Hawaiian healing herbs help health

The study of Hawaiian herbal medicine is being restored at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Professors there are bringing back Laau lapaau, an ancient Hawaiian practice that uses island plants and herbs to treat various ailments. The Hawaiian word for health (ola) also means life.

Clearly the ancient wise ones believed you could not have a good life without health. The ancient Hawaiian health care system was well developed. They had a medical profession with a lengthy apprenticeship program for medical specialists (kahuna) and training facilities located in healing temples (heiau).

Some of the native Hawaiian plants and herbs include: hibiscus (aloala), morning glory (koali) and glossy nightshade (popolo). Some of the plants introduced by the Polynesians include kava (awa), taro (kalo) and candlenut tree (kukui). Other plants used medicinally are noni, wild ginger and uhaloa.

The hibiscus can be used as a laxative when chewed, whereas morning glory can be applied to wounds after grinding to aid healing. The glossy nightshade can be used as an antiseptic tonic or anti-inflammatory tea after mashing up the leaves. Kava is used as a mild sedative or relaxant and served as a tea.

Taro of course, is an excellent food, rich in complex carbohydrates and nutrients, but it also is a mild laxative because it is rich in fiber. The candlenut tree is used as an anti-infective by heating the leaves and applying them to a wound. The studies at the university include field trips so that students can observe the various plants growing in their natural conditions rather than in a cultivated setting.

Kava grows in moist, shady places. Hawaiian healers take the kava and pound the roots in a pot with a heavy pole, then soak the crushed plant in water to extract the kavalactones which are mildly sedating and impart a sense of well-being and euphoria.

The kavalactones have a pain-relieving quality as well and are often paired with ginger which, it is believed, enhances kava’s effect. Kava is traditionally recommended to highly stressed individuals to quieten them. In large doses kava causes loss of muscle control along with euphoria.

Turmeric is widely throughout Asia as an anti-inflammatory medicine. It is what gives curry the yellow color and olena, the Hawaiian word for turmeric, means yellow. Turmeric can be used externally as a wash for skin problems. It is effective in clearing sinus infections and congestion by carefully inhaling the scent of a few drops of juice from freshly grated root.

Turmeric is also useful to fight off sore throats and coughs. Turmeric is believed to be one of the canoe plants brought to the Hawaiian Islands by the original Polynesian settlers.

Another canoe plant is noni. It is also known as Indian Mulberry and is regarded as one of the most powerful of all traditional Hawaiian medicinal plants. The dark green, shiny leaves of the noni are used externally to treat tumors or skin infections.

The leaf is softened over an open flame, cooled and applied to the lesion. The fruit is purported to be highly effective in treating such serious ailments as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. The fruit has a repulsive odor which can be masked by combining the noni juice with other juices such as orange juice and ginger.

Research conducted in Hawaii and Japan have concluded that noni juice stimulates the immune system and suppresses the growth of cancer cells, although other researchers contest these findings.

Kukui, the candle nut tree, commonly grows on hillsides in Hawaii at lower levels. It is used as a cleansing treatment to relieve constipation. The roasted nut is also pleasant to eat. The green nut is used to treat mouth sores and infections and to soothe babies’ sore gums when they are teething. The sap that collects when the stem is removed from the nut is used either mixed with water as a mouthwash or applied topically.

The uhaloa is a common grayish-green shrub that grows at lower elevations in the dry parts of Hawaii. It is frequently used to treat asthma, sore throats and painful coughs. The bark is chewed and the resulting juice is gargled.

Wild ginger, also known as shampoo ginger, grows commonly in the moist, shady parts of Hawaii, often in the rain forest. The large cone-like bracts contain an aromatic juice that can be squeezed out and used as shampoo. The rhizomes are used to treat stomach aches and ulcers. Of course, the sliced rhizomes are also used as a flavoring in cooking.

Ancient wisdom is to use the plants for your health as naturally as they are found.

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Jane Riley is a certified personal trainer, adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached atjanerileyfitness@gmail.com or (808) 212-8119 and www.janerileyfitness.com

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