Mamaku Whakaoraora

Public Summary

Principal Investigator: Dr John Monro, Plant & Food Research
Industry partners: University of Otago, AgResearch
High-Value Nutrition funding: $535,136


Mamaku tree fern for gut health

Mamaku Whakaoraora will provide an evidence-based foundation for establishing Mamaku (Cyathia medullaris, tree fern) as a highly functional natural food with an indigenous whakapapa and a strong capacity to improve a range of metabolic and gut health conditions.

The research team is co-led by Dr John Monro from Plant & Food Research and Garry Watson, Chairman of Nga Uri o te Ngahere Trust (NUOTN), in collaboration with Te Rangatahi o te Whenua Trust (ROTW) and Dr Lara Matia-Merino and Associate Professor Kelvin Goh from Massey University.

The project will determine processes for food-safe preparation of Mamaku products and assess the properties of Mamaku under simulated in vitro gut conditions.  The team will conduct clinical trials with Mamaku products to establish their safety and blood cholesterol-lowering potential and their effects on the colonic microbiota.

NUOTN Trust specialises in ethnoscience and traditional health remedies in the Rongoa Rakau / Rongoa Māori space and they have a long track record in Mātauranga Māori-based research (kaupapa). The funding investment combined from High-Value Nutrition and co-funding and in-kind contribution from industry partners is $895,000.

“This research will provide a basis for larger clinical studies to establish the value of Mamaku to Māori Health, Māori business, to New Zealand as a whole, and to export (Asian) markets suffering the global burden of metabolic syndrome,” says Richard Mithen, Chief Scientist, High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge.

This unique research collaboration addresses the need to unlock the under-developed potential of Mātauranga Māori.  The proposal will provide scientific knowledge to supplement Māori knowledge that Mamaku has numerous health attributes making it a potentially valuable crop.

The growing Asian middle-class and intrinsic susceptibility of Asians to diabetes, is creating a vast market for natural, effective remedies such as those derived from Mamaku, with a respected and ancient whakapapa. This is a great opportunity for Māori business. As a prolific element in the indigenous flora, Mamaku is an ideal alternative land-use diversification candidate for pine conversion and use in marginal land blocks.

Please refer to the Research Overview documents for more information about the High-Value Nutrition Mamaku contestable funding project. High-Value Nutrition is one of the eleven National Science Challenges. The Challenge has a $45.6 million budgeted research investment from 2019-2024.

Research team

Dr John Monro

John Monro is a principal Scientist at Plant & Food Research.

John studied dietary fibre in the fore and hind gut, physiologically valid determination of its functional properties, and how to communicate its effects to accurately guide food choices for health.

More recently his research has focused on digestible carbohydrates in foods, on valid determination of carbohydrate availability by in vitro digestive analysis, and on food structural factors that modulate the glycaemic response.

John is a lead researcher on the postprandial and long-term clinical trials for the Kiwi, Fruity and Friendly research project funded by High-Value Nutrition and Zespri Ltd.