An Introducton of Rongoa or Maori Medicine
To the Maori people, the forest provided a vast range of natural resources, important among which Were a wide range of natural remedies, some of which are still widely used today. Recent research has indicated that many of these ancient curatives have a valid scientific and pharmacological base.
Even so, one should approach such things with considerable caution as some species which are used for medicinal purposes contain potentially fatal poisonous compounds, carcinogens or other harmful substances.
There is still some debate regarding the extent to which pre-European Maori used natural plant medicines. Certainly herbal remedies were in widespread use among Maori people in the 1840's.
An 1849 publication 'Native.Pharmacopia' listed forty plant species along with methods of preparation and use.
Among possible reasons for the widespread popularity of herbal medicines during this period of early European contact could have been attempts to treat European diseases and the effects of firearms.
The Maori people were also quick to adopt new ideas, among them the concepts of European medicine.
While the medicinal properties of many plant species appears to have been widely known among the population, the formal spiritual information which accompanied the use of medicinal herbs was tapu, being only available to a select few.
With the derision and later suppression of the power of the tohunga, (Tohunga Suppression Act 1907-1963) much of this ancient knowledge has been lost, along with the true extent to which herbs were used by pre-European Maori.
Traditional Maori belief made no distinction between spiritual healing and the use of natural herbs, seeing the two as part of the greater whole - one being ineffective without the other.
Plants were traditionally used both for their medicinal properties and as an important accompaniment to healing rituals along with water, fire and karakia. The healing of some ailments did not involve the use of plants, relying entirely on ritual and karakia.
The collection of plant material was a carefully ordered process, with samples being selected from specific parts of a chosen tree or plant. This was accompanied by appropriate ceremonial procedure, adding mana to the overall process.
The Maoris of old suffered from much the same illnesses as we do today, and sought their remedies in the plants among which they lived.
They found, for instance, that manuka provided almost a panacea: an infusion of the bark cured constipation, or from the seed capsules, diarrhoea; that the inner bark of the pohutukawa helped to stop bleeding, and soothed toothache; that the nectar from rata flowers eased sore throats; that the water in which flax roots had been boiled was a good substitute for castor oil.
All over the world an interest in folk medicine has developed as we become increasingly concerned for the protection of our natural environment.
Hand in hand with conservation has come a growing feeling that the side effects of the pills we take for rheumatism, or indigestion, or the common cold are more to be feared than the discomforts of the disorder we are trying to cure, and that the old fashioned herbal remedies are safer and just as soothing.
Passed down from generation to generation, the following is a range of plants, shrubs, and herbs used for medicinal purposes