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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2008

Eating lu'au leaf is good for your health, Island growers

By Jari Sugano and Steve Fukuda

Eating more greens is an annual resolution. What could be healthier than eating more locally grown lu'au leaves? Lu'au leaves are nutritious, low in fat, and a good source of dietary fiber.

In a past article, we talked about the use of taro corms for poi. Lu'au leaves are the leaves of the taro plant. Unlike lettuce or spinach, these cannot be consumed raw because of the presence of toxic calcium oxalate crystals, which can irritate your mouth. The crystals are destroyed by heat when leaves are well cooked. Boiled and drained leaves can be eaten plain, dressed with a little butter or healthy-fat margarine, in stews with light coconut milk.

Lu'au leaves can be grown year-round under wetland (lo'i) or dryland conditions. Leaves grown under wetland or flooded conditions are softer and steam better for laulau than leaves from dryland-cultured plants. The ideal pH levels (5.5 to 6.5), row and plant spacing (2 feet) are the same for all backyard taro cultivation. Plants with desired characteristics (taste, tenderness, color, etc.) are selected as planting material.

The mother, or makua, will produce offspring, or keiki, with the same characteristics. Taro is usually propagated from huli, which are taken following crop harvest by removing the bottom section of the corm (leave about a quarter-inch of the top portion of the corm) and about a foot of stem. The most popular taro variety, for leaf production is bun long or Chinese taro. This variety seems to contain the least amount of calcium oxalate crystals in the leaves and corm.

Production practices for lu'au leaves differ slightly from corm production. Fields are prepared the same whether for lu'au leaf or corm production. Contrary to fertilizer practices for corm production, nitrogen-rich fertilizers such as urea (46-0-0) or ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) are needed to boost production of lu'au leaves at four-to-six-week intervals (1 pound ammonium sulfate or 1/2 pound urea per 100 square feet).

Lu'au leaves grown in the backyard are commonly irrigated by drip, sprinkler or hose. Taro plants can tolerate over-watering, but irrigation should be aimed at the root area to minimize excessive moisture on leaves, which promotes leaf blight. Leaf blight is a fungal disease caused by Phythophthora colocasiae, which causes dark, circular lesions on leaves. Diseased leaves should be cut back, removed and destroyed.

Harvest lu'au leaves every two to three weeks. The bun long variety typically produces about one leaf every seven to 10 days. All leaves can be harvested at once except the most recently expanded leaf. Harvesting can continue for six to eight months.

Eat more lu'au greens in 2008!