Sunday, February 4, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 4, 2001

Family matters
Healing plants are often found in our own yards

By Ka'ohua Lucas
Special to The Advertiser

"Quick, do you know what this is?" I asked my son, pointing my big toe at a clump of leaves that sparsely lined a sidewalk.

"Uh, ilima?" he said.

(He’s brilliant when it comes to making things up on the spot.)

"No," I said, shaking my head, feeling somewhat superior now that finally the tables were turned in my favor, and I was able to bestow a bit of trivia upon his fertile mind. "This is laukahi. Your grandpa used it on me once when I had a boil."

Laukahi, or Plantago major L., as it is known in the scientific community, is a small plant with large, rounded leaves and a tall flower surrounded with tiny fruits. When prepared appropriately, the laukahi leaf will act as a salve, drawing pus from a swollen boil or sore, Malcolm Naea Chun writes in his text, "Native Hawaiian Medicine."

Laukahi is the type of plant that goes unnoticed, especially to the untrained eye. Many may mistake it for a weed since it thrives in low-lying areas.

As a kid, I knew far too well what laukahi looked like because my grandma would order my brother and me to regularly pick the tall-stemmed fruit for her canary to eat.

"This gives Tweetie a good bowel movement," my grandma would remark.

I’m not sure how true that was, but I found quite a few plants, nuts and fruits in our own yard that could function as herbal remedies.

As a society, we have become accustomed to turning to a pill to cure all our ailments, even if they are minor ones.

I suggest we explore our own yards for plants with healing powers.

The ti leaf, or ki, can be used to reduce fever.

The young shoot of the guava leaf was fed to me when I was a child to cure diarrhea.

A friend of mine told me that her grandmother recommended she ingest the popolo berry to counteract a shortage of iron in her bloodstream.

On a recent visit to my mother’s house, I discovered my 6-year-old tossing kukui nuts at his brother, who was lodged in the tree.

"Hey, hey, what’s going on here?" I scolded. "Do you realize those nuts have great medicinal value?"

"Yeah, and they’re good for beaning brother on his okole," my youngest son responded gleefully as he took careful aim.

But the kukui nut, as well as the tree itself, has many healing qualities.

I’m not suggesting we eliminate prescribed medicine and convert entirely to an herbal regimen. It is important to note also that we should proceed with caution when using these plants. You should consult your doctor before trying any remedy, herbal or not.

"Contemporary native traditional practitioners warn that any unsupervised experimentation may or will lead to greater illness or death," Chun writes.

Like our own children, we’ve all used kukui nuts at one time or another for ammunition. And we’ve used kamani nuts and the pearly-white seeds of the naupaka bush.

But as parents, we can take it a step further and demonstrate to our children the value of these plants, keeping in mind the wisdom of our kupuna, "Puali kalo i ka wai ole," or, "for lack of care one may become ill."

I am only suggesting that we become more aware of what’s growing in our own backyard.

And for those of us who had a parent or tutu who used plants to cure common ailments, let’s share this knowledge with our keiki.

Two Hawaii parents, Lynne Wikoff and Kaohua Lucas, take turns writing the Family Matters column. Send comments to: Family Matters, Ohana Section, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail or fax 535-8170.

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