Te Tairāwhiti researchers find answer to skin diseases, acne and eczema in Kānuka

By Jessica Tyson

The Kānuka tree has always been considered as the poor cousin to Mānuka, but researchers and landowners in Te Tairāwhiti are realising its potential as a means of creating a natural health product and income for whānau.

Today at a wānanga was held in Ruatoria to discuss the tree’s valuable role in the environment.

Directors of Hikurangi Enterprises says research has proven Kānuka to be high in antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial components, and has the potential to be used in products that could help whānau who have skin diseases, acne or eczema.

“A lot of our whanau suffer from these ailments and go a life time with not being able to find a rongoā that can help,” she says.

Hikurangi Bioactives Limited Partnership, a joint venture between Hikurangi Enterprises Limited, New Zealand Nutraceuticals Limited and Hikurangi Bioactives General Partner Limited, has been studying the plant from land blocks in Te Tairāwhiti.  

“We're looking at Kānuka protecting our water ways, in some of our erosion problems, on some of our land at the same time as creating an income stream through maybe nutraceuticals, the health industry.”

Irene Lopez-Ubiria says "Kanuka has an enormous ecological value, because of the way it controls erosion and increases biodiversity by creating suitable conditions for native forest to regenerate.”

Students at Victoria University have also been studying the plant including Tia Huia Haira of Tuhourangi, Whakaue, Rangiteaorere and Te Arawa.

Haira is near completion of her Master of Biomedical Science at the university and her thesis investigates various antimicrobial activities of Kānuka extracts in collaboration with Hikurangi Bioactives.

“We're going to look at validating some of the results we've had so far in the lab and also look at other potential properties Kānuka will have.”

Associate Professor at Unitec Institute of Technology Dr Peter de Lange, associate Professor at Unitec believes Māori landowners should be the ones to take charge and have the greatest potential to make it a success.

“From growing the tree on their land, right through to actually selling the product,” he says.

New Zealand is the world's third-largest exporter of honey, including Mānuka honey. So there's high hopes for Kānuka.

“There are things in Kānuka that might be able to save a lot of people in the world if we study them properly.”