When designing the tea pod spatial experiences I first had to narrow it down to just five native plants. These proposed tea pods are designed to emulate the essence of each native NZ plant which has been used as tea for Maori for centuries. I chose these five because they seemed to be the most prominent and popular amongst Maori as well as they all provide a wide range of medicinal benefits which could support visitors of the Wintergardens. This was my final research which would potentially go on the signage to educate visitors on the history and purpose of each plant species.
I plan on turning these plants in to five spatial experiences through lighting and shadow, colour, texture and pattern. If these plants and teas had a spatial quality I would like to embody that through my tea trail experience.
The Final Five
Kawakawa (Pepper Tree)
This common plant is found throughout New Zealand in lowland forest. Kawakawa is distinctive because of its heart-shaped leaves, often riddled with holes from insect damage (particularly from the caterpillar of the kawakawa looper moth). After pollination the flowers of the kawakawa gradually swell and become fleshy to form small, berry-like fruits that are yellow to bright orange. These fruits are favoured by kererū or New Zealand pigeon.
The name kawakawa comes from the Māori language, where it refers to the bitter taste of the leaves, from kawa or bitter. Kawakawa is a traditional medicinal plant of the Māori. They are still very popular with traditional practitioners for preparing rongoā. It also is important in cultural contexts: host people of a marae wave leaves of kawakawa to welcome guests. At a tangi, both hosts and guests may wear wreaths of kawakawa on the head as a sign of mourning. When Maori mothers wanted to wean their children off breastfeeding, they used to rub their breasts with kawakawa because of the numbing sensations it produces.
In New Zealand, where the climate is too cold for kava, the Maori gave the name kawa-kawa to another Piperaceae, M. excelsum, in memory of the kava plants they undoubtedly brought with them and unsuccessfully attempted to cultivate. The Māori word kawa also means “ceremonial protocol”, recalling the stylised consumption of the drug typical of Polynesian societies.
Traditional Medicinal Uses
- An infusion is made from the leaves or roots, and internally used for bladder problems, toning the kidneys as as a general tonic
- Externally the liquid is used for cuts, wounds, boils, bruises,, abscesses and nettle stings
- The sweet edible yellow berries (most often found in summer on female trees) of the plant were eaten as a diuretic
- The leaves contain myristicin, which is mildly antiseptic and has pain numbing properties, and so is used by Māori to allay toothache
- Burned to be used as an insect deterrent
When the leaves are brewed as a tea, it’s know to:
- help soothe digestive problems and sore throats
- be a diuretic which helps urinaly tract health
- act as an anti-inflammatory
- help prevent liver damage
Manuka (Tea Tree)
Mānuka & Kānuka produce some of our finest native teas, with a bitter aromatic flavour. Mānuka is abundant throughout New Zealand, from lowland to subalpine areas. The Maori referred to this amazing, versatile plant as toanga or ‘treasure’ and revered it for its wide variety of uses. Early European settlers quickly picked up on this knowledge founded by Maori, and used the leaves to make tea and even brew beer. They extracted oil from the leaves for medicinal and cosmetic products and the wood of the tree was used for tools, furniture and many other household items. Captain Cook used this plant to make tea, as he liked the bitter taste – hence its other common name, tea-tree.
Manuka Honey can only be produced by the introduced European Honey Bee. An English beekeeper by the name of Mary Bumby is thought to be the first European settler to bring these precious bees to our shores in 1839. Mary set up her hives on the East Coast of the North Island where there was an abundance of Manuka bushes. Strong evidence supports that first honey ever produced in New Zealand was in fact Manuka Honey.
It wasn’t until 1980 that the unique antibacterial benefits of Manuka was confirmed by biochemist Peter Molan. Although its healing properties had already been known in traditional Maori medicine.
Traditional Medicinal Uses
- An infusion of the bark is used externally and internally as a sedative and for scalds and burns
- Ash made from the bark was rubbed onto the skin to treat skin diseases
- Vapour from leaves boiled in water was used for colds
- The inner bark was boiled and the liquid used as a mouthwash
- Chewing the bark is said to have a relaxing effect and it enhances sleep.
Scrophulariaceae Foxglove family
Hebe is a genus of plants native to New Zealand, Rapa in French Polynesia, the Falkland Islands, and South America. It includes about 90 species and is the largest plant genus in New Zealand. The quintessential rongoā plant, Koromiko tea was used as a cure-all, treating stomach pain, diarrhoea, and disease. Koromiko leaves were dried and sent to New Zealand soldiers in both world wars. Typically the growing buds are used. Makes for a pleasant tea, that tastes very slightly of banana.
Koromiko forms a shrub or small tree with dull green to green-yellow lance shaped leaves. Its tiny flowers are compacted into dense inflorescences longer than the leaves. The flowers are sweetly scented and vary in colour being lilac, mauve or white. Flowering occurs summer and autumn. Koromiko can be prominent in coastal scrub and its range is naturally restricted to the North Island. Hebe forms N.Z’s largest genus of flowering plants. Its members express a wide ecological and morphological diversity with their habitats ranging from coastal margins to alpine regions up to 2800m above sea level. This is considered to be the highest altitude for a flowering plant in New Zealand.
Upon early use it was described that the liquid from boiling the leaves being used as a mouth-wash or gargle. During World War II koromiko leaves were sent overseas to NZ troops in North Africa where they were used effectively to treat dysentery. In food it was used with kawakawa and karamū leaves to line hangi. It was said to impart an appreciated flavour to karaka kernels
Traditional Medicinal Uses
- Maori drank the infused liquid as a cure for kidney and bladder trouble and as a tonic. It was given to women prior to childbirth to bring on an easy and rapid birth and was used as an effective mouthwash and gargle.
- Chewing a leaf was used to induce a feeling of hunger.
- Leaves were bruised and applied as a poultice for ulcers, boils and venereal disease and to help heal broken bones.
- Koromiko sap was used for a skin disease on babies and `branches formed part of a medicinal vapour or steam bath taken by women after childbirth.
Kūmarahou (Gumdiggers Soap)
For most of the year kūmarahou is a rather unremarkable looking plant, hiding in plain sight with its dull-green velvety leaves. In late spring however, the plant bursts forth with clusters of creamy-yellow flowers – colouring the landscape in sunny blossoms. For Māori this was the signal that it was time to plant kūmara.
The English name – Gumdigger’s soap – comes from it’s use on the Gumfields of Northland. The gumdiggers were hardy men, living a rough existence in dry scrub forest, hoping to make their fortunes with a strike of kauri gum. Living off the land, they made a discovery that was already known to Maori – that by rubbing the flower heads of kūmarahou with a little water they could create soap. This soap is the result of compounds called saponins – which are occasionally used in modern dish wash and detergents.
The plant was highly admired by both Māori and Pākehā for its medicinal qualities, and kūmarahou played an important role in rongoā. Kūmarahou leaf tea was used as a general tonic to treat a variety of ailments, but was considered particularly effective for chest complaints; coughs, colds, bronchitis, pulmonary tuberculosis, heartburn and asthma. It is said to have a beneficial effect on the kidneys and was even used to treat arthritis and menstrual pain. The leaves could also be soaked in water and applied to wounds and skin irritations, and were said to speed the healing process.
The bitter taste of kūmarahou tea has led to its use in alcoholic beverages as well. Prior to the arrival of Pākehā, Māori had almost no exposure to alcohol at all, though some iwi are reported to have drunk the fermented juice of tutu berries and kiekie flowers. The arrival of European liquor spurred a newfound interest in developing native brews and Māori developed the kūmarahou tonic into a type of homebrew – paikaka. Pākehā settlers and missionaries were also on the lookout for innovative new alcohol recipes, and found that the leaves made a good substitute for hops when brewing beer.
Traditional Medicinal Uses
- Particularly effective for chest complaints; coughs, colds, bronchitis, pulmonary tuberculosis, heartburn and asthma
- Beneficial effect on the kidneys and was used to treat arthritis and menstrual pain
- The leaves are soaked in water and applied to wounds and skin irritations, to speed up healing
Mountain Horopito or pepper tree, is a species of woody evergreen flowering trees and shrubs, part of family Winteraceae. The species is endemic to New Zealand. All Winteraceae are magnoliids, associated with the humid Antarctic flora of the southern hemisphere. Its yellowish-green leaves are blotched with red, with new leaves in the spring being bright red. It is distributed within lowland forests up to higher montane forests
Commonly called pepperwood because its leaves have a hot taste. Horopito is packed full of antifungal compounds which leave a burning sensation in the mouth. It makes for a spicy, warming tea. Infusions of the leaves were known as “bushman’s painkiller” and were drunk to soothe chest complaints and diarrhoea.
Horopito has long been used by the indigenous Maori population of New Zealand both internally and externally for many purposes. As far back as 1848, Horopito is documented in the treatment of skin diseases such as ringworm, or for venereal diseases. “The leaves and tender branches of this shrub are bruised and steeped in water, and the lotion used for ringworm; or the bruised leaves are used as a poultice for chaffing of the skin, or to heal wounds, bruises or cuts”. Infection due to Candida albicans (Maori – Haha, Haka) is documented as once being a major cause of death of Maori babies, due to their being fed an “unsatisfactory diet.” The juice of Horopito leaves were placed straight in the mouth, or alternatively leaves of Horopito were steeped in water to extract the juice and this decoction was in an effort to treat what we now understand as candidiasis (oral thrush).
Early European settlers to New Zealand also used horopito for medicinal purposes. For internal use, leaves were either chewed or prepared as a tea. “The leaves and bark are aromatic and pungent; the former are occasionally used by settlers suffering from diarrhoeic complaints.” A decoction of the leaves was taken for stomach ache and was known as “Maori Painkiller” and “Bushman’s Painkiller.” There are accounts of the bark being used in the 19th century as a substitute for quinine: “The stimulating tonic and astringent properties of which are little inferior to winter’s bark.” A French nun, Mother Aubert, went to live among the Maori at the end of the 19th century, and the native plant remedies she later created became commercially available and widely used throughout the colony of New Zealand. Horopito was one of the two ingredients in her patent medicine, Karana. In a letter to the French Consul dated 2 December 1890, she described it as “superior to Quinquina [quinine] in the treatment of chronic stomach sickness. It has been very useful to me in cases of anaemia of debility, of continuous diarrhoea etc,.. and in recovery from temperatures”. Horopito has a long list of traditional uses both by New Zealand Maori and by early European settlers. There is also some promising scientific research done in New Zealand that highlights some specific therapeutic benefits of Horopito.
Traditional Medicinal Uses
- coughs, colds, and asthma
- promoting circulation
- Topically used for skin diseases, wounds, cuts and burns as well as for painful bruising and sore joints