A memorable quest for the mysterious and elusive awheto This is what the ancient taonga Awheto looks like, a very strange beast indeed.
What is Awheto exactly, where is it found, how was it traditionally used, and what modern-day applications could it possibly have?
These were among the questions posed by one of the more intriguing projects I was involved in last year, which culminated in a quest for the mysterious organisms in the cloudline of the rugged Kaimanawa ranges.
Better known as a spawning ground for trout and for the potency of the honey generated by its manuka resource, this area high above the Central Plateau also provides the perfect environment for the native Cordyceps Robertsii.
Our expedition guide in December 2019 was Mark Ross (Ngāti Tūwharetoa), who could be described as the “Awheto Whisperer” such are his skills at identifying the elusive cordyceps stroma.
I can assure you this is literally like finding a needle in a haystack, as the untrained eye like mine finds it hard to distinguish the twig-like stroma from the sticks that litter the floor of a forest, but luckily we accompanied by someone with natural intuition and a highly-trained eye.
It was an interest in investigating the properties of awheto that led to my first contact with Mark almost 20 years ago. He knew of its use as a dye, dye-set and antiseptic in Tā Moko, where a chisel rather than a needle was used, but as an expert in Rongoā Māori he also was aware of its uses as a dietary supplement.
We then set out to scientifically validate this mātauranga, or traditional knowledge, and IRL’s research scientist Stephen Tauwhare (Ngai Tahu) was engaged to undertake one of the first pieces of chemical profiling of cordyceps Robertsii. While inconclusive, this work set us on a course to discover a modern-day usage of awheto, the Chinese versions of which are mainstays of their traditional medicine and now grown commercially at scale.
Specimens collected in our December 2019 trip are now part of ongoing research & development, involving one of the Ahu Whenua trusts Mark has connections to in the Central North Island. Funding for this project was secured appropriately from MBIE’s Vision Mātauranga fund, as it’s a project working at the nexus of traditional knowledge and western science.
Results due by the end of the year will hopefully add to the intriguing stories associated with this fungus.
VENTURING into one of the most rugged parts of the Kaimanawas was one of a number of memorable firsts for me over the past year. Other projects took me for the first time to the northern Kaipara, to the beautiful spot of Tinopai (well named indeed), the bottom arc of Te-Oneroa-a-Tōhē (90 Mile Beach) at Ahipara, the hidden gems of Taemaro and Waimahina - among the most beautiful bays I have ever seen, and the majesty of the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi. These haerenga have reminded me once again of the natural beauty, abundance and untapped potential of Tai Tokerau – something that first revealed itself to me when I ventured north for the first time with a dear friend, the late Tom Rogers (Nga Puhi), some 20 years ago. This area of huge social and economic deprivation has remained under-developed for too long and I fully support the present Government’s efforts to pour resource into projects that could turn things around in Tai Tokerau. Let’s just hope they choose wisely. But the day last year that will remain etched in my memory is the day I woke on my birthday to complete stillness and birdsong in Little Glory Bay, on Rakiura. It is an experience like this that makes whakapapa so resonant and vital. Alan Groves where trout spawn happily in the tributaries that feed the Rangiteiki River and the manuke rpdocue ssome of the most potnetnt There are not too many people that know about the power of Awheto, and even fewer where to find it. This ancient taonga has used It was first brought to my attention by Mark Ross a