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  • Rights: Crown copyright
    Published 18 November 2020 Referencing Hub media

    Rongoā practitioner Rob McGowan tells us about some of the key wetland plants used to promote natural health. Rob also provides additional insights about rongoā and wellness.

    Points of interest

    Raupō (Typha angustifolia) has many uses:

    • The pollen is mixed with water and baked into a gingerbread-like cake.
    • The root or rhizome can be dried and cooked as a kind of porridge.
    • The leaves and down are used to make poi.


    Robert McGowan

    There are some rongoā plants that only grow in wetlands. In the old days, the pollen from the raupō was a very, very important superfood. You didn’t need much of it, but very, very labour intensive to collect. In a time of need, famine, the roots of the raupō are really, really good to eat – plenty of starch in them – they’re a good energy food. Sometimes in a drought, the pūkeko will eat the roots of the raupō. How do you learn about the raupō being a good kai? You watch the pūkeko, and he’ll tell you what’s good. Harakeke – the flax that grows in the wetland – that’s a very, very important rongoā for all sorts of things. Some of the berries on some of the swamp plants, especially the swamp mingimingi in the autumn time is a really good important food, because those tree berries are often very rich in vitamins and antioxidants and all sorts of things. Going into winter, we eat the fruits of the autumn as a way of keeping us fit and well for winter.

    We have to understand rongoā as Māori understand it. We can say, for example, rongoā is that, when you get a headache, instead of taking an aspirin or whatever, you will go and get a plant.

    Rongoā is much more than healing sickness, and when you understand it in the old sense, it’s a way of being healthy rather than a way of healing. Sometimes you will use it for healing, but firstly, it’s a way of being well. And wellness isn’t confined to physical symptoms. You know, loneliness is a sickness. Loss makes you feel sick. Shame is a terrible sickness – people do bad things because of the shame within them. And so very, very early on, ill health or sickness was seen as being something much more than physical, and unless you deal with the non-physical side of it, you often don’t succeed with the physical side of it.

    Māori would say the basis of traditional medicine isn’t rākau, it’s wairua – taha wairua is the source of healing. And then we can go further than that. It’s not the plant’s chemistry, the physical properties that heal you. Firstly, it’s the mauri within the plant relating to the mauri within you, your mauri connecting, and that’s the foundation for your healing.

    And so how do we heal Māori health issues? How do we heal diabetes? Not by telling people to stop drinking Coca-Cola. It’s by, in actual fact, restoring people’s belief in themselves and their connections that make them whole, and then they can take on the challenge of changing their diet or getting exercise or whatever. But a lot of our sicknesses are caused by the fact of how we feel and how we connect to our world.


    Three photos, raupō flowering, Harry Rose, CC BY-NC 2.0
    Footage of raupō beyond lake, Waiheke Local Board, and Waiheke Resources Trust, CC BY 3.0
    Photos of pūkeko eating raupō, Jon Sullivan, CC BY-NC 2.0
    Footage of pūkeko in swamp, freegraphy, CC BY 3.0
    Photos of mingimingi berries, Jon Sullivan, CC BY-NC 2.0
    Footage, Rob McGowan in ngahere, brewing a rongoā tea, cleansing in wai and shots of waterfall, from Waka Huia, Scottie Productions

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