Kawakawa Balm – A Sacred New Zealand Experience

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

I’ve become fascinated with local plant life and their healing properties…

Last year, when lockdown in New Zealand ended and I could finally visit Kerikeri’s Packhouse Market, one of the first stalls to catch my eye was a table covered with Maori healing remedies. Over my months here, I befriended the owner, Dana, and got to know a bit about Kawakawa balm and Tupakahe oil, among others. (Since I have arthritis, these two are high on my desirable list.) 

In my past few months in New Zealand, I’ve been deeply appreciating everything here because I will be leaving at some point in the near-ish future. Native Maori plant remedies have been on my mind so much so that I recently took a kawakawa balm-making class. 

penguins in Ushuaia

Walking into the forest with Tia.

Kawakawa balm is made from kawakawa leaves, of course, found on a kawakawa plant. The leaves offer remedy to many ailments, including tummy issues, for which you can use it to make tea. What you’ll notice about the kawakawa leaves is that some of them have a lot of holes, and some do not. This is because caterpillars feed on the leaves, and prefer the ones that taste better. So, if you should ever harvest the leaves, make sure they have lots of holes!

Last year I tried to sign up for a kawakawa balm-making class but it was canceled due to lockdown. Recently I finally got my chance to learn how to make the balm, but, perhaps even more fascinating, I had a spiritual experience. 

“What I thought would just a lesson in making a balm, turned out to be so much more.”

Learning about the native plant life and their healing properties. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2021, All Rights Reserved.

I chose to work with Tia from Native Healing Herbals. I went with my friend Gail. As soon as I entered Tia’s home I felt at peace. Many Native American drums and dream catchers were visible on counters and surfaces, along with crystals.

We began the day talking about spiritual practice and learning how the moon cycle impacts the medicinal strength of plants. I was intrigued to learn they are most potent during a full moon. We were a day before it. Apparently, the full moon draws things to the surface; for humans this is when our emotions are strongest, for plants this is when their medicinal properties become strongest. 

After learning about plant and lunar properties in Tia’s home, we went outside. We were told to walk over to the circle of walking sticks and stand by the one that called to us. I had actually noticed one, in particular, calling to me from Tia’s home, so immediately stood by it. Tia walked around us with her drum in a connection ceremony. Towards the end, I found myself also connecting to a second walking stick. I was instructed to take both of them for our forest walk. I learned, later, that the one that had first called to me was of Monoao wood. It’s special quality is to gift reassurance and confidence to people with a sensitive nature and help them follow their dreams and aspiration. It brings your heart in alignment wth your life purpose and strengthens your ability to be who you truly are. I got goosebumps reading all its qualities as so much speaks to exactly what I’m doing now. 

Kumarohoe – great for chest infections and coughs

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Tia took us to the entrance of the Wharepuke Falls walk. Before venturing in, we did a spiritual cleansing which grounded us and connected us to nature. We learned that the plants we need most are the first we find, on the outskirts of the forest, and the ones we need less are deeper into the forest. Nature’s wisdom leaves me in awe. As I think of it now, the fact that there are natural plants with the same medicinal properties around the world, in different forms, is an amazing feat of nature.

As we passed by various plants, Tia let us know what they are, and their medicinal properties. We enjoyed moments with the trees and walking in silence in the woods. Finally, we returned to Tia’s to make our balm. Just before we said goodbye to the forest we said our thanks, did another spiritual cleansing, and upon returning to Tia’s had another drum ceremony to return our walking sticks to the circle.

We made a kawakawa balm and a lip balm (I went for purple!). I was so excited to learn how to do it and how easy it is. When we finally said our goodbyes, it was poignant as the energy in Tia’s home is so lovely I felt like staying forever. Tia even seemed like someone I met in a previous life.  

My friend Gail and I drove home and had dinner. While washing dishes I suddenly felt, well, not quite in my body. I confided to Gail that I felt a bit discombobulated. She looked at me for a long moment, and then we burst into a fit of giggles. It was euphoric. I went outside and thanked the almost full moon for illuminating us. I went to sleep happy, with no stress at all, and sleeping a perfect sleep.

The class inspired me to keep going. Having returned to my beloved Wharepuke, which is the perfect environment of nature, and having a kawakawa plant just a few steps from my porch, I made another batch of kawakawa balm, and dared to try it with hemp oil and a bit of honey. I used jars from the Op Shop which cost a mere 20 cents NZD each. I infused the balm with love, making sure to pick the leaves one week after the full moon on the day of Matariki to add a bit of magic.

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