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Foraging & Tikanga in Aotearoa

Updated: May 11, 2021

Nuku means earth, in Te Reo Māori as in Papatūānuku, the earth mother. You may call her by other names like Gaia, Mother Nature, Saami. Whichever you identify with, there is recognition that earth is a life giving force, a concept aligned closely with being female. Papatūānuku gives me what I need for my dyeing - plants, leaves, bark, seeds and flowers all come from her. These are taonga (treasures) which hold their own Mauri (life force) and so for me, this means following sustainable practices to protect her treasured resources. But I'm also mindful of Tikanga Māori, traditional protocols that ensure responsible practices are upheld and will have been followed by our Tīpuna (ancestors) who traditionally harvested plants for medicine, dyes, weaving and tanning. Ko Ngati Tauiwi ahau (I am non Māori) and like everyone, I do not have access to these taonga as a right, but if I follow Tikanga as best I can I am acknowledging my responsibilities to Papatūānuku, to Tangata Whenua and to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. So I have put together a list of ways to behave respectfully while harvesting dye stuffs. I know it's not inclusive or perfect, these are just my thoughts, I'd love to hear your own.

Tread gently on the earth

Check with Tangata Whenua if you suspect the area is tapu (sacred). You may be near a burial site.

Ask permission from owners if on private land or on DOC land.

Avoid polluted areas which are noa (dirty)

Grow your own plants if you have the space or if not, source locally.

Take care in selecting appropriate plants, ones that are plentiful. Take only what you need, a little bit from each. Carefully observe the environment. It has a lot to teach you.

Harvest in the early morning if possible.

Don't take from the plant without asking. Mihi (greet it), offer a karakia (prayer) or thanks.

Remember hygiene especially if dyeing in your kitchen. Use dedicated pots and utensils and research what is poison (tutu).

If using an edible dye source eg. red cabbage, be mindful that food comes with it's own tikanga.

Don't be wasteful with water, it's precious.

Store dyes in glass. Plastic is seriously not good for Mother Earth. Use up all the left overs.

Return what is left over from the process back to the earth, to the forest floor or your compost.

Support one another as eco dyer practitioners. Collaboration is the new competition.


I acknowledge Rob McGowan and his book "Rongoa Māori" (Kale Print, 2009) as an essential resource for all eco-dyers in New Zealand.

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