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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 3 (June 1, 1936)

Pictures Of New Zealand Life — Land of the Kauri

page 29

Pictures Of New Zealand Life
Land of the Kauri.

For many years a few of us have been urging that some attention should be given by the foresters of the Dominion to the regeneration and cultivation of the New Zealand native forests. For the most part this advice has fallen on deaf ears, although it has been shown repeatedly by scientific men such as the late Sir David Hutchins and Thomas Cheeseman that most kinds of indigenous trees respond quickly to the protection necessary to give them a start in the world. Even the kauri grows more rapidly here than the oak does in Europe. Some day, let us hope, there will be a reconstruction of present afforestation methods in the direction of planting native timbers largely, instead of relying wholly on exotics, as at present. In the meantime, there is a wonderful object lesson for our tree-planters, the young kauri nursery on the Waitangi endowment block, at the Bay of Islands, which the country owes to the great generosity of Lord and Lady Bledisloe. Ten pounds in weight of kauri seeds taken from the Waipoua forest and set on a piece of land near the hill called Mt. Bledisloe germinated rapidly, and within ten days thirty thousand seedlings had appeared above the ground. The little kauris are to be planted out over an area of 2,400 acres on the Waitangi block.

This will be glad news to Lord Bledisloe, at whose request the experiment was made. He never wearied when here of advocating the merits of New Zealand timbers and of greatly increasing the area of native woodlands. The effort at Waitangi is the first result of his long fight for the cultivation of the indigenous bush. It certainly goes to disprove the arguments of those who thought it useless to attempt planting the kauri and other native trees. Wasteful sawmilling methods, too, will have to be stopped. At present millions of young trees and seedlings are destroyed in felling and milling methods. They can be made the nurseries of future forests if they are preserved.

* * *

Bush Remedies and Maori Medicinal Lore.

A correspondent wishes to know something about Maori medicinal knowledge and the herbal remedies used in curing diseases. He had been told that only the tohungas knew the remedies, and that such knowledge could not now be obtained.

This statement is, of course, not correct, for there are native communities that depend entirely on bush remedies, and the uses of leaves, roots and bark of indigenous trees are perfectly well-known to many of the elder people. The tohunga proper was an expert in mental treatment; he relied chiefly on the powers of suggestion; he was more of a faithhealer than a doctor. He is not yet an extinct bird by any means. I have known many tohungas. They were all men of strong mentality, and I could well believe that their laying on of hands and their personal mona had a magnetic and magical influence on their patients. But for the ordinary physical ills of life, there are wise women as well as men in every community who can effect cures with simple remedies. One or two of these bush medicines are known to chemists, such as a decoction of koromiko (veronica) leaves for dysentery and an infusion of the kumarahou leaves as a relief for asthma. There is a great field for enquiry here.

The Virtues of Leaf, Root and Bark.

Here are a few of the native medical uses of our bush trees and shrubs and plants, of which I have heard from my elder Maori friends and oldsettled pakehas. They are set down to supplement the remedies mentioned in last month's Magazine.

Flax-root juice, applied either raw or after boiling the roots, was a favourite application for gunshot or bayonet wounds in the wars. Charred supplejack was used to cauterise bullet wounds, which then were stopped up with clay, and nature was left to take its course; such wounds usually healed soon. The soft leaves of the papapa, a small ground plant, after the outer surface had been rubbed off, are applied to wounds and sores, and the liquid obtained from boiling a quantity is a strong soothing and healing agent. The kawakawa or pepper tree (piper excelsum) is a useful medicine tree. A boiled infusion of its leaves is good for colds, and the juice pressed from the roasted leaves makes an excellent dressing for bad wounds and sores. So, too, is the edible pith of the black ferntree or mamaku (Cyathea medullaris); it is applied raw. The nikau palm pith is a laxative. The leaves of the tarata shrub, chewed and made into a paste, will soon cure raw places on a saddle-sore horse.

For digestive troubles there is virtue in an infusion of the piripiri or hutiwai, the stickfast plant popularly known as the “biddybid.” The bark of the forest tree pukatea (Laurelia) has a reputation as a backblocks remedy for toothache and neuralgia. The bark is steeped in hot water and the pulp applied to the aching place or held in the mouth.

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