Helen and KawakawaYou need only to veer slightly off a road, motorway, lane or track to find kawakawa. Its green, heart-shaped leaves are usually found tucked away under the canopy of other trees where it prefers a shady position.

The name Kawakawa refers to the bitter taste of the leaves from the Maori word “kawa” meaning “bitter”.

Kawakawa’s leaves have long been used to ease the discomfort of upset tummies. The leaves were also chewed to relieve toothache and sometimes placed on a fire to create a natural insect repellent.

The leaves are also sought out and chomped on by the tiny bright-green looper caterpillar, so be on the lookout for them when you are collecting the leaves.

Kawakawa can be taken as tea by treating a leaf like a tea bag and putting in a mug of freshly boiled water for a few minutes. A cup of kawakawa tea will help relieve tummy upsets and it has a refreshing and slightly tingling taste sensation.

Heavy meals can slow your digestion down and make you feel sluggish. To help ease the discomfort use kawakawa as a tonic which you can store for up to six months in the cupboard.

Take ten kawakawa leaves, crush them and put into a small saucepan with 100mls of vinegar, some fresh mint leaves, if you can find some, and a small knob of chopped ginger. Simmer for ten minutes, cool and then strain into a bottle. Take half a teaspoon of the mixture and dilute into half a glass of water before meals.

To relieve toothache, simply pick a leaf, pop it in your mouth and chew on the side which has the pain. The taste will be peppery, although not unpleasant, and it will help relieve the pain until you can get to the dentist.