Herbs & Plants Herbs & Plants (Spices)

Pseudowintera colorata

Botanical Name: Pseudowintera colorata
Family: Winteraceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Canellales
Genus: Pseudowintera
Species: P. colorata

Synonyms: Drimys colorata Raoul, Drimys axillaris var. colorata (Raoul) Kirk, Wintera colorata Tiegh.

Common Names: Mountain horopito or Pepper tree.
It is also known as the New Zealand pepper tree, winter’s bark, or red horopito. It is so named because early taxonomists recognized the similarity between horopito and the South American Drimys winteri that provided the herbal remedy “winter’s bark.”

Habitat: Pseudowintera colorata is endemic to New Zealand.(North, South and Stewart Islands). All Winteraceae are magnoliids, associated with the humid Antarctic flora of the southern hemisphere. It grows on coastal, lowland, or montane forest margins and shrubland.

Pseudowintera colorata, or mountain horopito, is an evergreen shrub or small tree (1–2.5 m) commonly called pepperwood because its leaves have a very hot bite. Its yellow and green leaves are blotched with red; new leaves in the spring are bright red. It is widespread throughout New Zealand, from lowland forests to higher montane forests, and from 36° 30′ South as far southwards as Stewart Island/Rakiura. Because of its various uses, both medicinal and culinary, the name horopito when used in common speech normally refers to the colorata species.


Pseudowintera colorata flower

Pseudowintera colorata red leopard

Pseudowintera axillaris

Its yellowish-green leaves are blotched with red, with new leaves in the spring being bright red. It is distributed within lowland forests up to higher montane forests from 36° 30′ South as far southward as Stewart Island/Rakiura. A characteristic plant association for P. colorata is within the podocarp forests of Westland, where alliant understory plants such as Rumohra adiantiformis, Ascarina lucida, Pseudopanax colensoi, Pseudopanax edgerleyi and Blechnum discolor are found.

The reproductive parts of the family Winteraceae are primitive, reflecting their origin among the first flowering plants. In New Zealand, Horopito appears in the fossil record for more than 65 million years. It is particularly unusual in that its flowers come directly off the older stems rather than from among the leaves. It is a very slow growing plant that lacks the specialist water conducting tubes found in nearly all other flowering plants.

The evergreen horopito plant is continually exposed to attack by various insects and parasites and its occurrence in high rainfall areas makes it particularly susceptible to attack by fungi. This has led to efficient built in defence mechanisms. Consequently, horopito has a rich source of secondary metabolites that have an interesting range of biologically active properties.


Plant in moisture-retentive, freely draining soil in a sheltered, shady position. If containerised, over winter indoors in cold areas.

Edible Uses:
Horopito leaves are used in cooking in a variety of ways. Horopito is now being used as a seasoning in modern New Zealand cuisine. Typically the leaves are dried and then ground to form a powder. The powder may be used wherever black pepper is used and applied directly to meats, mixed with oils, used to make condiments (e.g. with mustard), in vinegars, biscuits and even ice-cream.

Medicinal Uses:
Horopito contains a substance called sesquiterpene dialdehyde polygodiali, otherwise known as polygodial that has a number of biological properties including antifungal, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiallergic and insecticide effects. Polygodial has been tested as a very effective inhibitor of Candida albicans. Horopito was used traditionally by Maori for a variety of medicinal purposes including treatment of: fungal skin infection, stomach pain, diarrhoea and as an analgesic. Early European settlers to New Zealand also used horopito for medicinal purposes.

Activity of chemical constituents:
The main biologically active chemical component isolated from the leaves of P. colorata is polygodial. The chewed horopito leaf has a characteristically sharp, hot peppery taste. This is primarily due to polygodial which causes pungency on the tongue in concentrations as low as 0.1 µg.

An ex vivo study used a horopito and aniseed mixture (Kolorex) to inhibit the growth of C. albicans in the oral cavity. This research concluded that the antifungal action of Kolorex was constant against all species tested (including C. albicans, C. tropicalis, C. glabrata, C. guilermonii, C. parapsilosis and C. krusei) with a minimum inhibitory concentration of 1:20 (diluted with sterilised distilled water) of Kolorex.

Another study concluded that a mixture of horopito (containing polygodial) and aniseed (containing anethole) protects the gut of mice from colonization and dissemination of Candida albicans. After mice were inoculated with C. albicans and treated with Kolorex, testing of intestinal samples showed that Kolorex treated mice had a much reduced concentration of C. albicans per gram of tissue. The data suggested that the horopito and aniseed product might exert an early competitive effect against colonisation.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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