Researchers studying traditional rongoā Māori say there is an urgent need to increase the number of healers to stop the knowledge from being lost forever.
Rongoā Māori is a holistic system of healing derived from Māori philosophy and customs.
Amohia Boulton, Albie Stewart, Gill Potaka-Osborne and Maui Hudson and Annabel Ahuriri-Driscoll conducted a survey of healers as part of a three-year Health Research Council study.
One of those, Ms Ahuriri-Driscoll, a lecturer in Māori health and wellbeing at the University of Canterbury, said healers from rohe throughout the motu were interviewed.
Ms Ahuriri-Driscoll said the survey highlighted the pressing need for expansion of the rongoā Māori workforce and better funding to ensure rongoā practices survive.
She said their skills were seen as a valid option alongside mainstream medical approaches and demand for their services was growing.
But she said more needed to be done to nurture the next generation of healers and sustain the practice.
"What we definitely found is healers are certainly older, well over half of our sample are aged between 50 and 69, predominantly Māori, but not exclusively, and also a high proportion are women.
"That sort of ageing pattern certainly has implications for the sustainability of the practice. Who's going to carry on? Who's that deep knowledge being transmitted to?"
Annabel Ahuriri-Driscoll said rongoā Māori practitioners make a valuable contribution towards Māori health outcomes, albeit with limited resourcing or formal training.
She said the training that should be made available must be able to meet the needs of both trainee and established healers.