Titoki (Alectryon excelsus) is a spreading tree growing up to 10m high throughout the North Island of New Zealand, and down to Banks Peninsula in the South Island. It grows from sea level up to 600m.
It belongs to the large, mainly tropical Sapindaceae family and has a short stout trunk which is often fluted, with smooth dark green bark, dull green lanceolate leaves and red berries containing a black seed.
Early European settlers called it the “New Zealand ash” as the leaves are like the European ash. But that’s where the similarity ends.
The timber which is strong, dense, elastic and is easily worked. It was used widely for bullock yokes, tool handles, wagon wheels, coach building and furniture. It was not durable in the open air.
The Maoris used to bruise the seeds and then steamed them to release oil. The oil was used for an earache, for eye problems and as a lotion for a wide range of skin ailments including sore breasts, infant rashes, eczema, sores, sprains and wounds, rheumatism, swellings due to bites and stings. It was also highly valued as a general skin softener-conditioner and is used as a carrier for scents obtained from other plants such as tarata (Pittosporum eugenoides). The scarlet flesh surrounding the seeds is very astringent and was used by consumptive invalids.