Maku anō e hanga tōku nei whare. Ko ngā poupou he mahoe, he pātete, Ko te tāhuhu he hīnau. Me whakatupu ki te hua o te rengarenga Me whakapakari ki te hua o te kawariki.
I shall build my own house. The ridge-pole will be of hīnau and the supporting posts of mahoe and patete. Raise the people with the fruit of the rengarenga, and nurtured on kawariki.
- King Tāwhiao
May we be nourished by the fruit of Rengarenga.
Rengarenga or Maikaika (Arthropodium cirratum) is a rock lily and she is in flower right now. I chose Rengarenga as the rongoā of the month because she has so many elements and a quiet countenance. The plant forms large colonies and would have been ideal as a food crop in times past. She was once revered for her starchy rhizome and cultivated for kai. In the wild her roots are small because she normally grows out of cliffs and rocky ground. When cultivated though, her roots are larger and more palatable. The roots were cooked in hangi or roasted over the fire and taste similar to a potato. I can imagine this would have been a staple kai for dietary requirements and grown abundantly. It has been recorded being grown around pā sites at the end of the 19th century.
Rengarenga has broad flat leaves. She has crisp white petals with a delicate design of purple and yellow anthers. The stamens are curled at the end like an unfurling koru symbolising a kowhaikowhai pattern. In fact, the expression of the Rengarenga anthers are used in many kowhaiwhai.
As a rongoa, the roots of rengarenga were roasted over a fire, pulped and applied warm to abscesses and tumours to bring them to the surface and help the healing process.
The lower end of the leaves were pounded into a pulp and applied to the body as a poultice to treat ulcers and sores. The gel can easily be seen at the end of the leaves and this also can be used for convenience.
I have used the gel for boils and pimples as it is highly astringent. It stings a little when applied. I was taught in my teenage years that stinging is part of the healing process so I learned to love it, especially when it came to pimples. I remember applying mums perfume and toothpaste onto pimples for the stinging effect. The more sting, the better! And it worked a treat! Now I use plants, a much more natural method.
Not all skin types will appreciate the strength of the gel so please be mindful of this.
I’m considering growing rengarenga as a food crop to learn more about it. I hold the whakatauki above with great reverence and know there is immense significance in King Tawhiao’s vision all those years ago. I imagine what he must have seen way back then to express the whakatauki. I 'sit' with the plants to know them more and to understand what he learned from them. I believe he may have been alluding to the times we are in now or soon to come. Our food and seeds being modified, it's way out of balance. It is so important to learn about our native plants because they grow on our soil and are more attuned to our body. It's all about life-force and fuelling ourselves with primal nutrients. Remember what our ancestors ate and how they prepared them. Our plants have the probiotics that we need and they knew all about fermentation. They knew the importance of starch which brings us back to Rengarenga.
He taonga tuku iho xx
Written by Joanne Hakaraia-Olson