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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Book review
Book on state's medicinal plants was last gift from Beatrice Krauss

By Heidi Bornhorst
Special to The Advertiser

"Plants in Hawaiian Medicine"

Book signing with illustrator Martha Noyes at the Foster Botanical Gardens Plant Sale, 10-11:30 a.m.

Saturday at the gardens, 180 N. Vineyard

by Beatrice Krauss with illustrations
by Martha Noyes, Bess Press, paper $12.95, hardback $22.95

The first thing you notice is the gorgeous cover of this long-awaited book by Hawai'i's best-known ethnobotanist, the late Beatrice Krauss.

The cover is black with a gorgeous graphic of lei kaunaoa, the lei flower of the island of Lana'i. The golden orange of the kaunaoa is a vivid contrast to the glossy black cover. Look closely at the black and you will see that it is actually a lau kalo 'ele'ele, a black taro leaf artistically presented by graphic artist Carol Colbath. Her landlord, ti expert David Yearian, grew the kalo, picked and twisted the lei kaunaoa and shared it with Carol for the inspiring and appropriate cover.

This lovely book, a must for all of us who are interested in Hawaiian plants, herbal medicine and Hawaiian ethnobotany has been published posthumously. Krauss, who died in 1998 at age 94, was working on this book in the last years of her life. It is superbly illustrated by Martha Noyes, who is, like many in the plant field here, a protÚgÚ of "Auntie Bea." Noyes is herself a student of Hawaiian healing, an author and great artist.

For more than two years, Noyes would visit Krauss at least twice a month and they would talk story and work on the book together. When asked to contribute to the book, Noyes was overjoyed to be able to get to know Auntie Beatrice in a deeper way. She cherished the time they spent together and said that she always felt so clean and refreshed after spending time with Krauss.

Now Auntie Beatrice is gone but Noyes, one of her many haumana (students) carries on.

Thirty plants are covered in this handy-size book. They include native Hawaiian plants, Polynesian introductions and plants that were brought to the Islands by other cultures and have found their way into folk medicine. It is not meant to be a primer for self medication but rather a useful reference about some of our most wonderful plants. Each chapter contains an illustration of the plant, notes on the plant's family, ecosystem and arrival in Hawai'i, a physical description and its general uses as well as medicinal uses both ancient and contemporary. Plants range from the familiar to the lesser known.

Ethnobotany is a fancy word for what ancient and practical people do with plants all over the world, and something that more and more of us are interested in here in Hawai'i. It is the study of the way people grow, cherish and use the plants around them for food, medicine, shelter, ornamentation and so on.

Ethnobotany is very important in Hawai'i, and was especially so in earlier times, when residents couldn't run down to the neighborhood drug store or supermarket for cures or food.

It is believed by many experts that the Hawaiians had a use for every single plant in the Islands. We know for sure that the plants that they carried with them in their great sailing canoes on the long voyages across the Pacific had multiple uses. They also learned how to use many native Hawaiian plants that they found here once they arrived.

Krauss had several careers. For a start, she was the first female graduate of the UH college of agriculture, and she did research on pineapple for many years. When she retired from that, she began to teach ethnobotany at UH-Manoa. Her classes were so popular that students would sit out in the halls just to hear her mana'o.

Many old-time students still have the battered and precious handouts and booklets that she shared with us. This book is a great cumulative addition to those cherished, dog-eared documents, somewhat muddy from the lo'i kalo.

I remember when I was first starting to really learn about native Hawaiian plants in high school. We had a great young teacher, David Boynton, who led the Roosevelt High school hikers and Sierra science club programs. I was an eager 10th-grader, a slipper-shod hiker, soaking up information about Hawaiian plants.

Laura Brainard was one of the knowledgeable seniors and a mentors to us. She said that the first thing she would do when she graduated was to audit Beatrice Krauss' ethnobotany class at the UH. "What is ethnobotany? Who is Beatrice Krauss? What is auditing?" I asked.

I learned the answers to these questions soon enough, and we all continue to learn from Auntie Bea in this book, and to explore the many facets of plants in Hawai'i.

Mahalo, Auntie Beatrice.

Heidi Bornhorst writes a weekly column on Hawai'i gardens for The Advertiser and is director of Honolulu's five city botanical gardens.