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Harnessing the Power of Plants

From a philosophical perspective, the term “holistic” characterizes the things that are parts of something more, and understood through their intimate connections to other parts of that whole. Medicinally, holistic treatment of a person takes into account their mental and social well-being, rather than looking merely at their symptoms. When we think about living a holistic lifestyle, one where the mind, body, and spirit are connected and in alignment, it is natural to look at examples from our kūpuna and ancestors. For centuries, indigenous cultures have been harnessing the power of plants to provide optimal holistic healing. Listed below are some of our go-to plants for healing and how they can help you.


ʻŌlena: The canoe plant, also known as turmeric, is a plant that Hawaiian voyagers brought to Hawaiʻi in their migration. ʻŌlena originally comes from India and other regions in Southeast Asia. Indigenous cultures from these areas have been using ʻōlena for centuries as medicine and in their foods, take curry as an example. The root of ʻōlena has a vibrant yellow color and can be used for fabric dye and health remedies. Research on ʻōlena shows it to be anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. It also has antioxidant and cardiovascular properties. People use ʻōlena for breathing problems, as a mood enhancer, and to balance their blood sugar level. In Hawaiian culture, ʻōlena is used for cleansing and purifying people, objects, and physical spaces. ʻŌlena can be used in its raw form and consumed by mixing it in with food or simply chewed on like a gummy. It can also be dehydrated into a powder or juiced. In this form, ʻōlena can be used in lip balms, face washes, or in topical salves. My favorite way to use ʻolena is in its raw form as a tea by cutting the ʻōlena into small pieces and letting it seep in hot water with lemon and ginger for a few minutes. When itʻs ready, I like to add honey and some black pepper. I make this any time I have a scratchy throat or if Iʻm feeling under the weather. Itʻs a great pick-me-up.


Ginger: Like ʻōlena, ginger is a root, also from Southeast Asia, and a staple of Asian cooking. It can be used fresh, dried, powdered, juiced, or as an oil. My family really enjoys ginger candies as a sweet treat without the overwhelming effects of other sugary hard candies. Ginger is extremely beneficial with anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties. People use ginger for nausea, to aid digestion, or to fight infections. Research has found that ginger can reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer. It has also been found to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Besides in cooking, I like to use ginger essential oil when I have an upset stomach or to help reduce car sickness.


Lavender: The Latin root word of lavender is “lavare,” which means “to wash”. Best known for itʻs color and flower, lavender, which has been used for centuries in Persia, ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, can be dried or made into an essential oil. Lavender is known as the swiss-army knife of botanicals because it has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. The benefits of using lavender knows no bounds. As an aromatic, it is known to help with sleep, mood boosting, headaches, and nausea. People also burn dried lavender flowers as a smudge when they want their environment to be peaceful and happy. It promotes a sense of calm and well-being. Lavender scented items, especially candles and laundry detergents, are incredibly popular nowadays because of its association with calmness. Topically, lavender is great for the skin. Mixed with carrier oil, lavender essential oil can be applied to the skin to help with rash, acne, and sunburn. I like adding a few drops of lavender essential oil to my toner daily. My skin feels clean and refreshed. I also feel like it has reduced the appearance of some of my scars.


Lemon: Although lemons can be found all over the world, it is believed that they were first grown in Burma or China. Lemons are a symbol of happiness. This bright citrus is high in vitamin C and fiber, which reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, anemia, kidney stones, digestive issues, and cancer. People that want to refrain from drinking soft drinks but don’t enjoy the taste of plain water often put lemon in their water so that it tastes and smells good. It’s a very simple action, but if adding lemon to your water makes drinking water an exciting experience for you, add as many lemons as you want. Lemons can be juiced, zested, added to cooking, or used as an essential oil. It is said that one drop of lemon essential oil contains the juice of 2 lemons. Because lemon essential oil is so strong, it can erode plastic over time. Because of itʻs concentrated strength, I like to add lemon essential oils to my household cleaning supplies. It helps the house smell fresh and clean.


Honey: Bees collect nectar from flowers to make this sweet, thick liquid. Most people think of honey as having a nice yellow hue, but the color of honey is largely dependent on the types of flowers that bees collect from. While honey isn’t technically a plant, it is made of plant compounds, and maintains the health benefits of other plants like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which can reduce your risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, and improve cholesterol. Since bees collect nectar from their environment, it is said that eating honey from your local area helps with allergies. In addition, honey can help to suppress coughing. Honey is also good for the skin. People apply honey to burns, wounds, and include it in their daily skin care. I like to use honey as a moisturizer for the skin when itʻs diluted with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil. Aside from being beneficial to your health, honey is just delicious. It can be used as a natural sweetener to things like tea and yogurt.


Honey, ʻōlena, ginger, lemon, and lavender are only a few examples of the amazing plants in the world that help us heal. “Lāʻau lapaʻau” is what Hawaiians call this type of plant-based healing. In the words of traditional healer, Henry Auwae, “Lā‘au lapa‘au is solving the problems of body, mind, and spirit. In Hawaiian healing, the mental is not separate from the spiritual and physical. Rely on spiritual insight and most of all, guidance from akua [God].” While modern research supports the use of plants for your overall health, ask your kūpuna for their favorite plant-based remedies that they like to use. You might just find there is a certain plant that is significant and meaningful to your family. When I talked with my grandparents, I learned that lau kahi and Hawaiian salt was often used in our family to treat skin issues. We encourage you to unlock that ancestral knowledge within your own family.


If you would like to learn more about how to incorporate more plant-based remedies in your life and harness the power of plants, we will be having a virtual workshop where we will be making three recipes incorporating some of the plants discussed above. We specifically picked recipes designed to help ʻōpio navigate their day to help with focus and overall skin health.


Virtual Workshop: Pua Power

Sunday, January 31st at 1:30 pm


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