Physically isolated in the vast ocean expanse of the South Pacific, New Zealand is an island paradise in the truest sense, offering everything from hauntingly beautiful black sand beaches to subtropical rainforests to alpine meadows in the young snow-capped peaks of the South Island. If one had the opportunity to choose a climate and location perfect in all its diversity for human habitation, you would be hard-pressed to make a better choice than the New Zealand archipelago. From a botanical standpoint, New Zealand is rich. There are at least 4,162 vascular plant species in the New Zealand flora of which nearly 2,284 species (54.9 percent) are native. Of the native species, 1,524 (66.7 percent) are endemic. Much of New Zealand's present vegetation is dominated by an additional 1,878 species of adventive vascular plants introduced to the islands by humans. Early explorers were interested in native timber such as the enormous evergreen kauri trees (Agathis australis Sted., Hort. x Lindley, Araucariaceae), the gum of which has been used as an antiseptic.
From the time that Sir Joseph Banks first stepped ashore during Captain Cook's first visit to New Zealand 1769-70, Westerners have been recording uses of plants. The indigenous groups of New Zealand, known collectively as the Maori, relied on the flora for hundreds of years for food, shelter, and medicine. Westerners who have collected information have only gathered a mere fraction of the rituals, practices, and healing methods of the individual native groups. Collecting data from manuscript and literature sources, the author has compiled the most extensive treatise on the use of New Zealand's flora by its native groups. The book is divided into two parts. Part one details Maori healing and health topics, with an alphabetical listing of 86 topics from abortion to yeast infections, with notations on how the condition was perceived and treated by the Maori as viewed from historical reports by Westerners, with occasional ethnobotanical observations. Cultural context is sometimes di luted by the ethnocentric prejudices of the early observers. However, the author has attempted wherever possible to supply the view of the Maori, intertwining rich knowledge of medicinal plants with spiritual and practical applications.
Part Two, Maori Herbal Remedies, is an encyclopedia on 200 important medicinal plants of the Maori, arranged alphabetically by Maori names. Each of these detailed monographs opens with use from the Maori tradition, combining myths, origins, history, sayings, and practical uses. Many monographs contain a subsection, "relationships," which describes how related species are used in other cultures. External and internal uses are enumerated in separate sections. These sections are a chronology of the travel, nature, botanical, and historical literature on New Zealand, consisting largely of direct quotes from the cited works. Complementing each monograph are color photographs by Brian Enting, representing as fine a photographic feast as there is to be found in any medicinal plant book.
Maori Healing and Herbal is limited to one geographical location. However, this herbal is a world-class, exceptional contribution to ethnobotanical literature, and will be a welcome addition to any herbal library.
Article copyright American Botanical Council.
By Steven Foster