Monday, November 10, 2014

Medicinal Teas of Hawaii: Mamaki and Ko’oko’olau



Mamaki (Pipturus albidus)  is a Hawaiian endemic plant occurring on all the main Hawaiian Islands except Ni'ihau and Kaho'olawe. It grows in moist to wet forests at elevations ranging from close to sea level to 6,000 feet. It can be considered a shrub or a small tree ranging in height from 6 to 20 feet tall.

Mamaki is a highly variable plant. The leaves are dark-green on the top and white to gray underneath, some varieties have reddish veins.  It is generally not suited for hot, dry coastal settings, but will grow well in urban landscapes with some shading. It will also do well planted in containers in part shade. The red-veined varieties appear to tolerate full sun better than green-leaved varieties. The mature plant recovers after pruning if no more than one-third is removed.

Plants are usually propagated from seed. The fruit can be ripened in a plastic bag to soften the pulp.  Seeds are then removed from the pulp by rubbing the fruits in a strainer under running water. The viable seeds will sink and the fruit pulp and other debris can be poured off. Seeds then need to be dried on a paper towel and stored. Once planted, seedlings will thrive in a well-draining soil in a semi-shaded to shaded location.  The plants can also be propagated from cuttings.   

Dried or fresh mamaki leaves are used to make a tea often drunk by those feeling lethargic. The tea is also used to help with many internal disorders such as for the stomach, colon, bladder, liver, and bowels.  The fruit is eaten as a laxative or for stomach, colon and digestive problems. Infused leaves can be used in treatment for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver problems, and bladder problems.  In some people mamaki can cause mild agitation or insomnia.



Mamaki is the primary food source for caterpillars of the native Kamehameha butterfly. Planting this shrub in the garden will provide food for the butterfly as well as a healthy, invigorating tea for the gardener.

Ko’oko’olau (Bidens menziesii) is in the sunflower or aster family.  It can be an annual or perennial shrub, ranging from 3 to 12 feet in height, growing in a wide range of habitats. The plant is found on Molokai and West Maui and on the leeward slopes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island.  It is easy to grow, preferring full sun and light to moderate watering. It grows well as a potted patio plant.

Ko’oko’olau was widely used by Hawaiians prior to European arrival. Its leaves were used as a revitalizing tea. Flowers were used to stimulate appetite. Today the tea is still sold; however, Bidens pilosa is often the species incorrectly labeled and sold as the traditional Hawaiian tea.