If you’ve read other Kawakawa tea recipes, this method isn’t anything new. But here’s a fun story about kawakawa you can tell your tea drinking friends and family.

As a good luck charm, Maori would place a sprig of kawakawa under the bed when they’re having sex with the plan to conceive. This makes the kawakawa tree an important tree for Maori families at all stages of their life.

Next up is the recipe, what you’re here for. But continue reading beyond the recipe to learn more about the kawakawa plant, including which leaves are the best to harvest.

1. GIVE ME THE RECIPE
2. Tips for harvesting leaves
3. Benefits of kawakawa tea
4. Fun facts about kawakawa
5. Resources

HOW TO MAKE KAWAKAWA TEA
(IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE)

a glass of kawakawa tea

After straining, you’ll be left with a soft yellow coloured liquid (p.s. don’t pour hot water into a glass like this!)

Makes 500 mls of tea and takes ~20 minutes assuming you’ve already harvested your kawakawa leaves.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • 8-10 fresh kawakawa leaves
  • 500 ml of water
  • 1x pot

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Harvest 8 – 10 kawakawa leaves.
2. Lightly rinse the kawakawa leaves in cold water (you can lightly tear them if you like).
3. Pour 500 ml of water in a pot.
4. Bring the water to a boil.
5. Add the tea leaves to the boiling water (optional: 1 cm of finely cut/grated ginger).
6. Immediately bring the water to a simmer.
7. Simmer for 15 minutes.
8. Strain the tea to serve (optional: add lemon or infuse with green tea).
9. Drink up!

I made a silly little video of the process too.

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TIPS FOR HARVESTING KAWAKAWA LEAVES

kawakawa tea leaves

It’s not complicated, but here are a few tips for harvesting the soft-dark green heart-shaped leaves.

  • The leaves with holes are fine to eat. Recent studies have said that when the nocturnal looper caterpillar1 eats the plant, it will produce more active compounds (good things) in the area where the wholes are.
  • Pick the dark green leaves. If they’re dry and rolling up, they’ve got a disease.
  • The leaves on the side of the tree the sun shines on are thought to be best.
  • The kawakawa plant is abundant in coastal areas where there’s lowland forest. You shouldn’t have any troubles finding kawakawa in anywhere there are native plants.
  • 8-10 leaves are enough for one pot of tea.

p.s. If you’re not familiar with the kawakawa, double-check you’re harvesting the right plant.

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KAWAKAWA TEA BENEFITS

kawa kawa tea leaves

Some call the kawakawa a pharmacy in a plant as it’s well known for its medicinal properties (it’s anti-microbial and anti-parasitic).

When the leaves are brewed as a tea, it’s know to:

  • help soothe digestive problems and sore throats
  • be a diuretic which helps urinaly tract health
  • act as an anti-inflammatory
  • help prevent liver damage
  • eliminate wind a.k.a. farts (I cannot confirm this yet…)

Note: It does not contain caffeine.

When the Maori first arrived in New Zealand, the kawakawa roots and leaves were boiled for its aphrodisiac properties. It was super powerful as a herbal drink, used to treat gonorrhea, worms, and to address chest, kidney, and bladder pains. People would even take baths infused with kawakawa leaves to treat boils, skin issues, and bruises.

These practices aren’t known to be commonplace, nor recommended today.

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SOME FACTS ABOUT KAWAKAWA

kawakawa leaf

  • The scientific name of kawakawa is piper excelsum. The word piper comes from the Indian name for pepper which makes sense as there’s a peppery taste to the leaf when eaten and brewed in the tea. The species name, excelsum, means tall which separates the plant from others in the same family. Although it only grows up to 4 metres tall).
  • The Maori word for kawa is bitter and is thought to be a modified form of the word kava, this also makes sense. The kawakawa is often associated with its cousin the kava (Piper methysticum). Unlike Kava which is a popular intoxicant in the Pacific, kawakawa won’t make you feel drunk.
  • You may see the plant referred to as the New Zealand pepper tree, bush pepper, and bush basil.
  • When eating the leaf, it has strong painkilling properties which feel like you’re going numb (do not consume in large quantities). This is useful for soothing toothaches. When Maori mothers wanted to wean their children off breastfeeding, they used to rub their breasts with kawakawa because of the numbing sensations it produces.
  • The kawakawa leaf is becoming more popular in mainstream culture. There are even a refreshing beer and a liqueur based on the kawakawa leaves. Other uses for the leaves include ice cream, custards, cakes, as a general garnish and some use it as a replacement for vanilla. Two of the pioneers in popularising kawakawa are Charles Royal and Johanna Know (I refer to her book in the resources section).
  • The fruit on the kawakawa plant is edible, with both the female and male trees producing fruit. The fruit on male trees is rarely eaten as it doesn’t change colour from its unripened green state. The fruit on the female trees ripens to an orange-yellow colour, if you beat the birds to them. Some compare the taste to passionfruit or pawpaw, it’s certainly sweet. There’s a spike in the centre of the fruit, which when removed can leave a fruit that doesn’t look out of place on a fruit salad. And unless you’re making pepper-corn, there’s no need to eat the seeds in the centre.
  • If you go into New Zealand supermarkets or health stores you might see kawakawa promoted as a key ingredient in some products. A prominent one I noticed is Ti Ora, a herbal and botanical tea company.
  • And yes, people have tried smoking kawakawa leaves. Other than a mild numbing effect, the results have been resounding and it’s not recommended to try this yourself.
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    AN AMERICAN LEARNS ABOUT KAWAKAWAY

    kawakawa leaves

    The first time I made kawakawa tea was documented on video thanks to my mate Garrett!

    Garrett’s vlogs are super high quality, you should give his ones from New Zealand a watch (the ones published in 2019). In the video below the kawakawa makes an appearance at the four-minute mark, and we taste the kawakawa tea towards the end.

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    RESOURCES

    These were useful places I found for information while making this post:

    If you’ve got any questions about kawakawa tea, send me an email to jub@churnewzealand.com or leave a comment below. If you try making it yourself, let me know how you get on!


    RECOMMENDED READING

    200+ Things to do in New Zealand

    You’ve made tea from a native plant, what’s next on your list? This list will give you some ideas.

    Walking The Hemi Matenga Track

    If you do the Hemi Matenga walk, you’ll have no shortage of opportunities to forage for kawakawa leaves.

    Rating Wellington’s vegan burgers

    I haven’t found a kawakawa infused vegan burger yet. But if there’s, I’ll definitely give it a go!