Grounded in Culture

The culture of ancient Hawai‘i was deeply rooted in nature. It still is — thanks to places like Maui Nui Botanical Gardens.


AWAPUHIAwapuhi Shampoo Ginger

Zingiber zerumbet, “shampoo ginger”

Hike Maui’s deep valleys in late summer and you can’t help but see them — the plump, ovoid bracts of this introduced ginger’s flowering stems. They peep at you from beneath long, dark-green glossy leaves, decorated all over with tiny white or yellow flowers. Snap off the stem and give the bract a squeeze. Clear, fragrant juice the consistency of warm honey floods out. As a shampoo and body soap, ‘awapuhi was adored, and was important enough to be brought along in the settlement canoes. (The plant originated in India, and gradually seduced its way to Polynesia.) 

   Like all gingers, ‘awapuhi’s roots, or rhizomes, are fragrant, but Hawaiians didn’t employ them in cooking. They did, however, use juice from the rhizome to ease stomachaches, and scented their kapa with dried and powdered rhizomes. (Imagine, ginger-scented bedding and clothes …) Hawaiians used ‘awapuhi and other aromatic plants ceremonially as a potent way to connect with the gods — as one cultural advisor put it, to “make the space appropriate for the akua [gods] to come.”

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