probably the most important plant in Rongoā Maori and is used for almost every possible ailment. It is said that it combines all the healing powers in one plant and Māori have been using it for medicine and in ceremonies from birth till the end of life.
The best way to use it is fresh and extracted through decocting the leaves (preferably with holes) and leaving the lid on to capture the essential oils. It is a great remedy for sore throat and save for children to use. We have incorporated kawakawa in our Skin Healing Salve, Energising & Refreshing Herbal Tea, Digestive Aid and Tummy Soother Tea, in a Throat Spray for kids and added it to the Adults Throat Spray as well. It is also a great insect repellent. Simply bruise and rub the leaves or berries onto the skin when out for a bush walk.
It is important to know how to harvest Kawakawa so the plant can regenerate and is able to provide its healing powers for others as well and for generations to come.
We harvest Kawakawa ever 2 months because it doesn’t keep well when dried and is best used fresh or soon after is has been dried. Fresh is still the best way to use it, but we do know that a lot of people don’t have access to it and if they do then not on a regular basis, so it’s great when they can get it from us.
We harvest the leaves with the holes in them. The leaves get eaten by caterpillars and the plant puts out chemicals as a response to the attack, making them more medicinal.
Here are our three strategies for a continuous supply and a sustainable harvest:
1. We don’t harvest the same spot twice within 12 months. We rotate between 4 areas of our native bush and have 2 additional harvest areas. The Maori have the rule to harvest from the kawakawa bush that gets the first light of the morning sun. With the sun’s seasonal movement, one area does not get depleted.
2. We do not harvest when there is a sign that the plants don’t do well. When we visited one area for example, the bottom leaves and wee seedlings had no leaves, possibly grazed by deer or sheep, so we left the area alone and did not harvest at all to give the plants a chance to regenerate. We also keep a look out for new harvesting areas so we can shift to somewhere else if an area does not flourish as usual.
3. We harvest the grandparent leaves, and not the mother or baby leaves. The below photos should illustrate what we mean by that.
My thumb (above image) is on a grandma leaf. That’s the one we harvest. It’s sort of the dead end where no new growth will be happening from that place. The leaf will eventually fall off as the bush grows outwards and gets larger. Above that intersection are two dark green mummy leaves. They each have twins (light green and smaller leaves). Looks like they are busy 10-year olds, not quite adolescents yet. Once the twins will give birth to their own baby leaves, the now mummy leaves, become grandmas and will be up for harvest, but not quite ready yet.
Nicholas was super happy to have the skills to do so. Asking the Kawakawa for permission and giving thanks to the Kawakawa was part of the lesson and he loved that. I think it makes children connect to nature and appreciate their surroundings and not taking things for granted.
I hope you enjoyed this blog about this very special plant.
Kia ora rā.