Traditional Medicines

New Zealand and many other countries have cultural beliefs and practices that have developed over time. These are generally based on healing the whole person. Common examples in this country include:


Traditional Māori healing

Traditional healing has been an integral part of Māori culture since time began. Values, belief systems and teachings from kaumatua and tohunga alike, have seen Māori focus on total wellbeing encompassing taha tinana, taha hinengaro, taha wairua and taha whānau (the physical domain, the domain of mind and behaviour, the spiritual domain, and the family or social domain).

When Māori are faced with tough decisions in health care or treatment particularly, some tend to opt for traditional healing methods. These can include rongoā Māori, romiromi or mirimiri to name a few customary remedies based on native plants, massage therapy and spiritual healing. If you are thinking about using these treatments, please discuss this with your clinical treatment team. Both parties will be aiming to provide you with the best possible care which has minimal side effects.

If you have difficulty expressing your needs to any of your treatment providers, find someone to advocate on your behalf so both traditional Māori healers and hospital treatment specialists are able to work together to support you on your cancer journey.




Pacific traditional healing

Traditional healing has been long used by Pacific people to help in their recovery. It involves taking a holistic approach to treating the person, where their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing are looked after together, rather than as separate parts. The treatment offered to each person can vary, depending on their needs. Medicinal plants and herbs may be used during the treatment process, as well as stones, and massage. Pacific people may choose to complement Western treatment with traditional healing.

If you choose to include traditional healing as part of your treatment, please make sure you let your doctors know. They may ask questions about the types of treatments your traditional healer is using. This can be difficult to explain sometimes, especially if it is tricky to work out which English words to use to translate certain Pacific concepts.

If you find it hard to tell your doctor or nurses about the traditional healing methods being used by your healer, it may be helpful if your doctor or nurses could talk directly with the traditional healer or even a close family member who knows what treatments you are receiving.

It may sometimes feel like the doctor and the traditional healer don’t need to know about what each other is doing, but it is important that they do since they are both helping you recover. It is especially important to make sure that the medicines you are taking are working harmoniously with each other and not likely to cause you any side effects. Remember, traditional plant medicines can sometimes react with Western drugs. Your doctor may also want to make sure that the traditional massages are okay to use, particularly around the chest area if you have just had an operation.

It is possible to use both Western and traditional medicine as part of your healing journey. Both have their place and benefits. To help make sure that you recover as quickly and safely as possible, please make sure your doctors and healers know what each other is doing. This way, both your doctor and traditional healer can work together in helping you recover.


An ancient Chinese practice that uses small needles to stimulate points on the body to help healing, remove pain and nausea (make you feel better when your stomach is feeling sick).


Based on the theory of ‘treating like with like’. To treat an illness, a homeopathic therapist (homeopath) uses tiny doses of a substance that in large doses would cause the symptoms of the illness.

Homeopathic remedies are made from plant, mineral and/or animals. They are diluted (thinned) usually using water, sometimes alcohol and shaken many times until there is little, if any, of the original substance left. Source: CancerHelp UK 2009


An approach to medicine that is based on the body’s ability to heal itself. Naturopaths use many other therapies, including herbal medicines, homeopathy and counselling (healing talk).