For some, the bush is merely a random scattering of trees, a jumble of ferns, a tangle of roots, but Ruatau Perez and Tracey Te Paa see more. Through their eyes, the bush holds the power to heal and restore wellbeing.
Ruatau’s grandmother practised rongoa, traditional Maori healing.
"I grew up with plants. I love nature and I have a real connection to it. It’s a big part of my health and wellbeing," Ruatau says. "You can converse with nature if you take the time to sit and be. For some it’s the ocean, for me it’s bush."
For hundreds of years Maori have used natural methods to aid health, from managing skin conditions to aiding fertility, with a combination of plants and an awareness of the spiritual causes of sickness. Today, rongoa is seeing a resurgence of interest; Ruatau and his partner Tracey have combined their knowledge of nature’s healing properties to good use.
"The bush has always been our pharmacy; it’s where we get things to align, to rebalance. There are so many healing properties within our plants," Tracey says. Kawakawa can aid skin conditions like eczema, manuka has anti-viral properties good for boils and chicken pox, while the anti-inflammatory tupakihi leaves can assist in healing broken bones, arthritis and muscular tears.
Shadowing his grandmother’s practice, Ruatau uses psychological and physical techniques: mirimiri and romiromi. He works to shift blockages within the body that he believes are passed down in a person’s DNA.
Tracey was left feeling worn out from a career in television producing when she decided to take her knowledge further. Now, she makes healing ointments and teas from native plants. And she helps those who are unwell dig deeper to unearth the catalyst to their condition.
"Plants and creams will look after the symptoms, but it will keep flaring up if the catalyst hasn’t been dealt with. Plants have their own genealogy, just like you and me. There’s a lot of mana, pride, when you know where you come from and are aware of those connections. Out of that comes a product that has amazing healing properties because of that attention and knowledge," she says.
Both Ruatau and Tracey say there isn't a right or wrong answer for the age-old debate of natural versus conventional medicine and they encourage people to use a combination, if need be.
Tracey knows first-hand the impact nature has had on her own wellbeing after her career change and says it’s rewarding helping others find that same happiness. "It’s about empowering people to own their wellbeing," she says.
"We have the power to be well through the choices we make. To find happiness, you need to dig deep and face some hard times, but it will be worth it. That knowledge is such a gift."
Reported by Monica Tischler for our AA Directions Summer 2016. issue