Teacher tips 10

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is for Kawakawa
Macropiper excelsia NZ pepper tree

In this month’s Teacher Tips, Nicky Elmore, Sustainability Facilitator at Meadowbank School shares how a native plant can be a focus of all sorts of learning experiences.

Today’s letter is K.  A new entrant class is taking an orientation tour of the school. K is for kawakawa, the shrub with the beautiful shiny heart shaped leaves.  We stop at a great specimen in the gully medicinal area.  Medicinal properties of kawakawa are many.  The students are most fascinated by rubbing the scrunched up leaves on themselves to deter pesky mosquitoes.  The leaves, which are very peppery tasting, can be chewed to relieve toothache and combat stomach upsets.

Traditionally branches were burned between rows of crops like kumara to protect the crops from insects. Kawakawa makes a refreshing tea, which also relieves the symptoms of colds, coughs, flu and chest complaints.  Kawakawa poultice was commonly used on cuts abscesses and wounds.  These days it’s easy to buy commercial kawakawa balm or make your own, a great technology project for schools since it’s really straightforward for students to access the leaves required.

The students have their magnifying glasses out now and are examining the leaves.  They notice the obvious holes in many leaves.  Fascinated, they want to know who’s been munching.  The caterpillar of the looper moth Cleora scriptaria (also called the grey evening moth) is the culprit. Apparently the holey leaves have the best medicinal properties, due to the plant producing chemicals reacting against the caterpillar.

The kawakawa looper moth
The kawakawa looper moth caterpillar

The holey leaves are also the tastiest for eating. Observing Maori protocol we say a karakia to acknowledge Ranginui and Papatuanuku and their sons Tanemahuta and Haumiatkietike for providing us with such an abundance of kawakawa leaves.  We gather some leaves for the kitchen in our kete and proceed.

Kawakawa leaves and seed head
Caterpillar damaged kawakawa leaves, note the red knobbly stems

Our journey continues to the kitchen to try out the Pesto that the G2T kids are making.  Now that we have recognised those obvious heart shaped leaves, there are shouts of glee from the students as they spy more bushes on our walk through the gully.  They also notice that the kawakawa contribute to the shady green of the gully.  Kawakawa fill the gaps in the mid story of the bush.  The kids notice the zig zag bamboo-like stems, with jointed bumps, which are dark and reddish in colour.

From underneath looking up, the bushes grow to about 6m high, although there are many baby seedlings beneath the bigger plants. Discussion around how the baby plants got there results in noticing the fruit.  The ripe orange fruit on the female trees we are told are sweet with peppery seeds, which apparently taste nice dipped in chocolate.

The website of the Herb federation of NZ has more information about kawakawa which you can read by clicking here

Finally we reach our destination, the G2T kitchen where we deliver our kete of kawakawa leaves.  The class is making Parsley and Kawakawa Pesto, which they share with us on some fresh vegetables from the garden. Yummy, here’s the recipe for you to try too. (Meadowbank School, http://www.meadowbank.school.nz/MainMenu follow Garden to Table wiki links)

Parsley and Kawakawa pesto
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ pumpkin seeds
2 cups green herbs (parsley and kawakawa), roughly chopped
½ cup oil
4 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt

  1. Pan fry seeds lightly.  Remove from the heat before they get brown.
  2. Place green herbs and oil in a blender.
  3. Add garlic, seeds, salt and lemon juice.  Blend together.
  4. Serve with fresh vegetables to dip, or crackers.

As we reflect on our journey through the gully to the kitchen we discuss what a useful plant kawakawa is.  We are not at all surprised to learn that Maori consider it a sacred plant and use it throughout all aspects of life, then to farewell the spirits of those who have died.  Kawakawa really is the ‘the pharmacy of the forest’ See http://www.earthenergiesnz.com/kawakawa.html .



is for kawakawa, kids, kitchen, karakia, kete

Other references

Te Māori i ki te Wao Nui a Tane (Māori and the forest) teachers Resource Auckland Council

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