Native Hawaiian Plants Part III - Hala Tree

Hala trees at Manoa Elementary School

The Hala Tree which is prevalent throughout the Pacific must have floated its way to Hawaii many years ago. Yes, the hala seeds float. It is also known as the pandanus tree which I am sure many of you have heard of. It is very unique looking, growing as tall as 20 feet with aerial roots, meaning that you can see the roots sticking out above the ground. The Hala Tree thus has the nickname of “walking tree” because it looks like it has legs. Another interesting fact is that it represents the Hawaiian family. A mother would refer to the roots as her children with the parents being the trunk.

The Native Hawaiians used the entire tree in many ways. Lauhala, the hala leaves which are long and bent, were woven to make roofs, hats, mats, pillows, fans, baskets and canoe sails. Bags, slippers and placemats are popular items today. This craft was very important to the history and culture of Hawaii because it produced many of the items needed to live on the islands long ago. The leaves were dethorned, washed, baked in the sun so that the leaves will turn into a beautiful tan color, rolled into coils and then stripped to whatever size that was needed.

Female hala produce pineapple looking fruits in the center of the fronds. Each cluster is made of 50 or more sections called “keys.” The fibers on the inner ends of the dry keys were used as brushes for painting kapa. The narrow inner ends of the hala keys are starchy and have been used as food, not so much in Hawaii, because taro and breadfruit were abundant, but in Micronesia.

The ends of the unripe hala fruit can also be strung with lauae fern to make leis. These leis can be considered both lucky and unlucky. The Hawaiian word hala besides meaning “pandanus” also means “slip, error or mistake.” Wearing a hala lei at New Year's is lucky because the old year is slipping away. But at other times it is very unlucky, especially for hula dancers and those who are doing business.

Male hala produced a white, fragrant flower called Hinano. You may be familiar with Hinano Beer made in Tahiti. The logo is of a young lady with hinano flowers in her hair. The pollen was used to preserve feathers and leis. The pollen was also used by Hawaiian girls as a love charm. I’m really not sure what that means but I am assuming that the girls put the fragrant pollen on themselves to win attract their significant other. The male flowers were also crushed and blended with coconut oil to be used as a laxative.

The wood of the tree was used to make water pipes, posts and calabashes.

The tips of the roots were made into a tonic to cure a tuberculosis skin infection of the neck. I find it amazing that the Native Hawaiians were so knowledgeable about such things.

The hala and lauhala are still used for many of the purposes that I have explained in this article. However many of the groves that were present many years ago are no longer in existence. They have been cleared for building homes and for farming. Famous hala groves can be seen in the Puna district on the Big Island, the Hana coast in Maui and Naue in Kauai. The plants make great landscape and can also be grown indoors.

Once again the Native Hawaiians utilized another plant to its maximum capacity and we are fortunate today because of that. Aloha.


Native Hawaiian Plants Part II-Kukui, Hawaii's State Tree

Kukui at Likeke Trail
and at Ulupo Heiau

Aloha! Lately I have been immersing myself in Hawaiian culture. It’s amazing how you think you know a lot but the more you study, the more you realize that you’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. I was fortunate enough to learn hula for four years under the direction of Kumu Leina'ala Heine. I paid attention but not nearly enough. I realized how lucky I was to have a special experience with such a gifted kumu after the fact. She’s awesome. I learned that hula is not just a form of dance, it is a way of life. I hope to reconnect with hula in the near future.

But in the meantime I have decided to study other interesting Hawaiian subjects. Let’s put some of our native Hawaiian plants in the spotlight today. We take them for granted because they are all around us. And yet each plant is very special, having so many purposes besides just being a “plant.” There’s a nice story to tell about each of them. The plants and trees that I will be talking about were brought over to Hawaii by the first Polynesians that settled here. Some plants were probably already here transported through pollination by the ocean and air. Most of them have origins in Southeast Asia. It is interesting to note that these plants are used by various cultures, some in similar ways and others very differently, around the world. The thought of having this global connection through our plants gives me chicken skin. It’s a small world after all!

So let’s talk about Kukui. This is Hawai'i’s State Tree. The kukui nut tree, symbolizing enlightenment, protection and peace according to the Native Hawaiians, became the official state tree in 1959 when Hawai'i became the 50th state. It is safe to say that this tree is native to Hawai'i. Scientists have found kukui pollen in ancient geological deposits. Kukui nut is also referred to as candlenut because it was used as a candle due to its high oil content. Ancient Hawaiians would string the nuts and burn them one by one every fifteen minutes. So not only did the nuts provide light but also the time.

They grow in lower slopes of mountains and gulches and are noticeable because their leaves are silver-grey. They are also quite adaptable, growing tall in narrow spaces up 80 feet.

The powdery leaves are trilobed. The leaf is shaped like a pig’s face. Hawaiian mythology indicates that the kukui nut tree is considered to be in the form of Kamapua'a, the hog-man fertility demi-god who is associated to Lono, the god of agriculture. The leaves and greenish white flowers are very decorative and are entwined to make leis.

The fruit is about two inches in diameter. It has a hard green covering when young, turning into a soft grayish-black as it matures. The covering decays quickly when it falls off the branches. It’s what’s inside that is of value. Inside are one or two hard, wrinkled nuts. Whitish when young, turning brown and then black. Leis are made with these.

Then there is the actual meat of the nut. It is roasted (not to be eaten raw) and mixed into a paste with salt to form a Hawaiian condiment known as inamona. Inamona is a key ingredient in traditional Hawaiian poke. It has a very distinctive, nutty flavor. You have to be careful that you don’t eat too much of it because it also serves as a laxative.

The oil pressed out of the roasted kernels serves many purposes. The oil is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral in nature. It helps in soothing sunburns. I have heard that it is also effective in treating eczema, psoriasis, dry skin and acne. It aids in the regeneration of the skin, scalp and hair. It penetrates the skin very well and is used for massages. Wow!

The Native Hawaiians also used the bark and charred nuts for tattoo dye. The flowers and the sap were used to treat e'a (thrush) in children. I think it’s amazing that they found so many uses for this tree.

As I had explained in the beginning, the kukui is used in other parts of the world. In Indonesia and Malaysia the nut is used in their cuisine. The people in Java make a sauce from the nut and eat it with rice and vegetables.

It is used for medicinal purposes. Many Asian cultures use it as a form of laxative. The Japanese have been known to use the bark to treat tumors. Malaysians use the kernel and leaves to treat headache, fevers, ulcers, swollen joints and gonorrhea. The Javanese use the bark for dysentery. In Tonga the ripe nuts are pounded into a paste and used as soap and shampoo. The Tongans also chew the nuts as part of a traditional funeral ritual.

I have already mentioned the many ways that the Hawaiian used the kukui. The oil was also used for varnish. The fishermen also used it to remove reflections in the water. They would chew the nuts and then spit it into the water so that they can see where the fish are. The wood was also used to make fishing canoes.

Modern cultivation is basically for its oil but I am sure that the kukui is still used for all the purposes that we talked about. The Polynesians seem to have brought to Hawai'i many useful plants but the kukui ranks among the most important. So the next time you go to buy a lotion, oil or poke, think about the kukui and its value to the Hawaiian culture.

E malama pono.

Honolulu Festival


Native Hawaiian Plants Part 1-Ti Leaf Plant

Ever since I visited Ulupo Heiau a few months ago and then the Lyon Arboretum, I feel the need to share about some of our Native Hawaiian plants, their value and their history. According to Lyon Arboretum, the plants that we have on our islands came three ways: 2% by Wind, 23% by Water and 75% by Wings. It's hard to say exactly when the plants first came to the islands but we know that many came with the first settlers. There are four parts to this series of articles. Let's start with the Ti leaf plant.

It has been said that the first Polynesian settlers (Kanaka Maoli or “the people”) came to the Hawaiian Islands in search of new land between 300-500 A.D. They brought along many seeds, tubers and roots in their canoes, all for the purpose of starting a new life. One of the plants that they introduced was the ti plant, known to the Hawaiians as Ki, a member of the lily family. It is known in other parts of the world as cabbage palm and good luck plant. They are native to tropical southeastern Asia, Papua New Guinea, northeastern Australia, the Indian Ocean and parts of Polynesia.
Ti leaf plant at Ulupo Heiau

The ti plant is a tall, woody plant that grows from 3-12 feet with clusters of oval, blade-shaped leaves that may be green, dark red, purple or a mixture of these colors. The leaves are from 1 to 2 feet long. It is a very hearty plant growing flowers and berries.

Ti plant with flowers and berries

Ki was considered sacred to the Hawaiian god of agriculture, Lono, and to the goddess of the hula, Laka. It was also an emblem of high rank and divine power. The kahili, in its early form, was a Ki stalk with its clustered foliage of glossy, green leaves at the top. And to this day, the kahili looks like the ti leaf plant.

The leaves were known to possess divine power, thus used by the kahuna priests in their ancient religious ceremonial rituals as protection to ward off evil spirits and to call in the good. Thus it is still customary for many homes in Hawaii to have ti leaf plants surrounding their homes. Not only does it create a beautiful landscape but it also brings good luck.

Ti leafs can be used as a fan to ward off flies that may hover over food. It can also be used as place mats, plates and table decoration. The beautiful green leaf has a clean look and decorating with it makes tables look authentically Hawaiian. But more than what has been mentioned, the leaves had practical purposes like to thatch a roof, to weave sandals, make hula skirts, leis and rain capes. It is also used to wrap food when cooking, such as the lau lau.



Make a ti leaf lei.
Remove stems.

Cut leaves in halves.

Iron leaves to make them soft.

Tie a knot with two halves.

Twist both leaves in one direction, to the right. Then twist around each other.

Pardon my foot, but using your toes gives you leverage.

Add a leaf when necessary.

Keep twisting both leaves to the right.

Tie ends together.

Lei and bracelet.

Medicinal purposes galore! Ti leaf can be used to wrap medicinal herbs in to apply to parts of the body. You can put hot stones in it and use as hot pack. Green ti leaves were boiled to make a drink to help nerve and muscle relaxation. The steam from boiled leaves and young shoots aided as a decongestant. The fragrant flowers were also used for asthma.

Mulan wearing her lei

The roots are used for various purposes. It can be baked and eaten as a dessert because it is sweet and starchy. But more than that, I thought it was neat that in old Hawai'i the roots were boiled, fermented and distilled to make a potent liquor called 'okolehao. It was a moonshine made illegally in Hawaii’s deep valleys many years ago. It was one of King Kalakaua’s favorite drink and referred to as a “gift from heaven.” According to history, the Hawaiians started to make this brew with the help of an English officer and an Australian settler. They made it in the iron pot that whalers used to boil blubber in and thus got the name 'okolehao or “iron bottom.” My research shows that it may be currently being made legally by a company in Maui known as Sandwich Islands Distilling Inc. I’ll have to check that out since a lot could have happened since I picked up this information dated 2003. The recipe calls for ti root, rice and sugar cane. As you can see my interest peaked when discussing this wonderful liquor. I am quite curious as to what it tastes like and will let you know if I ever get my hands on some.

Ti leaf plants are everywhere in Hawaii. It is something that we take for granted. I hope that my sharing this information with you will make you appreciate its value much more. Aloha.

Honolulu Festival


Japanese Home Cooking-I love shiso.

I love shiso. Shiso is a leafy herb that is used in Japanese cooking to add flavor, aroma and color. It is also known as perilla or beefsteak plant. The green type or aojiso (green shiso) is used in plating sashimi along with daikon. The flower of the shiso is also used with wasabi and shoyu to dip your sashimi in. Shiso is also used in salads, goes well with sliced tomatoes and onions, pasta and meat dishes. The purple type or akajiso (red shiso) is used in the flavoring and coloring of umeboshi (pickled plum). If someone asked me to explain what it’s like I would have to say that it is similar to the mint or basil. But it really has a flavor and aroma of its own.

In my past article I talked about a fried chicken dish that uses shiso. I have another chicken and shiso dish that I would like to share with you. My husband does some work with the Tokyo American Club, currently in Shinagawa, and picked up this very simple pupu recipe using shiso leaves, grilled chicken, cream cheese and tonkatsu sauce. It is very easy to make. I have not seen it personally nor have I tasted Tokyo American Club’s version so the tonkatsu sauce could be oyster sauce for all I know. But when he came home from his business trip and created the dish for us, the tonkatsu sauce went so well with the pupu that in our home, we use tonkatsu sauce. So here goes:

Shiso, chicken and cream cheese pupu

Ingredients (pupu for two-four persons, to be served at room temperature):

Two packs of shiso leaves (they usually sell with about 8-10 leaves in each pack)
One large chicken breast
Small cubes of cream cheese
Tonkatsu sauce

The shiso is cleaned and dried and layed out on a platter.
The chicken breast can be fried in a pan or grilled. I prefer grilled with salt and pepper. Then dice the chicken into bite size cubes.
Place one piece of chicken on one leaf of shiso, then place a cube of cream cheese and then a dab of tonkatsu sauce. So easy and so oishii! And that shiso flavor…perfect!

Honolulu Festival


Noelani Craft Fair in Manoa...'tis the season for craft fairs

It's already November...Thanksgiving is right around the corner, then there is Christmas and New Years! We all know that it's the holiday season when there are craft fairs happening around town each weekend. My daughter and I went to the Noelani Craft Fair this past weekend. It's been years since we attended, it was very nostalgic since both of my children attended Noelani Elementary School in Manoa years ago. It was a great opportunity to start our Christmas shopping, see what the latest trends in craft products are, eat some "craft fair" food and look around the school campus.

Creative island T-shirts by Island Core (mahalo for sharing your brochure with schedule of craft fairs)

my friend Jaymee and her partner of Ahhhloha Bath Salts, etc.

Check out the following craft fairs:
HGEA Holiday Fair 11/18
Mililani High School 11/21
Pearl City High School 11/22,
21st Annual Islandwide Christmas Craft and Food Expo at NBC
11/27 -11/29
HUOA Winter Craft Fair at Okinawan Center 11/28 and 11/29
Season's Best Craft Fair and Gifts at Aliiolani Elementary 12/5
Windward Craft & Fun Fair at Castle High School 12/6
Bigger and Better Gift and Craft Fair at Topa Amfac 20th Fl(downtown) 12/10 and 12/11
Moanalua High School 12/12
Heeia Elementary School 12/13
Mililani Uka Elementary School 12/19

Honolulu Festival


Harumi Kurihara Part 3 Carrot and Tuna Salad-Japanese Home Cooking

Everyone is into eating healthy these days...I am one of them. I have always enjoyed raw vegetables even as a child but carrots were not one of the veggies that I ate. I used to think Bugs Bunny made them look so tasty but it just wasn't my favorite. My husband loves raw carrots and now so do I. We are lucky that nowadays they sell those baby carrots-no peeling and no cutting.

The very first recipe that I made of Harumi's a few years ago was her Carrot and Tuna Salad. It is so easy to make and it is very delicious.

Ingredients: (for 4)

3 medium carrots, peeled
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 TSP chopped garlic
1 TBSP sunflower or vegetable oil
3 ounces canned tuna, drained (good-quality tuna, such as imported Italian brands, recommended but I used regular ones on sale and it was quite good)

1 TBSP white wine vinegar
1 TBSP mustard (preferably French whole-grain mustard)
Salt and pepper to taste
Shoyu to taste (makes the salad Japanese!)

Slice carrots thinly lengthwise, then crosswise to form 2-inch long julienne cuts. Place them in medium-size, microwave-safe bowl and add onion, garlic and oil. Cover and microwave at 50% power for 1 1/2 minutes. (I don't think my microwave can nuke at 50% power so I just microwaved at regular power.) Once the carrots are lightly cooked, add the drained tuna and then dressing and mix well. (The can of tuna may be more than 3 ounces so I suggest that you use the whole can.)

Serve hot, at room temperature or cold. (I prefer it chilled.)

This salad is very refreshing and healthy. Please enjoy!


Lyon Arboretum, see all the beautiful Native Hawaiian plants in a tropical rainforest setting in Manoa Valley

The Lyon Arboretum, located at the top of Manoa’s watershed, is a 200 acre botanical garden managed by the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. It is open to the public Monday through Saturday and admission is free however it is suggested that you give a donation so that they can continue their good work. The Arboretum is considered the only University botanical garden (with water features) located in a tropical rainforest in the United States. It is also the only easily accessible tropical rainforest on the island of O'ahu.

It became a part of the University of Hawaii in 1953. Prior to that, the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association used the area to test various tree species for reforestation and collected living plants of economic value. There are many varieties of palms (over 650), ginger, heliconia and hibiscus. There is an entire section on herbs and spices as well as native and Polynesian plants.

Our Monday Hiking Ohana led by Debbie

Dr. Harold Lyon was a plant pathologist from Minnesota who was employed by the HSPA to restore the land that was torn apart by free-ranging cattle. He planted some 2,000 tree species on the land which became to be known as Manoa Arboretum. It was Dr. Lyon who pursuaded the HSPA to give the arboretum to the University of Hawai'i with the provision that the facility must be used as an arboretum in perpetuity. The University renamed the place in 1957 to honor the man who nurtured the 200 acres of land for 40 years. We are fortunate that he had the vision to create such a beautiful place to leave to future generations. Thank you Dr. Lyon and thank you to all the workers and volunteers who make the Lyon Arboretum so special. They continue to move forward in their mission of conservation by keeping a seed bank for storage and a plant micropropagation lab to rescue endangered Hawaiian plants.

Debbie explains a spice

The Lyon Arboretum is located at 3860 Manoa Road. It is actually easy to get there, make sure you go all the way up towards the now closed Paradise Park and keep on driving past it. There is ample parking up there and it is a wonderful place to spend a few hours walking along the marked trails. Sit and ponder at Inspiration Point! There are self-guided tours, guided tours Monday through Friday and periodic plant sales. Please be sure to use insect repellent and sunblock, wear a hat on sunny days and bring water.




Bay leaf or Laurel

Nutmeg tree


Blue marble


All spice

Vanilla bean

Staghorn fern

Beehive ginger



Miss Hawaii Ti leaf

Lemon grass and kaffir

Siam Rose


Mountain apple






White Hibiscus

Honolulu Festival

Lyon Arboretum