In the Atayal language, the name “Ma-Kaw” implies vitality, vigor, and continuous life across generations. The trees that produce makaw seeds are distributed across low-to-middle-altitude regions in Taiwan. Traces of makaw can be found in pretty much any mountainous area under 1500 meters. In Spring, the Litsea cubeba trees produce a beautiful light-yellow sea of flowers; and in Summer, small green berries develop, emitting a distinct lemongrass-like scent when ripe for picking.
Makaw seeds are also known as “mountain pepper”. This is because, after dried, they so closely resemble common black peppercorn. The whole makaw plant gives off a smell which can be described as a combination of pepper and ginger. The roots, leaves, and berries can all be consumed in a variety of ways. The importance of makaw in Taiwan’s aboriginal culinary and medicinal traditions has earned it the nickname “black pearl of the mountain”.
Makaw “mountain pepper” is an essential spice in cooking traditions across Taiwan’s aboriginal cultures. It is commonly used for stewing and marinating meat, stir-frying anchovies, and in soups. The plant’s flowers can be used to make tea, and the edible leaves are added to food. Fresh makaw berries crushed and added to water, form a refreshing drink often used by aboriginal workers to quench thirst and boost energy; its medicinal uses include relieving body aches and hangover headaches. Because of its lemongrass-like element in its scent, makaw is now sometimes used in essential oils.