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puarangi - the native hibiscus

Hibiscus diversifolius, the native (swamp or prickly) hibiscus, Puarangi, our native hibiscus is a part of the mallow family. It is critically endangered in the wild.

Its flowers (spring-summer) have a maroon throat, it grows between 1-2 metres tall, though it has prickly stems and grows best in damp or swampy ground, we have found it growing in the suburbs out of a crack in the concrete!

It is also native to part of Africa, Australia, Asia and Pacific Islands. It is thought that the seeds are dispersed in the sea. Collect the seeds as the seedpods mature and dry. Harvest the foliage during the growing season.

Often found in gardens around the North Island, it is endemic to the Kermadecs.

To grow the best hibiscus flowers, plant your hibiscus in full sun in a warm position, ensuring protection from strong or damaging winds. Your hibiscus will need good-quality, free-draining soil with added composts and manures. It must have reliable water across the hotter months, or during dry periods. To encourage your hibiscus to thrive, prune heavily in late autumn and mulch well.

In terms of its medicinal benefits, the seeds contain 22–24% of oil and a small quantity of gossypol, a phenol, a constituent suggested to have anti-malarial properties. It is a mucilaginous, demulcent, emollient and nutritive.

It is related to other indigenous mallow species including Lacebark or Houhere (Hoheria populnea) and Whau (Entelea arborescens). It is similar in its therapeutic constituents and actions; emollients and demulcent. All these plants are used in similar ways medicinally; Hibiscus tillaceus is used in the Pacific Islands externally for treating broken bones and as a steam bath.

The leaves of this plant are mucilaginous, which can be beneficial for those with digestive dysfunction, they have a mild flavour and so can be used as a vehicle for other flavours and ingredients.

The seeds have high oil content and should be eaten in moderation, particularly by men.

The seeds potentially could be used as a dye plant, as one of its constituents, gossypol, is used for its yellow pigment.

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