Friday, December 4, 2009

Kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum)

Reposted from 2008 - with some changes and additions:

Kawakawa leaves bring delicious flavours to both sweet and savoury dishes. Choose the leaves that have been eaten by bugs.

Kawakawa has various powerful medicinal properties. It contains painkilling compounds, and is a mild sedative. It belongs to the same family as kava and black pepper.

Round Wellington the little orange fruits on the female trees ripen during summer. The sweet pulp tastes passionfruity, and the seeds are quite hot (like black pepper, rather than chilli).

They ripen to some extent off the bush. Don't pick the completely green ones - they won't. But if they're starting to blush orange, they'll complete their ripening quite easily sitting on your shelf or table or windowsill.

I'm not sure exactly how long they keep for, but once I picked some on a Monday afternoon and they were still good by late Thursday night.

Also, 'Mike' has recently suggested in the comments to this entry that they freeze well. Definitely going to try that this year! (And do read the comments - people are doing some yummy things with kawakawa.)

More on kawakawa from Martin Nicholls
I got a great email from Martin Nicholls, a forager who uses native herbs a lot.

On kawakawa Martin says:
I agree wholeheartedly on the use of kawakawa and get stuck into its fruit whenever available, but I have found it can act as a powerful laxative if one over-indulges in it!  

Seeds are a very useful spice in cooking, especially with pork or lamb.  I have heard it said that an alcoholic punch made from the fruit is a powerful aphrodisiac, but I have no personal experience of this (nor would I admit it if it were!).  

I, myself, am sceptical because alcohol itself can loosen one's sexual inhibitions so I suspect attributing blame to kawakawa fruit might be a convenient excuse.

Kawakawa links:
Chocolate-coated kawakawa berry recipe
Kawakawa honey ice cream recipe
Maori medicine
Charles Royal
Bushman's friend
Google Images


Anna said...

I dry the leaves and use them as a tea with lemongrass and ginger

Food to die for, not to die from said...

As soon as we get to the bush we make Kawakaawa and honey billie tea.It is cleansing, refreshing and delicious. Use the holey leaves Caterpillars love the best

~PakKaramu~ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Heather said...

Hi Johanna,

Really enjoyed your kawakawa piece on TWU last week :-) I'm keen to try kawakawa pizza now! We have a big bush that we planted about 4 years ago (unfortunately it seems to be male...).

I tried making kawakawa kefir myself this week after your mentioning it. I was presuming it was a water-based kefir, not a milk one. How did you go about it? I made 750mL out of tea made from 5 kawakawa leaves, about 2 rounded desert spoons of sugar, 2 dates and half a lemon. It was a bit strongly flavoured for me - next time I'll either do more sugar or less kawakawa or both! But I love kawakawa tea and think I could come up with something yum from this, too.

I agree that water kefir is fun because you can flavour it so many different ways. I make it ginger about half the time, but I often do elderflower (my husband's favourite), fenugreek or peppermint and have experimented with orange, blackcurrant, fennel seeds, lemon, lavender, tamarind, loquat seeds and all sorts! Next on my list are chamomile and lime leaves (not together, though!). I'd love to exchange ideas with you and what you've found does and doesn't work well :-)


--Heather :-)

mike said...

The orange fruits freeze well, too, so you can stock up for post-summer. We keep a little plastic jar full of them.

Defrost, chop finely, add to your falafel or meatballs and get that unique flavour.... Mmm.

Johanna Knox said...

Thanks for the comments.

Anna - I will try the lemongrass and ginger conbo!

Heather - yes it's water kefir, although you can use spare grains of milk kefir for non-milk things too - they just might get a bit unhealthy after a while! (Sandor Katz recommends giving them regular 'rests' in milk if you're going to use them for other stuff as well ...)

The dates are a good idea. I haven't used those in kefir.

I think I made my kawakawa kefir even stronger than yours, but I had been thinking that it wouldn't be to everyone's taste like that, so I will try it with less kawakawa next time.

Did you get the analgesic effect on your mouth and tongue from the quantity you used?

Aside from that I probably did pretty much the same as you.

Mike - thanks for the tips about freezing and adding to falafels and meat patties!!

FTDFNTDF - yum. :)

Heather said...

Hi Johanna,

It's a while since I last made some, but I'm pretty sure there was a slight numbing effect. I notice it occasionally with kawakawa tea, too.


David said...

A while back I made a beer using Kawakaawa leaves instead of hops. Needed to mature for a few months before it came into it own. A nice flavor, mild but still distinctive and enjoyable.

Don't remember think it was an aphrodisiac though

Aaron said...

is the fact that it's a relative of kava the reason the fruit seems to make my tongue numb?

Johanna said...

Hi Aaron - I'm sure it must be. Take a look on wikipedia at the kava entry - and see the 'effects' section.

Not that Wikipedia is gospel! But it seems clear there are some chemical compounds in common, and some are numbing.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone contemplated steeping the kawakawa berries in alcohol? I know that the leaves are used - but i wondered about the berries - although diuretic properties may be interesting

Phil Garnock-Jones said...

The classification of kawakawa is interesting, and very relevant to this discussion. Originally it was placed in the black pepper genus Piper (as Piper excelsum), but later moved to Macropiper. Recent DNA studies have shown kawakawa and the other Macropipers to be very closely related to black pepper and so we should in my opinion go back to the earlier classification.
I tried making grinding pepper from the seeds, but I found it insipid; however I need to try again following the methods for black pepper (

chantal ana judd said...

After I had my baby my wife and her fellow midwives made natural nipple healing balm for all there new mothers from kawakawa leave.. amazing stuff.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am looking for some kawakawa leaves to put into soap making. I'm located in Wellington. Can anyone help me out as to where I could find some wild kawakawa plants?

Kim Jacobsen said...

Interesting post! But why should we choose leaves that caterpillars have eaten?

Unknown said...

Because they are the most nutritious.that's why the bugs eat them.

Unknown said...

Hi iv made kawakawa tea from fresh leaves first batch was light green second batch dark green and this mornings batch pink

Joanna Russell said...

Tuatara really enjoy kawakawa fruit too! How well do they hold their shape after you've defrosted them Mike? I'm keen to try and extend the fruit as part of an enrichment for tuatara across the summer.