Words of Caution: Since the treatments mentioned grew out of traditional folk medicine of the Hawaiian people, and have not been scientifically tested in most cases, neither the students of HawCC nor their instructors endorse or makes any claim as to the efficiency, or accepts any responsibility for their use. We strongly advise that you consult your physician before you begin the use of one of our Hawaiian home remedies. Please keep in mind that all medicines and medicinal plants be kept away from children. Warn children the dangers of putting plant substances in their mouths.


Hawaiians were in relatively good health at the time of Western contact. They led active lives, eating what would now be called "organic" foods, encountered no environmental pollutants, experienced little stress, and had healers competent at curing many of the relatively minor ailments with which they were afflicted. Thanks to the islands' geographic isolation, they had been spared exposure to the more severe illnesses that had developed on the continents.

 Certainly not all the traditional Hawaiian treatments were efficacious, but they were on a par with the treatments available anywhere until European medicine began taking new strides in the nineteenth century. For example, the Hawaiian treatment for a superficial infection was to apply mashed herbs to the wound. This excluded "germs" from the exposed tissue and was the best that could be done until the discovery of antibiotics.

Traditional Hawaiian healing has declined since the 1920s, but still persists in the shadows of Western medicine. Today, many elders still pick the plants that are needed for medicinal purposes, yet it has become increasingly difficult to obtain some of the plants.

My mother says, "When gathering medicinal plants, try to collect those that are less likely to be contaminated by agricultural plant sprays and automobile exhaust. Leave the isolated plant to multiply and take those from a place of abundance."


Many of the precepts of ancient Hawaiian medicine are known to be valuable and efficient aids in today's medical practice. Ancient Hawaiian medicine can be complicated. They mixed more than one plant together to make a medicine, and they don't use cups, teaspoons, or tablespoons to measure ingredients. Hawaiians used opihi (mussel) shells, niu (coconut) shells, handfuls, and different sizes of ipus (gourds) as measuring devices.

The Kahuna La'au Lapa'au , or medical practitioner, was the one who was able to practice medicine. This medical knowledge was passed down from the Kahuna La'au Lapa'au to a selected pupil. It then took many years of teaching and learning before the pupil is able to practice on their own.

Hawaiian Medicinal Plants


The Olena plant, or turmeric, belongs to the Ginger family. The bulb is used for sinus and ear problems.

The kukui grows in valleys and gulches and is a member of the spurge family. It has two shapes. If the fruit bears one seed, it is round; if the fruit bears two seeds, it is elliptical. When the fruit matures, it turns a dark gray-black and becomes soft; fruit is especially soft after it has fallen to the ground. In the husk, is a nut. When matured, its shell becomes black. In the nut is the seed meat or kernel and in the kernel is the location of the rich oils.


'Awa is a member of the Pepper family. The 'awa root is used to treat numerous ailments. 'Awa should not be taken too often or in too great a quantity because of certain undesirable side effects including skin scaling and peeling and temporary muscle paralysis.


Noni, or Indian mulberry, is a member of the Coffee family. It is used for gastric ulcers, diabetes, and high blood pressure.


Kalo, or taro, is a member of the Arum family. As a medicine, the kalo served the Hawaiians well, yet handling the kalo requires the person handling it to be spiritually inclined. The Hawaiians believe that the taro represents the beginning of life; a source of which man is derived.


'Awapuhi comes from the Ginger family and widely spread throughout the forests of the Hawaiian Islands. 'Awapuhi is used for ailments of the head. The rhizomes are pounded into a mash with salt, and the liquid mixture is placed on the affected site.

Becki's Hawaiian Backyard Medicine

(one student's personal experiences)

Growing up the youngest of 6 children and a household filled with numerous aunts, uncles and cousins was pretty hectic (for my parents) but fun for us. When one of the children got sick, everyone was prepared for a chain reaction to take place. My parents along with my aunts and uncles had their own way of "fixing" us up. Besides the use of modern medicine or home remedies, they relied on the plants that were growing in our backyard.

The ti leaf plant was very useful in our household while I was growing up. We used the ti leaf to make hula skirts for my sisters, to wrap lau-lau (a Hawaiian food), and the most important use was to shoo the flies away from the food.

Some of the common plants used in Hawaiian medicine include the Aloe plant, guava, and no'ni. These medicinal plants are most effective if you have faith in their curative powers!

All in all, the plants that I took for granted all these years helped me make it through my childhood. I am very proud to see that people all over the world want to know more about traditional Hawaiian medicinal plants.


Chun, M. N. (1994) Native Hawaiian Medicines. Honolulu, Hawaii: First People's Productions.

Gutmanis, J. (1977) Kahuna La'au Lapa'au: The Practice of Hawaiian Herbal Medicine. Norfolk Island, Australia: Island Heritage.

Uehara, Neal. (1997) Plants the Polynesians Brought: Plants Important in Hawaiian culture, video. Pearl City, Hawaii: Leeward Community College Educational Media Center.

A special mahalo to Gentis N. K. Dumlao for her artistic illustrations of the native Hawaiian plants; they make our web page much more attractive.

This "Traditional Hawaiian Medicinal Plants" web page has been prepared for you by the "Local Girls" of the HawCC Practical Nursing Program:

Becki Kaili, Venus Lau, and Francine Dumlao

Me Kealoha Pumehana...

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