Healthful foods from the plantation

My husband is a fantastic cook, and we’ve collected a lot of cookbooks over the years. Every now and then I browse the pages of a cookbook, looking for a recipe that I, with my limited skills and my preference for using as few ingredients and utensils as possible, could make.

“The Second Plantation Village Cookbook” (1987), compiled by the Friends of Waipahu Cultural Garden Park, is a local cookbook that gives readers a glimpse of plantation life through anecdotes and historic photos. The recipes come from Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Puerto Rican cultures, along with a Cosmopolitan section.

But what caught my attention, tucked between recipes for ginger chicken, pork adobo, luau stew, tsukemono, kook soo, and pasteles, were interesting tidbits about the medicinal use of some of the plants used in those recipes.

The cookbook cautions: The passages on the medicinal use of certain plants are included for their historic interest and your entertainment. They should not be considered as suggestions for medicinal remedies or as a substitute for medical advice.

Here are some of the “natural” remedies that the contributors suggested. Maybe some of them are familiar to you.

Achiote (Bixa orellana): the seeds can be made into a dye that is anthelmintic, or capable of expelling intestinal worms; and is used in treating certain types of skin disease. The seeds themselves are useful as an antidote for tapioca poisoning.

Coconut: the milk was used to prevent dehydration from diarrhea and for constipation and urinary problems. Oil obtained from the meat was applied locally to itchy scalps and could be used as a skin moisturizer.

Gandule (pigeon pea): the seeds may be used as poultice for wounds and bruises.

Ginseng, Sansam variety: it is purported to treat alcohol in the blood, regulate blood pressure, reduce fevers, and act as a stimulant and recuperative agent in helping the body recover from fatigue.

Guava shoot: the young shoots can be chewed to treat diarrhea (you only have to use it once).

Ha‘uowi: used as a tea, it can treat high blood pressure. The leaves, when crushed with a little Hawaiian salt, can be applied to rashes and sores.

Lin sai: the plant can be used for diabetes, by boiling it in water and drinking it as a tea (not more than three times a week).

Lychee: the fruit is said to be good for all forms of glandular enlargements. Its seed is soothing for pains and nerve disorders. A tea made from the leather-like skin is used to treat distress caused by smallpox eruptions. Even the flowers, bark, and root may be used in tea form to treat inflammations of the throat. Beware, however, as overeating of the fruit is said to cause fever and nosebleed!

Malung-gay (horseradish tree): the roots, when specially prepared and brewed as tea, can treat asthma, gout, rheumatism, and internal inflammations. The brew can be used as a gargle and mouthwash. When chewed, the roots are applied to snake bites to prevent the poison from spreading.

Onion: its juice is used in treating diarrhea, earaches, and headaches. Eaten regularly, the onion is said to lower cholesterol levels.

Pohe kula: the leaves can be used to make a tea for an upset stomach.

Saluyot: the seeds, when ground and mixed with ginger and honey, can be used as a remedy for diarrhea.

Sweet potato (kamote): the young shoots are said to be good for diabetes.

Taro: when sliced, the raw root was used to stop bleeding on open wounds; and poi was used as a poultice on sores.

White lady slipper: the ripe seed is good to take down fish bone in the throat. When boiled, the seeds can help flush out the kidneys.

Do you use medicinal plants today? Are there go-to family recipes that you use for colds and minor ailments? Do you believe that remedies based on natural plants and foods are just as effective as pharmaceuticals?

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