The bright green heart-shaped leaves of Kawakawa (Macropiper exelsum) are a distinctive presence in the New Zealand bush, and Kawakawa’s medicinal properties are equally distinctive. Traditionally used by Maori not only as a medicine but also as a significant part of many ceremonies, Kawakawa is an important part of both the physical and spiritual worlds and revered for its innate power.
A cousin to the Polynesian Kava plant, Kawakawa’s similar leaf shape is thought to be the reason for its being christened Kawa-kawa by Maori settlers. While Kava root is drunk throughout Polynesia as a relaxing drink, and used by herbalists for anxiety and sleep disorders, Kawakawa is a different plant entirely, with quite different therapeutic uses like our Ginger & Kawakawa Tonic.
Kawakawa is an entire plant pharmacy in itself, capable of many different actions that make it useful for a wide array of conditions. The variety of active constituents in Kawakawa make it a complex and powerful medicine, but one that is readily accessible, as anyone who has made a fresh Kawakawa tea will tell you! It was used as a ‘tea’ by early European settlers who were awaiting shipments of black tea, and prized as a pick me up for these hard workers. While it doesn’t contain caffeine like tea does, it is known as a refreshing, rejuvenating and uplifting tonic to improve energy and stamina.
Some of the keys of Kawakawa are:
Reducing inflammation and irritation, Kawakawa is useful both internally and externally. Used internally it can be useful for inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract, as well as joint inflammation or arthritis. Used topically (on the skin), it can reduce the inflammation of common skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and skin rashes and is found is our DermaCare Cream.
Anyone suffering digestive pain, cramping or bloating can benefit from the anti-spasmodic effects of Kawakawa, which also helps to move trapped wind through the body and has a relaxing and calming effect on the digestion. It makes a wonderful after-dinner drink like our Ginger & Kawakawa Tonic for over-indulgence, perfect for Christmas Day!
As an anti-microbial herb, Kawakawa has the capacity to kill bugs, making it a wonderful aid for treating any infections, internally or externally. This makes it useful for coughs and colds, but equally for skin conditions that tend to infection and why our Herbal Throat Spray is a great first line defence.
Kawakawa is known as the ‘pepper tree’, not to be confused with Horopito, which is also sometimes called ‘pepper tree’. The spiciness of both plants can’t be missed when the leaves are chewed, but whereas Horopito is HOT like cayenne, Kawakawa has a minty fresh peppery taste that is quite different and rather delicious. This heat makes Kawakawa a wonderful aid to circulation, and a useful ally for anyone who suffers from poor circulation or cold hands and feet. This makes it ideal for winter in colder climates, and has been used with much success for the treatment of chilblains.
And this is just a tiny taste of what Kawakawa is capable of! Like many of our New Zealand native plants, Kawakawa is entirely unique and a powerful addition to our herbal pharmacy.