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New Zealand flax, also sometimes referred to as Harakeke, is a flowering plant that for hundreds of years has been used for everything from clothing material to housewares. One of its better known uses, however, is as a medicinal plant. This plant is said to be a powerful antiseptic and vermifuge, and has even been used as splints and bandages to help secure broken bones and heal open wounds.
As the juice of the New Zealand flax has antiseptic properties, it is frequently used to help heal the skin. It is often made into poultices, or cream-like masses, that can be applied to a number of skin problems such as rashes or burns, as well as to open wounds. The sticky sap has also been applied to the skin to help cure ringworm.
In addition to healing ringworm, the sap is sometimes used on boils, abscesses, and varicose ulcers. When applied directly to an abscess or boil, these plants are said to bring the skin eruptions to a head, thus helping to relieve pain. The sap is thought to be especially useful for painful external ailments, as it is said to have a mild anesthetic property, and has even been used to sooth toothaches.
Almost all parts of New Zealand flax can be used as medicine. The rhizome, or the bulbous rootstock, typically has external applications, while the leaves and roots are generally used both externally and internally. As an internal medicine, this plant is best known as a vermifuge — a medicine that helps to remove parasites and worms from the intestinal tract.
Internally, this plant has also been used to help treat a number of stomach-related ailments, such as indigestion and constipation. It has also been used to help normalize irregular menstrual cycles. In addition to direct medicinal usage, this plant has long been utilized as bandages to help keep open and stitched wounds clean, keep broken bones stabilized, and to cleanly tie off umbilical cords.
Historically, New Zealand flax has been a staple of the Maori people for hundreds of years. In fact, the uses of this plant became so important that when told that it did not grow in Europe, some chiefs asked, “How is it possible to live there without it?” During the mid-1700s, however, European explorers began to discover the usefulness of this plant and took the news back to their own native countries.