RONGOA MAORI and other Maori Uses of Native Plants found in Aotea Harbour

Matauranga Kura Taiao Project

What is Rongoa Maori?| Koromiko | Kowhai | Pohutukawa | Puriri | Harakeke (NZ Flax)

What is Rongoa Maori?

Rongoa is the Maori term for medicines that are produced from native plants in New Zealand. This webpage focuses on the New Zealand native plants which are found on the land surrounding Aotea Harbour. All plants on this webpage have been photographed on location in Aotea.The use of these medicines prevented many sicknesses and provided remedies for those who were already sick. Rongoa Maori is still being practised and is used extensively today.
It was, and still is, important that the gathering of Rongoa Maori be carried out in a sustainable way to ensure that there will still be some the next time it is needed.
Some of the plants used for Rongoa Maori also had other uses like food, weaving, carving and other purposes.

What is Rongoa Maori?| Koromiko | Kowhai | Pohutukawa | Puriri | Harakeke (NZ Flax)


external image koromikofar.jpg

Scientific Name: Hebe salicifolia and H. stricta
Flowers: White or light blue in late summer.Rongoa

  • The young leaf tips can be chewed for diarrhoea and dysentery. It was used extensively in the Second World War for this purpose. Dried leaves were sent to New Zealand soldiers overseas to cure dysentery, which proved very effective. The active ingredient is phenolic glycocide.
  • Leaves can be used as a pack on babies for skin sores.
  • Koromiko can also be used for ulcers, sores, headaches, kidney and bladder troubles, sexually transmitted diseases and British cholera.
  • Because this plant was so highly regarded for its medicinal purposes, the leaves used to be stored in gourds for later use.
Other Uses

  • Koromiko produces little wood but it is well known for its toughness and elasticity.
  • Koromiko branches give off a lot of heat when burned.

What is Rongoa Maori?| Koromiko | Kowhai | Pohutukawa | Puriri | Harakeke (NZ Flax)


Kowhai in full flower
Kowhai in full flower
Scientific Name: Sophora microphylla
Flowers: Large, drooping bright yellow flowers in bunches during spring. Forms into distinctive hard brown seed pods.Rongoa
  • All parts of the kowhai including bark, inner bark, flower, leaves and juice can be used as rongoa. Note there are toxic alkaloids in the tree so careful preparation of rongoa must be observed and casual experimentation is not recommended.
  • Infused bark is drunk for internal ailments and treating cuts, bruises and swelling. Colds and sore throats have also been known to be treated by the infused bark.
  • Boiled and crushed bark is useful for sprains, alleviating broken limbs, bruises, infected skin, wounds and skin diseases.
  • The ashes of the kowhai can be used to treat ringworm.
Other Uses
  • Yellow dye can be extracted from the petals.
  • Wood is highly durable and can be used for fencing.
  • Flowering marks the time for planting kumara.

What is Rongoa Maori?| Koromiko | Kowhai | Pohutukawa | Puriri | Harakeke (NZ Flax)


Pohutukawa in full bloom, Aotea Harbour
Pohutukawa in full bloom, Aotea Harbour
Scientific Name: Metrosideros excelsa
Flowers: Piercing, flame coloured pom-pom shaped blooms.Rongoa
  • The pohutukawa was highly respected and usually the tohunga (chief priest) would be the one to extract and make the rongoa giving it a tapu (sacred) status.
  • The inner bark, when infused, can be used to treat dysentry and diarrhoea (contains ellagic acid).
  • The nectar of the flowers is used to help alleviate sore throats.
Other Uses
  • Honey can be made from the flowers.
  • Essential oils can be extracted from the inner bark.
  • The wood is hard and durable and has been used for making boats, paddles, weapons and eel clubs.

What is Rongoa Maori?| Koromiko | Kowhai | Pohutukawa | Puriri | Harakeke (NZ Flax)


Puriri flower, leaf and berry
Puriri flower, leaf and berry
Scientific Name: Vitex lucens
Flowers: Outer dark pink petals fading to very light towards the centre.Rongoa
  • Puriri leaves can be infused and used to treat ulcers, sore throats and for bathing sore muscles, backache and sprains.
  • The medicinal qualities of the leaves has resulted in a germicide being patented for its use.
Other Uses
  • Shades of yellow and brown can be derived from the bark to use as dye.
  • The puriri is New Zealand’s strongest and hardest wood and was/is made into objects requiring long-lasting durability such as paddles, spades, handles, bridges, fencing.
  • Can be used as a scent.

What is Rongoa Maori?| Koromiko | Kowhai | Pohutukawa | Puriri | Harakeke (NZ Flax)

Harakeke (NZ Flax)

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Harakeke being used to make bags (kete) and bowls (kono) at Okapu Pa
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Whanau preparing flax for weaving at Okapu Pa
Scientific Name: Phormium Tenax (also known as NZ flax although it is in fact a lily)

Flowers: Varies in colour from yellow to red to orange
  • The sticky gum is used as an external treatment for boils, toothache, wounds, burns, excema and scalds
  • The gum was also be used as an internal treatment for dysentery
  • Leaves can be used as a dressing for broken bones
  • Pounded leaves can be used as a dressing
  • The juice of the root acts as a disinfectant for wounds
  • A poultice of the root was used to treat intestinal worms, ringworm and constipation
Other Uses
  • Harakeke is widely used for weaving mats, clothing, bags (kete), bowls (kono)
  • In the past Aotea had a successful flax industry where it would be grown in large amounts and exported overseas to be into durable ropes for ships
  • Harakeke has also been made into bird snares, fishing lines, woven sails and toys/instruments for children’s amusement
  • Juice of the root has been used as ink where the gum was used to seal letters
  • Floats and rafts have been made from the flower stalks
  • Nectar from the flowers was used to sweeten drinks and food such as para ti
  • Today flax derivatives are being sold in many different forms such as oils, soaps and creams