Seeds across the Seas

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noni plant
Roots, bark, sap, leaves and fruit … every part of the noni plant has a therapeutic use in traditional Hawaiian medicine.

The noni shrub was a pharmacy in and of itself, the leaves crushed or charred as a remedy for bruises and skin disorders. The plant’s bark, and juice from its roots, were also valuable skin remedies. Immature fruit, when mashed, served as poultice for broken bones and concussions, and a half-ripe fruit could purportedly quicken the progress of boils when applied directly.

Abbott lists several ailments curable by juice from green noni fruit: “menstrual cramps, arthritis, gastric ulcers, sprains, poor digestion, and problems associated with high blood pressure.”

Ko (sugar cane) - used for fishbait, medicine, lining holua (sled) courses, thatching.
Ko (sugar cane) – used for fishbait, medicine, lining holua (sled) courses, thatching.

The Hawaiians managed to find in the inner and outer bark of many plants the equivalents of cotton, flax, and hemp. The inner bark of wauke (paper mulberry), esteemed for its softness and lightness, was soaked and pounded into kapa, used for everything from men’s loincloths to hula dresses to sandals. Fibers from the hau tree, writes Abbott, also provided valuable cordage for uses ranging from lei-making threads to rope for hauling logs.

‘Uala (sweet potato)-used for food, fishbait
‘Uala (sweet potato)-used for food, fishbait

The master woodworkers of Hawai‘i made sure to bring with them shoots of bamboo, used for mats, containers, and musical instruments; the hardwood kamani, used for food vessels; the milo tree for ‘umeke ‘ai (poi bowls); and the beautiful kou for more highly prized calabashes.  Breadfruit provided kepau, a milky liquid used for caulking canoes. Juice from the candlenut tree was a principal ingredient in canoe paint; its sap made kapa waterproof; its nut was both medicine and food; above all, the oil of the nut provided light itself, when chains of kukui kernels were either set aflame individually or packed inside a length of bamboo and ignited as a lamp.

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