Rongoā rākau (natural plant medicines)

Rongoā rākau are plants that have been sourced and prepared to be used in a variety of ways to bring healing, relief and comfort:

  • Salves
  • Inhalations (to breathe)
  • Infusions (burning rongoā; scent/smell)
  • Ingestion – oral (kai, wai, tinctures, teas)
  • Hot steam baths
  • Steam treatments
  • Poultices.

The Pae Herenga study interviewed many whānau manaaki (as well as people who had a life limiting illness) who used rongoā rākau, as well as rongoā healers. These people highlighted that rongoā is any healing approach that brings relief from physical pain and symptoms (for example, fatigue, swelling, nausea, burns from radiography). People often think that rongoā is a shorthand for rongoā rākau (plant medicines) but rongoā rākau is only one form of healing that whānau manaaki use to support adults and kaumātua at end of life. We provide examples of rongoā rākau, highlighting its healing properties and its powerful wairua essence.

Rongoā healer Kaumātua Wii, in his Pae Herenga interview, spoke about how the wairua (spirit) is the most important part of rongoā, and by focusing your thoughts on the wairua, you can help with the healing process. Kaumātua Wii, emphasised the most important part of the process was not the rongoā itself, but the wairua of that rongoā:

…when I was doing rongoā also, using different types of rongoā to heal people and all that, and I realised also you don’t need the rongoā to actually start healing people. You can use the wairua of that rongoā also because everything has a wairua.

It was also pointed out by Kaumātua Wii that rongoā does not have to be a plant medicine, it can be mirimiri, karakia and many other forms of healing:

“Rongoā is actually like me and you talking.”

Kaumātua Wii commented that the person using the rongoā needed to believe in its healing ability:

It comes in different forms… it can be like what you’re talking about like mirimiri and prayers and all this. But, for the person that’s terminally ill and using it like that, they’ve got to believe in that rongoā. They’ve got to believe themselves, that is the main thing…

During her Pae Herenga interview, Coline emphasised that she felt it was important to use natural products as part of her father’s care, such as coconut oil and kawakawa:

[I use] lots of things, oh well I try and give- use, like natural things… I discovered that a couple of years ago when Dad was in Wellington. His skin was drying out… because ever since I’ve looked after Dad, I’ve just learned more about you know, giving him the best quality products, and natural [ones] because Mum was like that. And even my grandmother she practiced rongoā too. I learned how to make kawakawa pani… I use that for Dad and now I’m giving it like to everybody to help my aunties. They make it now.

Coline also described how coconut oil can be used as a natural moisturiser, in addition to the kawakawa pani (balm):

The coconut oil because like the dialysis dries out your skin. So, I made up a mixture of coconut oil, lavender, to help with resting, I thought. And tea tree like an antiseptic, I just mix it up and that’s what we use for his [skin], that’s a moisturiser.

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