Looking ahead to New Zealand's first Matariki festival, I feel inspired to take a look at growing kawakawa, I feel inspired to take a look at growing kawakawa - a truly beautiful New Zealand native, recognisable by its heart-shaped leaves. The leaves, seeds, bark, roots and fruit of the kawakawa are all edible, making it a spectacular plant to grow in our gardens.
Kawakawa often displays holes in its leaves, and while you may assume these should be discarded, the holey leaves are in fact the best of all. The holes are caused by looper moths and it is said that as the caterpillar chomps through, it releases more active compounds in the leaves, making these leaves more favourable in healing.
Kawakawa can grow up to six metres high but, for those of us with an average-sized back yard, it can also be kept at a manageable height. Kawakawa is easy to grow, and likes free-draining soil in a nice shady spot. It is fairly wind-tolerant and, when the tree is mature, it can tolerate light to medium frosts. Kawakawa is mainly found in the warmer North Island regions, as it does not cope well with a hearty frost.
Kawakawa can be grown in pots and even indoors, but will need annual re-potting to replace the nutrients. It likes to dry out between waterings and, once established, will hardly need any care - and about 1-2 cups of water per week in long, hot summers.
Kawakawa is a magical plant and has many medicinal and culinary uses. According to Murdoch Reilly's "Maori Healing and Herbal", there are 72 medicinal uses of this extraordinary plant!
How to make kawakawa tea
Kawakawa tea is well known for supporting digestion, respiratory health and stomach ailments. Place 4-8 leaves in a pot and pour over boiling water; allow at least five minutes to brew, and enjoy. As an alternative, you can place leaves in a pot with grated ginger and a squeeze of lemon, bring to the boil and simmer for 5-7 mins, strain and enjoy.
Kawakawa for healing
For toothache, it is recommended to simply chew a leaf until it brings relief.
To heal skin infections and splinters, place 1-2 leaves in a bowl and pour over hot water, then wrap the underside of the leaf to the skin treatment area. Use this repeatedly until the infection or splinters are out and then repeat the above, applying the smooth side of the leaf to heal the residual wound after the infection or splinter has dissipated.
Kawakawa in the kitchen
Moving from the medicine cabinet to the kitchen, the fruits from the female plant are plump and delicious when plucked off the tree and eaten raw, or they can be added to salads, cakes or even dipped in chocolate. Their flavour reminds me of passionfruit, with an added peppery taste from the seeds inside. Pick when they have a slight orange tinge and then keep inside to ripen over 3-4 days for optimal flavour.
Kawakawa salt makes a delectable accompaniment to any dish, adding slight undertones of basil-like flavour. Simply dry enough leaves to produce two teaspoons of dried herb and add to a cup of salt, thoroughly mix and store in an airtight jar.