Mānuka – useful in all kinds of ways
Well before Captain Cook arrived in New Zealand, Māori found mānuka useful for a wide range of things. The hard, straight-grained wood made strong building materials, and the mallets that knocked the components together were made from mānuka as well. Māori fashioned excellent paddles, sharp spades, light bird spears, and some seriously dangerous weapons, all out of mānuka wood.
When Māori first arrived in New Zealand and started burning off land, mānuka was one of the first native species to regrow, shooting up fast and offering shade and shelter for other native saplings as they matured. So Māori actually did mānuka a favour, helping it to spread widely throughout New Zealand – and mānuka did Māori, and the rest of us, a whole lot of favours in return.
Special quality of mānuka bark
Water containers came from mānuka bark, and the inner layers of the bark provided water-proofing under roofs. Extracts of the bark were used as a sedative, a mouthwash and for treating diarrhoea, fever, scalds and burns.
Mānuka wood was valuable, so Māori didn’t use it for firewood unless they were smoking fish or meat to preserve it. Then the bark ash could be rubbed onto skin to treat skin diseases.
Healing in other ways
Māori also used mānuka in other ways for their traditional medicine. The vapour from boiled leaves was used for colds, to reduce fever and treat stomach and urinary problems. The sugary gum that oozed from branches – pia mānuka – was considered a delicacy, and given to babies, used as a moisturiser for burns, or as a cough remedy.
When bush met bees
Not until Europeans brought beehives did Māori know the distinct, delicious taste of mānuka honey. And it took another 150 years or so to discover the science behind that amazing Unique Mānuka Factor, proving what Māori have known for centuries. That mānuka and the honey it produces truly are wonders.