Oct 20, 2015

Māmaki, Ancient Hawaiian Sacred Plant

The Polynesians brought many plants with them on their 2400 mile journey across the open ocean. Plants like breadfruit, bamboo, sugarcane, mountain apple, ginger, yam, and of course, taro. They also brought plants that were used as medicine. These included kukui, noni, coconut, taro, breadfruit, banana, sugarcane, kava and others. Hawaiians also made medicines from the many native plants and seaweeds abundant in the islands, Māmaki was one of those native plants. Ancient Hawaiian’s used Māmaki for generations to aid in overall health and well-being. The elders passed on this knowledge to their children. Today, the Māmaki plant is still best known for its refreshing, smooth tasting, herbal tea and it’s medicinal uses.

Friendly Market sells Māmaki leaves
Click on images to view larger
This week I noticed a stack of large leaves for sale in the produce department of Friendly Market here on Moloka'i. I asked what they were and was told they were Māmaki leaves and that the Hawaiians make a medicinal tea out of them. The store price was about $3.84 for 10 leaves the size of your hand. 

The leaves can be used fresh or dried to make a tea that is calming, cleansing, and traditionally used as a tonic or “pick-me-up”. To prepare the tea, pour boiling water over 5 chopped-up leaves and steep for at least 20 minutes, until a rich red color develops. Steeping longer does not make the tea bitter, as it does with caffeinated teas. The fresh leaves can also be cooked and eaten as a green vegetable according to the website marketlessmondays. Another source for dried 
Māmaki tea leaves is a company on Oahu called Māmaki Native Hawaiian Herbal Tea.

After investigating more about this plant, I found that a lot has been written about Māmaki and that their are many companies now selling 
Māmaki tea leaves online, including Amazon.com. The most interesting thing is that Māmaki only grows in Hawaii, and nowhere else on Earth. It seems that Māmaki had evolved on the Hawaiian islands well before the first Polynesians, from the Marguesas Islands, arrived here around 600 or 700 A.D. The exact date will probably never be known because the Native Hawaiians were a people without writing, who preserved their history in chants and legends.

Māmaki, Ancient Hawaiian Sacred Plant
Photo by David Eickhoff
So what do we know about Māmaki, or Pipturus albidus. We know that it is a shrub in the nettle family (Urticaceae), and it still grows naturally on the forested slopes of most of the Hawaiian Islands. Apparently, Māmaki is not just another tea, it is a combination of wide ranging antioxidants, such as catechins, Chlorogenic acid, and Rutin, all of which provide remarkable benefits to the mind and body. Māmaki tea helps promote healthy cardiovascular function, counteracts the negative effect of stress, and supports healthy glucose metabolism. However it's important to know that these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, why... I can't imagine. Click here to read about why the FDA hasn't endorsed similar products.

The plant, although in the nettle family, is a needleless nettle plant that grows in moist to wet forests at elevations ranging from almost sea level to 6,000 feet. Its leaves are dark-green on the top and white to gray underneath, often with reddish veins. The texture can vary from papery to leathery. The leaves range in shape from oval to oblong to diamond- or heart-shaped and they have saw toothed edges. Māmaki is a plant that reaches a height of 6 to 20 feet and can continue to thrive for an upwards of 35 years.

The bark of the plant has been used to make Kapa (cloth) when the softer, more preferred wake (paper mulberry) wasn't available. The fruit of the berry has been used as a laxative. The bark has also been used to help nursing mothers for thrush and the berries of the Māmaki plant, were traditionally used to relax tense muscles prior to giving birth. Māmaki tea has been endorsed by

Dr. Shintani, of Honolulu, and is mentioned in his book, The Hawaii Diet.

Lemon Māmaki Tea
Lemon Māmaki Tea
Māmaki tea is mildly sweet with a pleasant, earthy taste. However this tea blend of Māmaki, lemongrass, lemon peel, and a few other things, has a beautiful golden brown color and citrus bouquet. Regular Māmaki tea can be purchased in a number of places online, but this lemon blend can only be purchased from www.teachest.com.

Ingredients:
1 round teaspoon Lemon Māmaki Tea blend
1 cup boiling water

Procedure:
Pour hot water over leaves. Steep for 3 minutes, strain and add honey if desired for sweetness.
Makes 1 serving.

Note: I found this interesting website that talks about making nettle tea, click here if interested.


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