BY SARA CROW
Many years after visiting the Hawaiian islands for a teaching event, the aura and taste of the islands still awaken my senses. Please enjoy this story on the ojas of the islands (written many years ago):
As we headed northeast on the Hana Highway, Maui’s serpentine coastal route, we found never-ending sensual treasures of fruits, flowers, waterfalls, wildlife, limpid pools, taro patches, bamboo jungles, tropical arboretums, and botanical gardens. With bellies full of fresh coconut milk and locally-made organic banana bread scored at one of the ambrosial fruit stands along the way, we were sufficiently fueled for a hike and adventure at the Ke’anae Arboretum.
The topography of the Ke’anae region where the arboretum rests is rugged, with deep valleys, high cliffs, and boulder beaches stretching along the coast; for this reason it has a long history of relative isolation from the rest of the island. Until the Hana Highway was completed in 1926, the area was largely inaccessible, which helped retain many characteristics of the local indigenous culture.
Home to over one hundred fifty species, the arboretum is divided into three groups: native forest, introduced forest, and traditional Hawaiian plants used for food and medicine. The arboretum is planted on land that was terraced hundreds of years ago by the native Hawaiians who used it for cultivating taro, their staple crop prior to European contact.
We were first greeted by the magnificent and richly hued Rainbow Eucalyptus tree (Eucalytus deglupta), also known as the Rainbow Gum, impressive rainforest trees native to Australia. The only eucalyptus tree found naturally in the Northern hemisphere, this gorgeous and unusual ‘painted’ species has relatively little research to date on its medicinal properties, but it does contain essential oil in the leaves that show promising antibacterial properties.
We made our way through the magical rainbow grove, past a mystical Banyan tree, and were greeted by the soft white and gold-dipped blossoms of the Ohi’a Lehua tree (Metrosideros polymorpha). The red Lehua flower is the official flower of the Big Island; this common native species tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, temperature, and rainfall, and provides valuable watershed protection. The Ohi’a Lehua is one of three main Hawaiian flowers, along with Wilelaiki and macadamia, that are the source of the monofloral honeys native to the islands. The Ohi’a Lehua flower in particular is an important source of nectar for most native birds, including endangered species such as the Akepa (Loxops coccinea), the endemic Crested Honeycreeper (Palmeria dolei) and many other species of Honeycreepers (Hemignathus). Medicinally, the flower is used to ease childbirth, and leaf buds are used as a tonic and to treat colds and flus. According to Hawaiian legend, picking a Lehua flower blossom is said to bring rain, which represent the tears shed by princess Lehua as a result of being separated from her lover, Ohia. Therefore, the flower symbolizes love and devotion, and is made into leis and worn in wedding ceremonies.
As we made our way down the muddy path we met the Costus speciosus or Crape Ginger; native to many Pacific Islands, it sent crimson red scepters into the sky adorned with pure white trumpets resembling the megaphones of antique record players. The Crape Ginger has many historical uses in Ayurveda, including the treatment of fever, rash, asthma, bronchitis, and intestinal worms. It is also mentioned in the Kama Sutra as a cosmetic ingredient painted on the eyelashes for increasing sexual attractiveness (good idea!).
The Tree Jasmine (Posoqueria latifolia), a cultivated species introduced into the arboretum, enticed us to visit its large white suspended blossoms, still wet from the intermittent morning showers. Although not nearly as richly scented and intoxicating as the Jasminum grandiflorum or Jasminum sambac chosen by perfumers for their essential oils, it was a beautiful addition to the arboretum.
Streams and waterfalls, bird songs and insect noises, ripe fruit falling to the forest floor, ocean winds rustling the vegetation, rainbow colors of island flowers, and fragrant exotic blossoms flooded our senses. Our visit to the arboretum was a memorable sequel to the ‘Feast of the Nectars’ that originally brought us to the island. Inspired and uplifted, we returned that evening to our temporary house in the forest to make flower essences by moonlight.
~ Sara Crow