Rongoā Māori: harvesting tutu for a healing balm

Rongoā Māori: harvesting tutu for a healing balm

Earlier this year we welcomed Ngāti Toa Rangatira into Te Papa to fill our iwi gallery and to be our iwi in residence for two-and-a-half years. Together with iwi leadership from Ngāti Toa and Te Papa, the exhibition Whiti Te Rā! The Story of Ngāti Toa Rangatira, and a host of events have been created for you to experience.

We are also very lucky to have Te Waari Carkeek and Whaea Rihia Kenny as our kaumatua during this period. This dynamic duo share with us their kōrero.

They would like to share with you too, and so will be posting a range of blogs focused on rongoā Māori (Māori medicine) over the next few weeks. Later in the month, there will also be an opportunity for you to meet these two lovely and generous people in person and hear more kōrero about rongoā Māori.

Five people and gatherings of tutu leaves stand in front of a river
Gathering tutu. Back: Simon Cox, Rititia Royal, Te Waari Carkeek. Front: Whaea Rihia Kenny, Ariana Te Aomarere, Roma Potiki. Otaki River is in the background. Photo by Michael Hall. Te Papa / Ngāti Toa Rangatira

As a practitioner of rongoā Māori, Te Waari belongs to a group of people who are applying ancient Māori knowledge to combat the stresses and strains of modern life.

Specialising in traditional Māori healing, using methods such as mirimiri and romiromi massage, akin to a deep tissue massage, and the use of rongoā such as that from the tutu plant augment these remedies.

The members of his group are all whānau and are descendants of Ngāti Toa Rangatira. Their skills combine with authenticity to effect both health energy and tikanga wairua. Those techniques combine as an intervention to promote physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Close up photo of people preparing to pick tutu
Te Waari Carkeek gathers tutu. Photo by Michael Hall. Te Papa & Ngāti Toa Rangatira

“Healing works on both individuals and groups,” Te Waari says. “We also attend workshops and other self-development courses to upskill and remain relevant. We have attended neuro-semantics meta coaching courses, a method similar to neuro linguistic programming but far more advanced in the techniques employed.

“We like to share our knowledge with like-minded people and assist people to understand the malaise they have and where it may have begun.”

Close up of tutu showing its vibrant and glossy green leaves
Tutu. Photo by Michael Hall. Te Papa & Ngāti Toa Rangatira

Where did this knowledge come from?

Rongoā Māori is the traditional healing system of Māori. Our tribe Ngāti Toa was a warrior tribe and their war parties would include a retinue, a group of skilled healers, men and women, who were able to apply rongoā to the injured and sick while they were on the war path.

The remedies had to be effective and quick to keep pace with the war party while on the go. Today we are introducing people to a remedy for sprains, strains, and broken bones called tutu. This same plant is known by some tribes as tupakihi.

Close up of someone rubbing tut ointment into someone else’s wrist
Tutu ointment being applied to an arthritic wrist. Photo by Michael Hall. Te Papa & Ngāti Toa Rangatira

Today the properties of tutu are also applied to ailments such as arthritis, skin rashes, and gout but is not limited to just these things. All applications of this rongoā have shown rapid improvement after a treatment with tutu.


  1. Kia ora … i have osteoarthirist in my ankle….i also take warfarin 7mg does tupakahi haave a reaction to this medication….looking forward to your reply…..

  2. I have a broken ankle and in a cast can you please help me find some rongoa for my ankle.

  3. Teena koutou…Ko Hikurangi me Motatau nga maunga…tu te ao…tu te po. Ko Hikurangi te awa. Ko Eparaima Makapi me Tau Henare nga Marae. Ko Te Orewai te hapu. Ko Ngati Hine te iwi. Ko Hineamaru te tupuna whaea. Ko Mataatua me Ngatokimatawhaorua nga waka. Ko Te Whare Tapu ko Ngapuhi-nui-tonu. Ko enei waa taatou rongoa Maori hei whakaora ano ia taatou. Kei te tuhinga wooku korero I te waa e tupu ake ana me waaku karani maamaa, karani paapaa. Ko wo koutou pikitia hei tautoko. Nga mihinui. Ngawini Shortland

  4. I also am an Islander though from Puerto Rico my ancesters were Tiano.How unfortunate to have lost alot of our ancestral remedies. They are preceous and to be respected. It is wonderful to see those who care still active in valuing their heritage and remedies.
    Many Blessings and honor to you. Miriam
    Wonderful website.

  5. Kia Ora, I am writing to you on behalf of a friend, he has a blood disorder which causes big dark red blotches all over his skin. He has tried many remedies, and calls himself the walking experiment. He remembers when he was younger (70 years ago), his mother would use this plant on whanau members and he would like to try it on his skin, please advise where I could buy some.

  6. Awesome article! My ancestors are lomi and lā’au lapa’au practitioners. Awesome to see my māori family sharing their knowledge 🙂

    1. Greetings friend, I have many wonderful things about the healing abilities of our Hawaiian family. One of my own relatives has been the beneficiary of Hawaiian healing so much so that he returned to Aotearoa half his original size (he was very large) and is now married with a young family. Life changing indeed. We are trying to instil knowledge and self awareness about what is good for us in these busy times and what mother nature has to offer at no cost accept time and respect for the things handed down from our ancestors.

  7. Tino rawe! So proud of the work coming through and the many beautiful opportunities ahead! Exciting and powerful. Nga mihi!

  8. Tutu is a very strong rongoa when applied externally, but is highly poisonous, so should not be eaten, used near the mouth or taken internally.

    1. Tutu is poisonous in it natural state and has been responsible for the death of cows and other animals when eaten by them. The Rongoa we use however is not poisonous because of the process we use to change it from its raw state into the rongoa we make. Tutu is used externally by us after it has been processed for at lest 48 hours.

  9. Are any of the research companies looking into any of these plants and their effect?



    1. Landcare Research / Manaaki Whenua have done some work on this plant.

  10. Roma very kindly shared a small amount of the tutu ointment with me to apply to my badly bruised foot and toe. The bruising disappeared very quickly and the stiffness and swelling eased overnight. I was surprised and thankful at how effective this ointment was. Thank you Te Waari and thank you for sharing it with me Roma – generous as always.


  11. Hello
    Could you please tell me how I can obtain your tutu cream? I would like to try it on my arthritic knees.
    Thank you for your help

    1. Author

      Kia ora Teresa – We are hosting a korero here at Te Papa on the 24th of October (next Friday) with Te Waari and Kui RIhia. Following this there will be chance for you to meet some people who make the tutu ointment (Rititia and Simon) and it will be available for purchase. I hope this helps.

      Mauri Ora

  12. Awesome kaupapa Khali, and lovely to read the blog and check out the photos! Nga mihi ki a koutou.

    1. Author

      Thank you Chrissie – don’t forget to show the kaumatua this in live time =)

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