Māori Medicine and Vegetation in New Zealand

There are not many things currently unexplored. But science is only now awakening to the unique and powerful medicinal qualities of New Zealand vegetation.

Why is the flora of New Zealand so unique? The explanation lies in the islands’ geographic isolation in the far South Pacific. Over millions of years, secluded evergreen forests have thrived and developed their unusual features, including remarkable medicinal properties.

New Zealand is one of the last places on earth to be inhabited by humans. It wasn’t until about 1,000 years ago that the Maori people from Eastern Polynesia arrived here. They utilized the healing power of the local nature. Their knowledge of Rongoa (medicine) was considered sacred because it combined both the spiritual and physical sides.

Traditionally, these Tangata whenua (people of the land) believed that illnesses were caused by something supernatural. They had no clear distinction between mind and body, so the Tohunga (expert healer) was well versed in both anatomy and spirituality. He used chanting, prayer, massage, dream analysis and plants in his therapeutic practice.

Many plant parts were used in medicine. For example, Tohunga ground the leaves of the Harakeke (flax) plant because its juice was used as an anesthetic and antiseptic. It was used for burns, toothache, and wounds.

Herbal remedies were also taken internally. For example, juice was squeezed from the leaves of the Kumarahu shrub. This liquid was used for bronchitis and various heart diseases.

The practice of Tohunga was almost completely destroyed in the 20th century by colonization, Christianity and the Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907-1962. Fortunately, during this difficult time, some Tohunga continued to practice Rongoa in remote rural areas.

Modern Māori medicine is based on traditional Rongoa ways. It incorporates both spiritual and physical elements. Scientists and natural health practitioners are now genuinely interested in learning about the healing power of New Zealand’s remarkable vegetation.

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