Herbal Healer: What is kawakawa?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today's column marks the 400th edition of Herbal Healer that has appeared in the Times. We'd like to thank both Ted PanDeva Zagar and our readers for contributing to the continuing popularity of this weekly feature.


When the oceanic voyages of Britain’s Captain James Cook swept him upon New Zealand’s shores, an exotic land was introduced to the world. Its unique catalog of animal and plant species, shaped by the isolation afforded a water-bound island, included the moa — the world’s largest land-species bird, thoughtlessly rendered extinct by hunting and habitat loss — and kawakawa, a medicinal plant valued by the Maori peoples.


Kawakawa leaves and roots are used to make an herbal tea that serves to address a number of common complaints. Because it is used primarily as a health-sustaining tonic, kawakawa is often considered more of a preventive than a cure. Chewing the leaves reduces the pain brought on by a bad tooth, and the herbal beverage is a dependable diuretic and remedy for bladder problems. Applied externally, this concoction is useful in cases of bruises and boils. Kawakawa seeds are used as a spicy additive to a variety of dishes. Leaves tossed on a fire serve to repel insects. Maori traditionally wear a wreath made of leafy kawakawa twigs at their funeral gatherings.

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Endemic to New Zealand, kawakawa was known as the good health tree to the early inhabitants. Although it is an excellent plant medicine, this botanical has bitter tasting leaves that led the Maori to call it kawakawa, from the word kawa (“bitter”). This plant appears as a shrub or small tree attaining a height of twelve feet. The heart-shaped leaves are aromatic, and the female flower spikes that resemble candles produce a fleshy orange fruit savored by birds.


Related to the plant that provides us with black pepper, kawakawa is made into a beverage that has a tingling taste sensation. To benefit from kawakawa’s health-imparting ingredients, place one or two leaves in a cup of boiled water and allow it to steep for 10 minutes. You can experiment with your teatime experience by mixing in some of the more delicious herbs, such as cinnamon or mint!

The opinions expressed are solely the writer’s. NOTE: Visit herbalastrology.com to read Ted PanDeva Zagar’s other articles and columns that discuss the benefits of herbs and natural foods. DISCLAIMER: The author’s comments are not intended to serve as medical advice, and he urges his readers to seek qualified wellness professionals to resolve matters of health.