Holes In My Knowledge Of Hawaiian Medicinal Practices

Filling the Holes in my Knowledge of Hawaiian Medicinal Practices

I don’t know what it is about this time of year but my kids and I have had a couple go arounds with nasty colds. Hearing your children cough, or cry from feeling miserable has to be one of the worst feelings as a mom. 

When my kids had coughs, I remembered something my uncle had told me about using uhaloa for colds, so I gave him a call. (A few months ago, I shared about my really great experience using Kauanoa that my uncle prepared for me). 

As he was sharing so much amazing information about laau lapaau (Hawaiian medicine),  I couldn’t get over how wonderful and exciting all of this information is and how much I really want to try these things. 

But honestly, I kind of felt overwhelmed because there is so much I don’t know, so many precautions to take, and appropriate ways to go about collecting and preparing laau lapaau. 

Not only are there cultural ways but also common sense ways. This way of natural medicine is wonderful but I wouldn’t put it in my kids’ bodies without more experience and understanding. So I ended up giving them Children’s Tylenol. 

This got me thinking how no one questions Tylenol because everyone uses and has recommended it for years. I’ve used it plenty of times personally, plus doctors recommend it. It's not like I’d pick up a bottle of Tylenol just hoping and wondering if it’s safe. It’s backed up by years of use, positive results, and social acceptability. We have clear instructions on the box of how much and how often to administer it. 

As much as I believe in the potential of laau lapaau, and I’ve had positive experiences with it, I’m just not confident in trying all the different remedies. I don’t know enough to KNOW how to use it safely.

I have heard/read bits and pieces about it over the years. I know there are proper ways to collect the plants, chants and prayers that are performed before and after, standards for where you harvest the plants. Even once you collect them - there are so many steps to prepare and administer them. My knowledge has so many holes so as much as I want to incorporate more laau lapaau into my life - I have to be patient as I navigate this new space for me. 

I think there is so much value in Hawaiian medicine.  We have become so reliant on someone else to make medine for us, and even feed us. We have become disconnected from the original source and process of our food and medicine… I don’t know what Tylenol is made of or how it’s even made, and I don’t think twice about picking up a plastic wrapped package of chicken at the grocery store. (That’s probably a blog for another day…)

I’d love to play a bigger role in the whole healing process for my family. From growing the plants, to harvesting, preparing and administering (okay, maybe my mom will have to grow them because I can’t seem to keep plants alive). If I had my own kupuna around to teach me, I would LOVE that, but this is something I have to navigate with patience, and I’m doing my best to be responsible in the process. 

This is all so new to me, so please share in the comments… How do you use laau lapaau in your lives?

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I do understand your caution unless you are working with someone truly knowledgeable. I grew up with popolo and warm salt water every time i got sick (enema ūpī was a big one too) and yes kukui and uhaloa were used for other ailments. That said, there was a respect for what one knew and didnʻt know, so no one ended up sicker because of the cure. Plants were also cleaner then (Iʻm old). And later on, I also got baby aspirin as well. Thatʻs to say, if someone knows what they are talking about teaches you something, maikaʻi nō. Otherwise, understand your limits and hoʻomau to overcome those limits and then teach your children


I’ve used laau lapaau frequently for almost 2 decades since learning from Kumu Ohai – from clearing our eyes during dusty renovations to keeping my family healthy and healing through colds or bruises, it taught me so much appreciation for passed-down knowledge, the land, and the plants that so many mistake as weeds. There’s always so much more to learn!

Naomi Ignas

My ohana uses laau lapaau regularly. We get guidance from my Aunty who studied under Papa Auwae from Moku o Keawe. Laau lapaau is a spiritual journey. It is more than just physically healing. Sometimes relationships also have to be repaired. You do a lot of pule. My aunty calls it “light” work. Best of luck on your journey.


You are such an inspiration


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