Traditional Health Practices


Traditionally Hawaiians enjoyed good health before Western contact. The Polynesians brought plants to Hawaii by way of wind, water and wings. They were used not only for nourishment but for medicinal purposes. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of the people in developing countries rely on traditional medicine and 85 percent use plants.

In the days of old the healer was called the kahuna la,au lapa'au (herbalist).Presently, herbalists are active prescribing herbal medicine to private patients and those who are looking for other alternatives.

Lomilomi (massage) is also used to relieve body aches. The term haha (touch) also refers to a healing touch technique. Heath problems of muscular or circulatory origin may be treated with lomilomi or haha.

Plants were not the only natural substance used for healing. Pa'akai (sea salt)tinged with lepo alaea (red soil) is a common ingredient of traditional Hawaiian medicine. Medicinal use of salt is based on the belief that salt has cleansing properties.

The following are some plants commonly used in traditional Hawaiian healing practices. *PLEASE NOTE THAT THE KUKUI IS POISONOUS!


Species: Euphoribiaceae (Spurge family)

Common name: Candlenut Tree

Medicinal uses: it is used as a cream or poultice, or the oil was rubbed onto pregnant women's stomachs to prevent the skin from cracking.


Species: Moraceae (Mulberry family)

Common name: Breadfruit Tree

Medicinal uses: Skin ailments


Species: Piperaceae (Pepper family)

Common name: Kava

Medicinal uses: The is served as a relaxant soporific and blended with various other substances for healing purposes


Medicinal uses: Aloe is used to treat burns, colds, high blood pressure and constipation.


E-mail Sharon Moran, RN, CS, MPH

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Last Updated on Wednesday March 23, 1999