Sugar cane at Limahuli Garden and Preserve on Kaua‘i's North Shore.

Sugar cane at Limahuli Garden and Preserve on Kaua‘i’s North Shore.

Westerners introduced commercial crops of sugar cane to Hawai‘i in the 1800s, and the first large-scale mill in the state was established in Koloa in 1835.

But ko, the Hawaiian name for sugar cane, had long been in the islands. Polynesian settlers brought ko with them when migrating in sailing canoes across the Pacific Ocean to Hawai‘i.

Hawaiians used ko for food, flavoring and medicine. They would chew the peeled stems as snacks, and chomp on fibrous stems to keep their teeth clean.

During winter, large silvery flower tassels would be harvested and turned into darts for a popular game. Additionally, tassels would be scattered on hillsides to create a slippery pathway for he‘e holua, a Hawaiian-style sledding.

Today, all the commercial sugar cane fields, once abundant on Kaua‘i, have been phased out. Many of those fields are now fallow or are being used by seed companies growing genetically modified corn.