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International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms
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ISSN Online: 1940-4344

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International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms

DOI: 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v7.i3.470
402 pages

Medicinal Uses of Fungi by New Zealand Maori People

Rebekah Fuller
Landcare Research, Private Bag 92170, Auckland, New Zealand
Peter Buchanan
Landcare Research, Private Bag 92170, Auckland, New Zealand
Mere Roberts
Landcare Research, Private Bag 92170, Auckland, New Zealand


Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, arriving about a thousand years ago from Polynesia and developing a tribal society based on natural resources of the forest, the sea, and fresh water. In the absence of written language prior to European colonization, transfer of knowledge by the Maori was oral. Early European explorers and ethnographers documented many significant features of Maori traditional knowledge. Much detail of their knowledge relating to fungi, however, appears to have been lost through disruption of oral transmission from elders to the young. This is indicated, for example, by the lack of known correlation between many of the 183 Maori names for different species of fungi and Latin binomials and lack of knowledge of the use of most species.
Fungi were not recognized as a natural grouping by Maori, and only recently has the word for Armillaria spp. (“harore”) been selected as the most appropriate generic term in Maori for all fungi. Consumption of mushrooms was the main use of fungi by Maori although mushrooms were not considered a prize food. Other uses included tinder and fire carrying (Laetiporus portentosus), a source of charcoal as pigment for “ta moko”—tatoo (Cordyceps robertsii), and as an environmental indicator (Armillaria spp. and mushrooms in general).
A recent attempt to collate Maori knowledge about fungi included a survey of published reports as well as interviews with Maori elders and younger Maori. Documented medicinal uses appear to be limited to six fungal species, and only one of these was known to interviewees. Detailed information is often lacking about preparation and application of the mushrooms and the definitive symptom(s) that were treated:

  • Agrocybe parasitica (tawaka) for treatment of fever, and given to expectant mothers (purpose unclear) and for those poisoned by toxic plants (Corynocarpus laevigatus, karaka, and Coriaria arborea, tutu).
  • Auricularia cornea (hakeke) for those poisoned by toxic plants (karaka and tutu).
  • Calvatia spp. (pukurau) as an anaesthetic, to staunch bleeding, and as pain relief following scalding.
  • Cordyceps robertsii (awheto) for asthma.
  • Laetiporus portentosus (putawa) as a wound protector, to soften and ease a difficult labor.
  • Usnea sp. (lichen) skin treatment.
There is an urgent need to encourage documentation of indigenous knowledge of fungi from other nations to avoid potential loss of this knowledge. From a New Zealand perspective, further understanding of uses of fungi by other South Pacific peoples could indicate additional species that might have been used for medicinal purposes by Maori.

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