Kawakawa

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Macropiper excelsum

 

History

 Sometimes known as pepper tree (Not to be confused with Horipito which is another NZ native commonly called Pepper tree also) this native shrub has recently become more widely known for its medicinal properties. It is a small densely branched shrub or small tree which can grow up to 6m but more commonly 3-4m. Its distinguishing feature are its shiny heart shaped leaves with prominant veins. Often seen covered in holes, which are caused by the Kawakawa looper moth caterpillar (Cleora scriptaria) In summer female flower spikes ripen to a deep orange. Commonly found naturally in coastal and lowland forests throughout the North Island and the upper part of the South Island.

Growing

Kawakawa prefers a moist rich and free-draining soil in a semi-shade to shaded site. It is frost tender, so best planted under canopy for protection. Usually grown by seed. Orange fleshy parts can be mashed in water and the black seeds will float. Seeds can take two to three months to germinate. Our local “Tree Guys” native nursery in Otane does sell plants too.

Uses

The berries are a favourite of Kereru, and they also disperse the seed.

The leaves can be eaten and are used to flavour both sweet and savory dishes. They have a peppery taste. Try drying leaves till you can powder them, then use in any dish requiring pepper. The black seeds from the orange fruits of the female trees can also be eaten as pepper…be warned they are strong. The whole orange fruit can even be dipped in chocolate for a sweet treat with a peppery bite.Two or three leaves are great seeped in hot water as a tea.

Dried and burnt leaves can be used as an insect repellent, and were traditionally used inside dwellings.

Medicinally Maori used fruit, bark, and leaves.

Leaves were commonly used to treat stomach ailments, and bladder problems, as well as toothache.

Externally used to treat cuts, boils, bruises, rheumatism, and nettle stings.