Kawakawa: Macropiper excelsum

Kawakawa, Macropiper excelsum, is a small tree of which the subspecies M. excelsum subsp. excelsum is endemic to New Zealand; the subspeciesM. excelsum subsp. psittacorum is found on Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island and the Kermadec Islands.

It is found throughout the North Island, and as far south as Okarito (43.20 °S) on the West Coast and Banks Peninsula (43.5 °S) on the east coast of the South Island. The leaves are often covered with insect holes. The images depict the variety majus which has larger and more glossy leaves than M. excelsum. The name Kawakawa in Māori refers to the bitter taste of the leaves, from kawa bitter.

Rongoa in Modern Medicine

Blending traditional Rongoa practice alongside Western-style health care is not a new concept. Since the late 1970s the World Health Organization has pushed for the inclusion of indigenous / traditional healing services in national health systems. In many countries around the world there have been formal programmes established to integrate indigenous medicine in this context.

In Aotearoa over the 20 years there have been a number of initiatives whose aim has been to develop linkages between traditional healing and mainstream medicine. Steps have also been taken towards formalising the funding and delivery of rongoā Māori, as per a framework developed by Mason Durie – using the Te whare tapu wha model – which emphasises traditional Māori healing to be more focused on the spiritual and psychological dimensions of health, with a broader appreciation of the individual within their wider whānau, social, cultural, economic, and environmental context. It also embraces such concepts as tapu and noa, hara, mākutu, and whakapapa (genealogy), all of which can have profound meaning for Māori in terms of their health.

The general interaction of healer and doctor is still very much in the developmental stage. However, the demand from patients to incorporate  Rongoa practice into a treatment plan for their overall wellbeing is now being highlighted. In a recent study relating to Rongoa Maori in Primary Health care –  Rhys Jones’ research results in the suggestion that patients would prefer to see health care professionals collaborating rather than working in isolation to create more holistic plans that won’t have any contra-indications for in their resulting prescriptions. There also appears to be a lot more interest with patients wanting to use more natural products, yet still wishing to use some allopathic (western medicines) to support their healing.

Working collaboratively with the medical health profession is the ideal situation and something that I believe is very achievable. However, it is also my belief that we need to give ourselves permission to take more responsibility for our own health and not just give our power away to the medical professionals. This can be achieved by making more natural choices; like good nutrition, supportive herbs and Rongoa, and in doing so, I believe we would be far healthier and happier as a whole.

I do hope in the future to see more people making healthier choices and allowing nature to support them more. It would be so wonderful to see our people taking back their power and control their own lives using Rongoa to heal their body, mind and spirit. Tihe Mauri Ora!

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