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December 2014 Issue
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Gum digger’s soap

The flower heads of kumarahou can be used as a soap.

Flowering kumarahou signals the start of kumara planting season and can be used as a soap and brew to relieve sore throats and itchy skin. By Riki Bennett

This is an spring flowering plant with attractive yellow flowers. The name kumarahou means new kumara which may relate to the time of its flowering indicating the time for planting kumara is nearing.

It has long been known that kumarahou has many health benefits and Maori shared their knowledge of the plant with European settlers to cure the many ailments that people suffered from.

To help relieve sore throats and colds, or bronchial complaints, a small amount of leaves were simmered in a pot of water for approximately 30-minutes and the liquid was taken as a tea. It can be quite sour to taste but this can be lessened by adding a little honey.

The liquid can also be applied externally to treat skin itch, cuts and abrasions or the softened leaves can be used as a poultice pack to draw out infection.

The liquid from boiled kumarahou can be stored in a fridge for future use and can last up to a couple of weeks, like ordinary tea leaves the more you use the stronger the brew.

The leaves can also be dried and if they are kept in an air tight container they will last for a long time.

The flower heads lather up in water and Maori used these for washing and to alleviate and cure itchy skin.

Another name for kumarahou is gum digger’s soap, a name relating to kauri gum diggers having used the flower heads as soap to remove gum resin from their hands.

Kumarahou is mostly found growing in poor clay soil along road edges and banks and in sunny spots, naturally it is found from North Cape to Tauranga on the eastern side of the North Island and down as far as Kawhia on the western side.

– Riki Bennett is a Waitakere Ranges Regional park ranger and environmental educator

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