Kahupeka
Ancient Māori healer

Ancient Māori healer and pioneer of herbal medicine

Oral history and tradition remembers Kahupeka as a Tainui woman who explored widely in the central North Island and experimented with herbal medicines in the 1400s.

The Royal Society of New Zealand lists her as among 150 women who made important contributions to expanding knowledge in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

According to the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, Kahupeka, sometimes referred to as Kahu, Kahupekapeka or Kahukeke, journeyed inland from Kawhia on the west coast while grieving for her husband, who had recently died.

She travelled widely: To the Mt Pirongia area, northwest to Hauraki, and south to the ranges west of Lake Taupō, where she died. Along the way she named mountains, ranges and rivers, although local tradition at Pirongia - the mountain's full name is Pirongia-te-aroaro-oo-Kahu - suggests it is more likely the mountain was named by her son.

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At least partly to treat her own illness, she experimented with the use of plants.

"Various stories," the Royal Society says, "include her use of harakeke; koromiko, a long-leafed shrub used for a variety of ills; kawakawa ... a member of the pepper tree family; and rangiora, which has the largest leaves of any of the tree daisies and is sometimes known as the bushman's friend.

"More than 200 plants were used medicinally by Māori, and pioneers like Kahupeka had to experiment to find what worked."