Our New Zealand native conifer comes from an ancient line of trees called podocarps and is considered the ‘Chief’ of the forest as it marches from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island.
Tōtara is covered in thick, stringy bark and can live for more than 1,000 years. Tōtara is remarkably resistant to rot, and fallen logs can last for incredible lengths of time. This is due in part to its bitter constituent, totarol, which has been shown to have an antibiotic action thought to be responsible for the tree’s exceptional ability to resist decay.
The wood was historically burned to produce a smoke which could be used in the treatment of haemorrhoids and venereal diseases and the leaves were used as an infusion to treat upset stomachs.
At this time of the year, the tree produces small, brightly-coloured berries which can be eaten as good source of pre-winter antioxidants to help ward off, or minimise, the effects of winter ailments. It’s taste, however, can be challenging as the turpentine-like flavour is nowhere near as delicious as a strawberry, a raspberry or even a blackberry.
Please remember the laws of foraging: only take what you need, leave the majority of berries on the tree for birds, bees and geckos and be respectful to our Chief for what he has to offer.