Lāʻau Lapaʻau: Five Important Medicinal Hawaiian Plants

Big Island Pulse

As far as medicinal Hawaiian plants go, this one is iconic. Known as Indian mulberry, beach mulberry, and cheese fruit, the noni plant is a fruit-bearing tree that is hardy enough to survive near beaches, on lava rock, and through drought, which makes it perfectly at home in the many different climates of the Big Island. Noni is known for its fruit, which are produced year round—the noni berry. It’s potato-sized, off-white, oblong, and its foremost feature is its incredibly strong smell that many liken to the fragrance of strong cheese or rot. Despite the odor, this was a very important medicinal plant for Hawaiians, who brought this plant on their voyage from the South Pacific. Noni has been used for millennia as a tonic for gastrointestinal ailments and it is also claimed to alleviate arthritic joint pain, improve skin quality, prevent cancer, reduce stress, boost immunity, and treat fever.

Also known as ti leaf, in the world of medicinal Hawaiian plants, this is the “good luck” plant. Ti leaf is one of the most prosperous plants growing on Hawaiʻi Island—almost everyone has at least one or two 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 is 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 to drink, the leaves itself are used to alleviate fever. An inflicted person would lie on a cool bed of ti leaves, which are said to draw out the heat.

Also known as kava or kava-kava, the ʻawa plant is part of the pepper family. It was brought to Hawaiʻi by Polynesian voyagers, and kava drinking has been part of prestigious ceremonial occasions since ancient times throughout the South Pacific. There are approximately 13 unique varieties now found in Hawaiʻi. Some of the most popular strains are Mahakea and Mo’i, which were considered so sacred in pre-colonial times that no one but royalty, or Aliʻi, could ever experiece them. Another variety, Hiwa, was offered to hula deities in return for knowledge and inspiration.
Different parts of the ʻawa plant can be used to treat a myriad of ailments, although it is the root which makes it well known. The root is ground up and strained into a juice, which is consumed for its relaxing effect. Traditionally it was used to treat anxiety, stress, and to relax muscles, but it has more recently become popular as a social drink. Supposedly, this calming effect can be appreciated without intoxication, and allows for inner peace while socializing making it a go-to among medicinal Hawaiian plants.

ʻŌlena, also known as turmeric, has, for centuries, been used around the world for its medicinal qualities. It was widely used throughout Polynesia as well. ʻŌlena is part of the ginger family, and grows best in rainy jungles and forests. This plant’s rhizome, or thick rootstock, was used as the base of a juice to cure sinus ailments and inflammation. The bright goldenrod root was also used as a dye for traditional kapa cloth; and part of its name comes from the Hawaiian word for yellow, or lena. Becareful! These medicinal Hawaiian plants can stain your fingers and countertops.

Māmaki is a plant that’s indigenous to Hawaiʻi—meaning that it can be found nowhere else on Earth. These medicinal Hawaiian plants are a member of the nettle family, and grow as trees, which offered Ancient Hawaiians valuable construction materials like wood and fiber for rope. Its small fruit were used 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 refreshing drink with enjoyable fragrance. Fresh leaves are picked and dried, and processed into an “invigorating” tea, which is said to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and cleanse toxins from the blood.

Risk of Kava Hepatotoxicity and the FDA Consumer Advisory

In early 2002, The US Food And Drug Administration (FDA) began advising consumers of the potential risk of severe liver injury associated with the use of kava-containing dietary supplements. Kava (Piper methysticum) is a plant indigenous to the South Pacific Islands, where it is commonly used to prepare a traditional beverage for social and recreational purposes. Dietary supplements containing the herbal ingredient kava are promoted for relaxation to relieve stress, anxiety, and tension, as well as for sleeplessness and menopausal symptoms. Kava-containing products have been associated with rare liver injuries in Western countries, and the FDA urged consumers and health care professionals to report any case of liver injury that may be related to the use of kava-containing dietary supplements. The FDA also announced its intention to further investigate the relationship, if any, between the use of dietary supplements containing kava and liver injury, which included attempting to determine a biological explanation for the relationship and to identify the different sources of kava in the United States and Europe.

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Kava chalcone induces apoptosis reduces tumor growth

Flavokawain B, a kava chalcone, induces apoptosis via up-regulation of death-receptor 5 and Bim expression in androgen receptor negative, hormonal refractory prostate cancer cell lines and reduces tumor growth

Limited success has been achieved in extending the survival of patients with metastatic and hormone-refractory prostate cancer (HRPC). There is a strong need for novel agents in the treatment and prevention of HRPC. We have shown that flavokawain B (FKB), a kava chalcone, is about 4- to 12-fold more effective in reducing the cell viabilities of androgen receptor (AR)-negative, HRPC cell lines DU145 and PC-3 than AR-positive, hormone-sensitive prostate cancer cell lines LAPC4 and LNCaP, with minimal effect on normal prostatic epithelial and stromal cells. FKB induces apoptosis with an associated increased expression of proapoptotic proteins: death receptor-5, Bim and Puma and a decreased expression of inhibitors of apoptosis protein: XIAP and survivin. Among them, Bim expression was significantly induced by FKB as early as 4 hr of the treatment. Knockdown of Bim expression by short-hairpin RNAs attenuates the inhibitory effect on anchorage-dependent and – independent growth and caspase cleavages induced by FKB.

‘Awa Website Shopping Cart Updated

MauiKava.com has updated their shopping cart to conform to new book, Hawaiian ‘Awa Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure (Edited by Ed Johnston and Helen Rogers), ‘Awa Cultivar naming conventions.

The Introduction is posted HERE

Uka Kava, the Hilo Hawaii based parent company of MauiKava.com, sells 16 different cultivars in season of which 6 Hawaiian type required name changes to be consistent with the new publication which is the definitive guide.

Hawaiian ‘Awa–Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure

Hawaiian ‘Awa Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure

Edited by Ed Johnston and Helen Rogers. This is the definitive guide to the cultural-historical, ingredients, chemistry, cultivars, preparation, production and integrated pest management for ‘Awa (kava kava or Piper methysticum) has been published by the Association for Hawaiian ‘Ava. This is an indispensable resource to anyone interested in the topic.

Read the Introduction Here

Fiji Times–New research in Scotland and Luxembourg has found that kava is a cure for two types of cancers.

RESEARCHERS who discovered that kava is a cure for two types of cancer should convince Europe to lift its ban, says Agriculture Minister Ilaitia Tuisese. He was commenting on the research findings of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and the Laboratoire de Biologie Moleculaire du Cancer, a medical school in Luxembourgh which found that kava compounds inhibit the activation of a nuclear factor important in the production of cancer cells.

“It’s good news but there’s a ban in the European market and right now we can’t look forward to speeding up on the yaqona (kava) production,” Mr Tuisese said.

“Perhaps they (researchers) can help us convince the European market and assist in lifting the ban. The latest findings confirm what people have been saying all along that kava was not harmful to health.”

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Fiji Times–New hope for kava industry

AS pressure mounts on European and other countries to lift the ban placed on kava imports, the experts and producers of kava around the Pacific are joining forces to publicise the benefits of this age-old root plant to offset any negativity. Holding the helm of this counter-publicity drive in Fiji are the University of South Pacific Professor of Organic Chemistry Subramaniam Sotheeswaran and Kadavu chief Ratu Josateki Nawalowalo.

“In a recent study in collaboration with the organic chemists at the USP, the Saitama Cancer Centre Research Institute in Japan, has shown that kava may have promising anti cancer activity paralleling the anti-cancer activity of green tea,” Prof Sotheeswaran told the Sunday Times.

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