Kawakawa ointment

Kawakawa (Piper excelsum), a traditional Maori medicinal plant found in New Zealand. In rongoā Maori it is revered as taonga and has been used in many ways, most commonly medicinally as a balm, but also ingested as teas, to relieve toothache (chew an leaf) and used in cooking. It has a peppery taste and, not surprisingly, is a relative of black pepper (Piper nigrum). I, myself, use it dried and crushed on roasted vegetables, to season roasts and in my steak rub (which also contains horopito, another delicious culinary and medicinal herb!)

Kawakawa offers various potential topical benefits for the skin:

  1. Anti-Inflammatory: Kawakawa has natural anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce redness, swelling, and inflammation in the skin. It’s beneficial for conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and acne. It can also help alleviate joint and muscle pain.
  2. Skin Healing: Kawakawa supports the healing of minor cuts, wounds, and insect bites. It may help prevent infection and speed up the recovery process.
  3. Antioxidant: Kawakawa contains antioxidants that protect the skin from free radical damage, promoting a healthier and more youthful appearance.
  4. Moisturizing: It has hydrating properties that can alleviate dry or chapped skin, leaving it softer and more supple.
  5. Relief for Skin Irritations: Kawakawa can provide relief from various skin irritations, including itching, rashes, and sunburn.
  6. Soothing: It has a soothing effect on the skin, which can be particularly useful for sensitive or irritated skin.
  7. Natural Skin Cleanser: Some people use kawakawa as a natural skin cleanser due to its cleansing and purifying qualities.
  8. Pain Relief: Traditionally used to relieve pain in sore muscles and joints due to its analgesic properties.

Kawakawa contains a variety of compounds with diverse therapeutic properties, some of which are oil-soluble (lipophilic) and others that are water-soluble (hydrophilic). Two of the main compounds in kawakawa are pellitorine and yangambin. Researchers are Auckland University have found that pellitorine plays a key role in chemical pathways in the body that reduce inflammation, and that yangambin has shown to have anti-inflammatory effects on the cardiovascular system.

In this recipe, we use both the oil- and water-soluble compounds of kawakawa, to get the maximum benefit from the healing properties of kawakawa. We are using kawakawa hydrosol (available at Pure Nature) and a kawakawa infused oil. This is not a balm, but rather an ointment, like a thick cream, which some people find it more pleasant to use, as it is less greasy.

I have also added manuka essential oil to boost the therapeutic properties of this ointment. The healing effects of manuka have been well documented and include anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and wound healing properties.

This kawakawa ointment maximises the benefits by using both the oil-soluble compounds and water-soluble compounds of kawakawa, packing it full of goodness. A must-have in your natural, herbal first aid kit! Use it on grazes, cuts and small wounds, skin irritations and infections, insect bites and stings, as well as muscle and joint pain. 

Ingredients used in this ointment:

  • Kawakawa infused oil: kawakawa leaves infused in sweet almond oil. This contains all the oil-soluble compounds of the plant
  • Kawakawa hydrosol: produced through distillation, which contains the water-soluble actives as well as a small amount of the essential oil
  • Manuka essential oil: powerful healer
  • Beeswax: I used natural manuka beeswax for this ointment. The beeswax helps protect and restore the barrier function on the skin
  • Sorbitan olivate: a natural W/O emulsifier, also sold as Olivem 900. It is PEG free and derived from olive oil. Emulsifiers bind the water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients together
  • Microcare DB: a natural preservative containing benzyl alcohol and dehydroacetic acid. It is important to use a preservative in this formulation, as it contains water. The preservative prevents nasties such as bacteria, mould and yeast growing in your product, because you don’t want to put that on your skin! Please do not use grapefruit seed extract. This is not a broad spectrum preservative. Grapefruit seed in their natural form do not show antimicrobial activity, and most of these have synthetic preservatives added to them (to make them work). Source

Kawakawa Ointment

Makes 200 grams of ointment

You will need a water-bath set up, mini-mixer or homogeniser (alternative a stick blender), thermometer, beakers or suitable containers, and jars or tins to put your ointment in.


Oil phase

  • 120 grams kawakawa infused oil (60%)
  • 4 grams beeswax (2%)
  • 20 grams Olivem 900 (10%)

Water phase

  • 54 grams kawakawa hydrosol (27%)

Cool down phase

  • 1 gram Manuka essential oil (0.5%)
  • 1 gram Microcare DB (0.5%)


  1. Weigh out and add the ingredients of the oil phase to one beaker
  2. Weigh out the hydrosol into another beaker
  3. Place both beakers into a water-bath and heat to 75C
  4. Once heated to 75C, slowly trickle the hydrosol to the oil phase ingredients while mixing with the mini-mixer or homogeniser. Alternatively, you can use a stick blender, but be careful with breakage of the beaker
  5. Keep mixing until the emulsion has cooled down to 45C
  6. Then add the essential oil and preservative, and mix again to incorporate the ingredients into the ointment
  7. Pour into jars and leave for 24 hours for the final consisistency

Use within 12 months

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