Kawakawa – New Zealand’s pepper tree

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Spiced hearts of the forest

New Zealand is home to two distinctive pepper trees, colloquially referred to as “Horopito” and “Kawakawa”. While Horopito belongs to the Winteraceae (primitive flowering family), Kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum) is a true pepper as it belongs to the Piperaceae family. Furthermore, the plant is closely related to the Polynesian kava plant, which has a comparable bioactive profile.

Kawakawa is easily identified in coastal and lowland forests throughout the North and South Island, by its heart shaped leaves and jointed stems. The looper caterpillar (Cleo scriptaria) loves to feed on these leaves, leaving behind several small interspersed holes. However, during the summer the female kawakawa flowers are on the menu for the forest birds. The raw leaves traditionally provided inflammatory relief via chewing, so Maori turned it into a calming spiced tea and used the water extract to alleviate cuts and boils.

Cosmeceutical potential

Our skin is exposed every day to environmental aggressors that ultimately culminate in an inflammatory response which can accelerate skin aging.  The cosmetic and cosmeceutical industries therefore always look to incorporate anti-inflammatory agents into their skincare formulations. Black peppers (Piper nigrum) extract and related species, are a highly valued cosmetic ingredient as they have been proven to contain several potent anti-inflammatory bioactives.

The anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial activities of Kawakawa have been well docuemnted in Rongoa Maori (traditional Maori medicine) which cites the presence of diayangambin, elemicin, myristicin and vitexin glucoside. Piper species are typically rich in amides that act to sustain the bioavailability of other bioactives in the pepper extract. So, it is not surprising that Kawakawa is rich in these class of amides and maintains anti-inflammatory activities in different skincare formulations.

Spicing up the market place

The international cosmetic and cosmeceutical market is always looking for new and novel ingredients, but there is a caveat to this model. Aside from performing spectacularly better than the standards, the ingredients need to be unique but familiar to the standards. On the international market, the products that aim to calm and soothe the skin, usually contain black pepper extract. Although it performs very well, the international market is saturated with this extract and yearns for something new.

As natural products sourced from New Zealand are already held in high regard across several industries, Kawakawa is poised to become the next “hot” addition to the global cosmetic ingredient market. In its home market, New Zealand, local brands are already featuring Kawakawa in high end soaps, balms, shampoos and lotions.

To meet the needs of the market, we have combined our Kawakawa leaf extract and the best Mānuka honey grade to create OceanDerMX™ Calm & Soothe. It delivers immediate cooling and soothing effects for unbalanced and acne prone skin. The intriguing physio-chemical properties of the biopolymers from Mamaku, enhance the healing and soothing properties of Mānuka honey.

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