Kawakawa, in your hands.


Lets think about self care, in particular, your hands.


In natural dyeing, like many forms of art, your hands are your most important tools. Obvious right? Mine are often wet from being in buckets of mordant or indigo, or from rinsing fabrics. I handle prickly plants (think roses, grevillea) or plants that are poisonous (rhubarb, oxalis) or plants I may potentially have allergies to. There's the odd metal salt, vinegar and the constant washing with soaps too. If I'm not careful I develop a mild excema which you will know, if you've ever had it, becomes sore and itchy and a bit darn ugly.

I know, I know! I should wear gloves but, confession time, I hardly ever do *slaps self on wrist*.


I started making Kawakawa infused balm and use it every day on my hands and guess what? It really helps, so I'm going to share with you my recipe for natural Kawakawa balm for skin care. It's pretty easy and inexpensive to make but like natural dyeing, it takes time. At least 2 weeks. Better get started.


Kawakawa aka Pepper Tree, or Piper excelsum is truly a wonder plant, a super herb that is used traditionally in rongoa Māori for skin disorders, rheumatism, toothache, wound care, bruises, muscle cramps, detoxing, parasites and indigestion. It can be taken externally as ointment, or internally as tea or in smoothies. It's also tasty to eat on a pizza and is even in some craft beers. Incredible really. I wish I'd discovered it earlier.

Beautiful heart shaped leaves of Kawakawa

There are several ways to prepare the balm. My recipe is adapted from This NZ Life, but check out other recipes on the net if you don't want to wait 2 weeks. Personally, I find this parallels with my art practice. I love entering the ngahere (bush) to forage for leaves and then the anticipation of following the process through to a finished product. Very satisfying. BTW Radio NZ has a interesting audio on foraging for Kawakawa in their archives.


Kawakawa is a native endemic to Aotearoa and you can find it growing pretty much everywhere especially in the shade of the bush. When you approach it, greet the plant and say a quiet thank you (refer to my journal post about tikanga around harvesting) If possible harvest from several different plants. Choose leaves with the the most holes chewed by the Looper caterpillar. Trust the caterpillars to know which leaves are the most medicinal.


What you need.

About 12 freshly picked kawakawa leaves

100 mls olive oil

15 grms natural beeswax

20 drops lavender oil

Few drops of Vitamin E oil (optional)

Large clean glass jar

Piece of clean muslin cloth

Double boiler pot and an old spoon or wooden spatula

2 x 60 ml glass jars(or equivalent) with lids



Shred the leaves with your hands into little pieces and place them in the jar. Cover with the olive oil and seal the lid. Record the date on the jar and keep it in a dark cool spot. Sometimes I leave this for 6 weeks to infuse, but 2 will do. Turn the jar every few days.

After waiting patiently, strain the oil from the leaves through a fine muslin cloth into the double boiler. Return the spent leaves to the earth, either at the place of collection or in the compost.

Heat the Kawakawa infused oil gently, then add the beeswax. Don't boil it, just heat enough to melt the wax and thoroughly mix the two ingredients together with a spoon.

Remove from the heat and add the lavender oil, about 2 mls, which is around 20 drops. Use less if you prefer a lighter fragrance.

Quickly pour the mix into the small jars and leave to set. Pop the lids on, make a label if you wish.

And you're done.! Scale the recipe up if you want to make more. Massage into your hands liberally. Better still, make a cuppa, relax and get someone else to massage it in for you.



Alternatively, if DIY is not your thing, order a pot from my online store, I'll make you a batch and post it to you anywhere within NZ. It may just take a few weeks..........


Enjoy!














All imagery copyrighted to Karen Williamson and may not be reproduced in any way without  express permission.