Traditional Healing

It’s that time again. The Rugby World Cup is on and Kiwi rugby fans are in for a series of early mornings and late nights to follow the All Blacks as they seek to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in back-to-back wins.

A surprise inclusion in the All Blacks team is winger Waisake Naholo who was initially ruled out with a broken leg suffered on debut in The Rugby Championship but has made a remarkable recovery.

Naholo went to him home village, Nadroumai, in his native Fiji, where his uncle Isei Naiova provided the upcoming All Black with a traditional Fijian healing technique involving leaves, thought to be kawakawarau, and it seems to have done what western medicine could not; heal a broken leg in four weeks.

This traditional knowledge, now thrust in the sporting spotlight, comes with new pressures such as encroachment by outsiders and expanding markets for local products, often means the observance of old traditions are touted to be the ‘super medicines’ of the moment.

This can be seen in our own backyard. Rongoa Māori, (medicines which are produced from native plants), are becoming more popular in treating illness and preventing many diseases.

The medical practitioners of Rongoa Māori, known as tohunga, passed their knowledge down through the generations and is still taught in communities today.

Getting to know the local plants which grow in the New Zealand bush – and possibly your back garden – can not only keep you and your family healthy, it could also save you money.

Tanekaha is a medium-sized, coniferous tree which grows to a height of almost twenty metres. Like the kauri tree, it sheds its lower branches, producing smooth, straight trunks and knot-free timber which is sought after for its strength.

Its common name, celery pine, refers to the leaf which closely resembles celery leaves and its found throughout the North Island and in the northern parts of Nelson and Marlborough, and many, right here on Waiheke.

The bark is rich in tannins and is used for its astringing properties, pulling tissues in the body together and speeding the healing of cuts and wounds. Invaluable in hard-to-treat skin infections, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome it is also used to aid liver and digestive function.

One of the most well-known, large trees growing in New Zealand, and also on the island, is the Kahikatea.The leaves were often used by Captain Cook instead of Rimu leaves to brew an anti-scurvy beer which indicates they are rich in vitamin C and topical applications of the bark were used to treat bruising and diseases of the liver.

Today the leaves and berries are used to treat chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, sinusitis and urinary tract infections.

Slippery elm is a powder derived from the inner bark of the elm tree native to North American and used internally to soothe and heal the digestive tract. Due to over harvesting and the threat of disease, slippery elm powder is now on the United States Department of Agriculture’s threatened and endangered species list.

Hoheria – also known as lacebark – is used medicinally as an alternative to slippery elm because of its similar properties and also because it is a rapidly growing tree endemic throughout New Zealand.

The developing (and developed) world possesses invaluable indigenous knowledge. And if All Black coach Steve Hansen publicly supports the use of traditional medicine, you may too, one day, have a pot-shot at a Rugby World Cup.