Native New Zealand Healing Plants

Native New Zealand Healing Plants

Natural wellness approaches to healing commonly utilise well-known herbal plants from all over the world. These are well documented and scientifically analysed providing a great wealth of medicinal plant knowledge to benefit health and wellbeing.

However, it is of great value to get to know and understand the therapeutic qualities of the native medicinal plants of the country you reside in. They grow in the natural environment of that region or land mass, so therefore they can be very healing for the people that reside in that same region, both the plants and people adapting over many years to the natural tendencies of the region.

It is to the native people of a land region that we owe thanks to, for passing on their knowledge of traditionally used native plants. This knowledge is not always scientifically proven but is often of more value due to hands-on use and experimentation over many, many years of getting to know the native plants and their many benefits.

In New Zealand (Aotearoa), the Maori people lived and survived using all the things that nature provided them with, including medicinal plants. 

Traditional Maori medicine is known as rongoa Maori. Historically rongoa Maori was taught or passed down through generations within the whanau (family) or hapu (community) through verbal communication and hands-on teaching. Because of this, and due to the limited amount of travel outside of tribal regions, it was the native plants that were found most prolifically in that particular region, due to its geography/climate, that were most commonly used by the iwi of that region. From a traditional cultural perspective, Maori views on health took on a very holistic approach and embraced the four cornerstones of health which were seen as: te taha wairua (the spiritual dimension), te taha hinengaro (the mental dimension), te taha tinana (the physical dimension) and te taha whanau (the family dimension). Wairua (the spiritual dimension) was intrinsically connected to health and Maori regarded karakia (blessings or prayer) as an essential way of protecting and maintaining spiritual, mental and physical health. This spiritual dimension could also be seen in the common belief among Maori that illness was a result of wrongdoing or breaking of tapu. This spiritual dimension was also highly evident in the connection the Maori people had with the land and native bush as a living form of life to be respected, and the reverence they had for the healing powers of nature.

In these modern times it is possible for anyone to learn about rongoa Maori through books, and through teachers of rongoa who are open to sharing the knowledge of rongoa to the wider population in general. However, a good rongoa Maori teacher will still maintain the attributes and understandings of the traditional cultural beliefs and views that are so intrinsically a part of rongoa Maori.

The healing practice of rongoa Maori has been somewhat diffused or less prevalent amongst Maori living in modern society today due to a movement away from their traditional, natural living environments/communities and therefore away from traditional healing practices. And also, because of the colonisation of New Zealand which caused more and more of the land to be cleared for farming, towns and industrilisation, native bush was no longer as accessible to many Maori people as it had been in the past.

A lot of modern-day Maori people have become submerged or heavily influenced in the ways of modern society, including the use of mainstream medical interventions to address their health issues. However, rongoa Maori still continues to this day, albeit quite often not steeped in the huge degree of traditional culture that it once was as it spreads its wings amongst people of other cultures, but still fueled by the interest of numerous people of all walks of life who have a desire to learn about natural healing practices and medicines. 

Here are just a few of the many healing plants of Aotearoa (New Zealand).


  • Found in the coastal regions of New Zealand
  • A lot of kawakawa have holes in the leaves from insects eating them. Although they may not look so appealing to pick, these leaves can be good to use because the plant produces beneficial chemicals to try and heal its own wounds
  • Use fresh leaves to make a pleasant tasting, general health tonic. Use approximately a dozen leaves to one litre of water. Simmer for 15 mins with the lid on. Daily dosage - one cup. It is recommended to have a small amount initially to check for allergic responses as some people can be allergic to it. 
Benefits and Uses:
  • Good for the kidneys and urinary system
  • Gout
  • General tonic
  • Antiseptic
  • Healing of cuts and wounds. The leaf can be applied to wounds - underside of leaf next to skin for drawing out infection, and top side of leaf next to skin for healing
  • Diuretic
  • Analgesic
  • Expectorant, bronchio-dilator, anti-catarrhal
  • Helps regulate blood sugar levels
  • Blood purifier
  • Helps to expel worms 


  • Likes open, clear land
  • Similar to kanuka, but manuka has larger flowers, seed capsules and leaves, and rougher feeling to touch whereas kanuka feels softer
  • Small tree
  • A manuka infusion can be made using approximately three teaspoons of fresh manuka leaves steeped in one cup of boiling water
Benefits and Uses:
  • Antibacterial, antiseptic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Diuretic
  • Anti-catarrhal
  • Mild laxative effects
  • Sedative
  • Kidney and urinary issues
  • Good for skin complaints
  • Assists expulsion of worms
  • Digestive complaints
  • Blood purifier
  • Decongestant
  • Good externally for helping to heal wounds burns, acne, boils etc 
  • Manuka honey (bees that have made honey from the manuka flowers) is a great tasting way to obtain many of the medicinal properties of manuka 


  • Found throughout New Zealand but prefers swampy coastal areas
  • Grows tall flower stems with flowers ranging in colour between yellow, orange and red, producing a long slender seed pod
  • Can be used medicinally but the fibrous long slender leaves are also great for making woven bags (kete), mats (whariki), hats etc
  • When cut at the base it produces a gelatinous sap which is why it is also known as New Zealand's equivalent to aloe vera 
  • Is presently also used in some commercial skin care preparations and other personal care items
Benefits and Uses:
  • The sap applied externally, or a decoction made by boiling the base of the leaves and roots in water, is good for helping to heal wounds, skin complaints, boils, abscesses, burns and rheumatism
  • Good for the digestive system
  • Beneficial for menstrual issues
  • Antiseptic
  • Treating ringworm
  • Toothache
  • Blood purifier
  • Expectorant
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