Kiawe? That thorny tree a super-food?
On Maui, we enjoy many blessings: the Hawaiian culture of aloha and chant, beautiful beaches, volcanoes, rain forests, temperate weather, splendid sunrises and sunsets, outrigger canoe paddling, . . . a vacation paradise. However, we import about 90% of our food and fuel. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean – 2,336 miles from San Francisco and about 4,034 miles from Tokyo – we are very food and energy insecure.
This is a fact of concern.
However, most of us in Hawaii have been over-looking a terrific food source – a much-maligned tree that will give you a painful puncture wound if you step on its thorn. Its beans have been used as cattle and pig fodder or for firewood (mesquite). Tough and hearty – often looking like dead, brown trees during dry conditions, but quickly becoming green with new growth after a rain, kiawe trees are on all the leeward coasts of the Hawaiian islands.
A recent workshop shared that the kiawe beans – from that non-native, drought and salt resistant invasive tree – is actually a local super food. Wild-food guru Sunny Savage says, “Millions of pounds of kiawe beans are just falling to the ground every year, completely and utterly unloved. This tree of life can produce up to 6 harvests per year” (Wild Food Plants of Hawaii, 111).
We don’t need to be food insecure in Hawaii if we learn how to hunt (not hard in Kihei and other dry areas in Hawaii), gather, sort, clean, dry, make flour, and create from recipes using kiawe bean pods.
Sunny Savage and Vince Dodge presented our Kiawe 101 hands-on Workshop in Kihei, Maui. Vince, of Wai’anae Gold, mills kiawe beans into flour and makes delicious products such as ‘aina bars, a raw power bar from kiawe flour.
Vince and Sunny told us that kiawe (aka mesquite /algarrobo), was introduced in 1826, by a French Jesuit priest who had stopped in Peru for a while on his way to Hawaii. Father Alexis Bachelot was impressed by the uses the Peruvians made of the tree and brought it here. A memorial plaque at the old Catholic Mission on Fort Street in Honolulu commemorates that very first tree; its stump is still there today.
In Hawaii, the seedpods became animal fodder and firewood but was not eaten by the people. In contrast, in the Americas, the Middle East, India and many other places where the tree is native, the dried pulverized bean pods were a revered staple food. Naturally sweet, nutrient dense and diabetic friendly, kiawe bean pod flour is a Hawaiian Super Food. All our islands are blessed with abundant kiawe forests.
Wai’anae Gold is working with families to produce food and create livelihoods for the future. For ten years Wai’anae Gold under the leadership of Vince Dodge has been on this path educating and encouraging communities to return to the bounty that the `aina has provided for us all.
To see recipes, buy milled kiawe flour and other kiawe products direct, go to the Wai’anae Gold site:< http://waianaegold.com/ >
Vince says, “We are `Ai Pohaku – The Stone Eaters. Come and join us. He ali`i ka `aina. He kauwa ke kanaka. The land is chief, people its servants (`Olelo No`eau 531 Pukui 1983).”
For the workshop, Vince and Sunny shared how to hunt, gather, select, dry, and use kiawe. We got to taste the super sweet (but diabetic friendly) tea, and eat a meal of kiawe and coconut soup, with kiawe cornbread, kiawe tortillas, and to top it off for dessert, kiawe ‘aina bars: delicious, filling and nutritious!!
Vince is “The founder of ‘Ai Pohaku, Vince Kana‘i Dodge, is a papa (grandfather), educator, cultural practitioner and longtime resident of Wai‘anae where kiawe trees are plentiful.
He shares the story that one day in early 2006 on MA‘O Organic Farms a couple from Arizona shared that “mesquite” – the cousin of kiawe – was a staple of all the Southwest native peoples. All those years ago, Gary told Vince that kiawe was a sweet, nutritious and diabetic-friendly food.
At that time the Wai‘anae community was in the throes of a diabetic epidemic (about one-third of the people in Wai’anae had diabetics, including some as young as 7th grade). Imagine: a sweet, nutritious diabetic-friendly food growing in our backyards… Vince was called. We believe it is no accident that the concentration of kiawe and diabetes are in the same place.”
Last week, Vince was able to meet Gary Paul Nabhan that important visitor from 2006, who was speaking here on Maui for the organic agricultural festival. 🙂
Sunny Savage is host of the wild food cooking show Hot on the Trail, presenter at the 2014 TedxMaui, a foraging workshop guide, and author of the beautiful and inspiring Wild Food Plants of Hawaii. To be connected to the land, to absorb important trace minerals and nutrition we aren’t getting from our processed food, Sunny encourages all of us to forage for at least one wild food each day.
Yesterday, my son Johnny and I ran into each other. We had an hour to spare. We each took a bag and in no time walking along the beach under the shade of kiawe trees, we had them filled with bright, plump kiawe pods. Right now they are drying (inside my car with the windows rolled up)! We look forward to making our kiawe flour into pancakes, bread, soup, sparkling drinks . . .
Again this weekend, we have warnings of two hurricanes headed this way. But now besides our cans of beans and bottles of water for emergency use, we have the knowledge of how to sustain ourselves on the humble kiawe bean pods that are all around us.
What overlooked food source do you have nearby?
Nature is bountiful; we just need eyes to see – and people like Sunny and Vince to teach us.