Māmaki, An Essential Farmaceutical

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Māmaki is one of the most well-known endemic plants of Hawaiʻi. Its increasing popularity can be attributed to a desire for more natural approaches to health with holistic benefits that extend far beyond what conventional medicine can provide. For Native Hawaiians, its use is also a recognition and appreciation that our cultural plants were our medicine.

In ka wā kahiko, the māmaki plant was used in various ways. The bark of the māmaki was used to make kapa for clothing, nets, cordage and paper. The trunk and branches were used to make tools. Its fruit was used to treat constipation. Leaves were made into tea and taken plain or in combination with other herbs, depending on the health condition being treated. Often times, the tea was taken to overcome physical fatigue and exhaustion.

The wisdom of our ancestors supports the use of māmaki tea in lowering blood pressure and blood cholesterol. It is also used for improving mood and lowering anxiety.

Modern research has expanded its medicinal value. Māmaki has been demonstrated to help prevent infections. It is shown effective against certain bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus (which causes boils and other skin infections, pneumonia, sepsis, and food poisoning) and Streptococcus pyogenes (causes strep throat, impetigo, and rheumatic fever). Māmaki can be considered an anti-fungal, particularly against those types that cause ringworm, athlete’s foot, jock itch or nail fungus. It also has anti-viral potential against herpes simplex 1 & 2 and HIV.

Māmaki leaves, dried then made into tea, are potent in lowering inflammation. The process of drying or dehydrating the leaves first helps to release anti-inflammatory chemicals for absorption in the body. Lowering inflammation is important, as this also lowers the risk or further progression of heart disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, and diabetes. It also makes it easier to lose weight. For a boost in slowing and preventing dementia, include dried māmaki fruit as well, as it may help to repair brain cells, restore its function, and remove plaques.

The antioxidant potential in māmaki tea is similar to green tea, more than black or oolong tea, and 40 times greater than juiced fruits, including cucumber, lilikoi, lemon, and papaya. This is amazing, considering many of these have been recognized by leading health organizations for their disease-fighting abilities.

Brewing time of māmaki leaves will vary, depending on your personal preference. A general recommendation would be one to two teaspoons of dried māmaki leaves per cup of water for brewing. Once the water starts to boil, turn off the stove and steep the leaves for about 15 minutes before drinking. If you are not planning on drinking the tea immediately, place it in the refrigerator as soon as it cools to prevent nutrient loss. Hot or iced māmaki tea can be combined with fruit slices and other herbs to mix up the flavors.

If adding māmaki to your homegrown farmacy, propagate plants from cuttings for more successful and quicker growth.