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Topic: kawakawa

Is part of topic Te Papa’s Bush City

Macropiper excelsum

Habit: Large shrub to small tree.

Claims to fame: Relative of kava (Piper methysticum) which is used to make a drink popular in many Pacific Islands.

Traditional uses: Treatment of skin complaints and wounds, toothache, colds, kidney problems.  Also an aphrodisiac.  Smoke from burning leaves used as an insecticide for crops (Brooker et al., 2002, New Zealand Medicinal Plants, Reed).  Ripe fruit can be eaten.  The seeds have potential as a culinary spice. The leaves can be used to flavour drinks (for example, tea or beer), but, because of potential toxicity, there should be caution about the quantity consumed (Crowe, 2004, A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand, Penguin).

Distribution/ecology: Lowland forest of the North Island and the northern South Island.  Also on the Kermadec Islands, Norfolk Island, and Lord Howe Island.

Relationships: As well as kava, kawakawa is related to black pepper (Piper nigrum).

Identification: The somewhat heart-shaped leaves, which are often riddled with caterpillar-holes.

Bush City locations: Common throughout.

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