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Harakeke-NZ Flax-An iconic Plant

Harakeke, Phormium tenax, isn't exactly an aromatic plant, but it does have plenty of healing properties. Nothing screams out 'New Zealand' more than an image of our native flax in flower! Further background about the plant can be found here Currently I am surrounded by a variety of them in my garden- planted as short a time as two years ago and they all have swung into a tremendous flowering action, some with spikes almost 3 metres tall. Like a triffid the spikes seem to appear almost over night.  My plants have a number of very practical uses- firstly to assist with drainage of a heavy clay soil with a high water table; secondly for shelter and privacy; thridly to attract more nativve birds (like our TUI) who feast of the nectar; and lastly (but by no means least) I collect the seeds and use as a co distillation with lavender hydrosol to incorporate into products.  
The uses of flax historically is entrenched in Maori culture and history, and early Maori could not believe the plant did not grown in England.
Close up early flowering Phormium tenax October 2014.  !st flowering
Phormium tenax in flower November 2014 . 2 year old plants. 1st year flowering. height 2.7 m
In Maori mythology harakeke is descended from one of the sons of Rangi (The Sky Father) and Haumia Tiketike (God of fernroots). It has long been used both in traditional healing as well as an industrial product. It's spiritual uses included being used as a type of medium to predict whether a person would recover, by the sound it would make. The jelly like substance in the leaves was used both externally and internally. this gum is called 'Pia Harakeke' and even in the 1890's was recognised as being similar to gum Arabic (Source: Maori healing and Herbal, NZ Ethnobotanical Source Book; Murdoch Riley, 1994). In modern skin care Harakeke has become quite a 'trendy' additive to many products. one skincare line in South Korea is completely centred around the Harakeke plant. Currently there is not a huge amount of information around the therapeutic benefits of harakeke and the various parts of the plant in relation to skin care uses.  Another company is using oil extracted from the seeds in their products Commercially prepared extracts are available, which are typically from the hydrolysed gel and reconstituted in an excipient such as glycerine or alcohol. This website looks more in to the fibre benefits of harakeke. Further details on potnetial uses as a medicinal herb can be found at the NZ Association of Medical Herbalists website. In the meantime I will enjoy looking as these majestic stalks waving firmly in our crisp spring wind and being in awe of their potential!.
Wendy

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