By Virginia Beck

Kukui nuts

Kukui nuts

Nature flings its net wide, spreading beauty to capture eyes and hearts. The gift of showers in the early mornings gives way to rainbows and cascades of blossom everywhere. The late afternoon creates more rainbows just before sunset, and glorious colors, a dramatic finish to a typical day in Paradise.

Shower trees create splashes of color, and shed a whole fiesta of confetti blossoms across walkways. Along the bypass road to Po‘ipū, the rainbow of colors is particularly beautiful in the late afternoon. Kaua‘i is celebrating summer in all its finest floral abundance. From Bon Dances to Tahiti Fest, music, dance, and great food are shared with laughter.

Look to the mountains, and note where the lighter, yellow-green traces the wanderings of our waters to the sea. Streams carve the narrow, twisting ravines, and sharp ridges that shape our island. The kukui trees have round nuts that follow water and gravity, downhill, spreading more green.

The tree is widely found throughout Polynesia, Southeast Asia and Africa, but it is the official state tree, and the tree that represents the island of Molokai. The kukui is revered in Hawaiian culture for its many uses and its spiritual significance. One of the canoe plants brought by Polynesian explorers up to 1,000 years ago, it honors Lono, the god of agriculture and fertility.

It was originally used as an adornment for the ali‘i.

Kukui were not to be planted at the front of a house, traditionally, for fear of revealing too much of the owner’s soul and wisdom. Better to plant it safely behind the house. This valuable plant was used completely.

Leaves and blossoms are used in haku lei to adorn our heads.

Leaves are used as poultices for infection.

The beautiful polished nuts make lei of every color. Real lei have variations and imperfections, requiring hours of sanding and polishing to make extremely valuable, heirlooms of honor.

The nut you see was hidden, gnarled and wrinkled inside a smooth, green, perfectly round outer husk.

The high oil content of the nuts provided a rich skin lubricant, a soothing oil for burns, and for calming the waves so fishermen got a better view of the fish. Hawaiians crushed the nuts and used the oil to waterproof bowls, implements and fishing nets. Try using it on a coconut bowl.

They also made hand torches by stringing nuts on the ribs of palm leaves. Impaled on a skewer, each nut burned for 3-5 minutes. Did you know the kukui was once used as a measure of time?

Kukui nuts can also be used as a condiment, chopped and roasted, ina mona, sometimes mixed with seaweed or raw fish. The seeds are toxic when raw, and must be roasted to avoid stomach problems. The resourceful Hawaiians used all of nature’s gifts most respectfully.