Ancient Hawaiians were part of a very resourceful civilization, which is evident from their strong medical tradition. All Native Hawaiian medicines were crafted from plants, minerals, and animals that grew plentifully wherever they lived. Here are 5 medicinal Hawaiian plants that you can use to treat yourself:
1. Māmaki – Pipturus albidus
Māmaki is a plant native to the islands of Hawaii, and can be found growing in coastal forests and upland jungles. This plant is part of the nettle family, and grows as a tree, which offered Ancient Hawaiians several construction materials such as wood and rope. For medicinal purposes, Native Hawaiians used its small fruit in a salve to treat cuts and injuries, and the bark was believed to hold special power. Today, it is the leaves of the māmaki that are still used to make a delicious drink with enjoyable fragrance. Fresh leaves are picked and dried, and processed into a boiled herbal tea, which is used as a general invigorating tonic.
2. ʻŌlena – Curcuma domestica – aka turmeric
While turmeric is well documented around the world for its medicinal purposes, it was also widely used throughout Polynesia as well. ʻŌlena is part of the ginger family, and usually grows within jungles and forests. This plant’s rhizome, or thick rootstock was used as the base of a juice to cure ailments of the sinus and for inflammation. The bright goldenrod root was also used as a dye for traditional kapa cloth; the Hawaiian word for yellow – lena – is called so after this plant.
3. ʻAwa – Piper methysticum – aka kava
The ʻawa plant is part of the pepper species, and is well known throughout most Pacific Ocean civilizations. This plant was brought to Hawaii by Polynesian sailors, and grows as a large shrub. Most parts of this plant were used to treat a myriad of ailments, although it is the root which makes this plant well known. The root of the ʻawa can be ground up and turned into a drink, which was consumed for its relaxing sedative effect. This medicinal consumable was used to treat anxiety, stress, and depression, although it has become more popular today as a social drink. Supposedly, this calming effect can be appreciated without intoxication, and allows for an increase in talkativity and inner peace.
4. Kī – Cordyline fruticosa – aka ti leaf
Ti leaf is one of the most prosperous plants growing on the Big Island of Hawaii – almost everyone has one growing in their yard. This hardy plant was brought over via canoe for its multitude of handy uses. Its leaves were used for utilitarian purposes; to make skirts, thatch roofs, and to wrap and store food. Kī was also used for a number of medicinal and spiritual purposes. The plant itself is believed to ward off spirits, and was traditionally used in ceremonies. While parts of the root and shoots can be turned into a tea, the leaves itself are used to improve feverish conditions. An inflicted person would lie on a cool bed of ti leaves which would draw out the heat.
5. Noni – Morinda citrifolia – aka Indian mulberry
The noni plant is a fruit bearing tree that is hardy enough to survive near beaches, on lavarock, and through drought, which makes it perfectly at home in the different biomes of the Big Island. The noni is known for its fruit which are produced year round – the noni berry. The noni berry is a potato sized off white oblong, though its foremost feature is its incredibly strong smell that many liken to the fragrance vomit or rot. Despite this unfortunate aspect, the Ancient Proto Hawaiians brought this plant over on their voyage to Hawaii for its medicinal uses. Noni has been used for millennia as both a processed tonic for gastrointestinal ailment and a famine food.