Hawaiian Medicinals

La‘au Lapa‘au: Medicinal Plants and their Healing Properties

Lā‘au lapa‘au is a traditional medical practice of Indigenous native Hawaiians. Lā‘au translates to vegetation ie. plant, tree, timber, forest, and lapa‘au translates to treat, heal and cure. 

This practice involves using native plants, herbs and spirituality to treat ailments and injuries. Traditionally, Lā‘au lapa‘au is practiced by Native Hawaiian healers known as Kahuna Lā‘au lapa‘au.

The history of Lā‘au lapa‘au has been shared by past generations for over a thousand years. In the Native Hawaiian culture, it is believed that health is a result of pono or right living and the belief that that that the loss of harmony and balance caused illness. Traditional Native Hawaiian medicinal practices were based on holistic healing in which the mind, body and spirit were all intertwined.[3]

Kahuna lāʻau lapaʻau were and still are known as the experts in lāʻau lapaʻau and are comparable to general practitioners of today. In order to become a Kahuna lāʻau lapaʻau, one had/has to study for many decades and practice understanding the different healing properties of the laʻau. Kahuna lāʻau lapaʻau is responsible for gathering, preparing and administering herbs based off of two things, the needs of the patient and the healing properties of the herbs / laʻau . This is taken very seriously and is always done in a spiritual nature. Today’s Kahuna you’ll find, usually have degrees in higher education, in addition to the Indigenous training they receive.

Poʻokela Ikaika Dombrigues prepares the young noni fruit into a poultice that was traditionally used by Native Hawaiians in the mending of broken bones.

Below are the most common laʻau used for healing:

  • Awa (Piper methysticum)
  • ‘Awapuhi Kuahiwi—Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet)
  • Hala (Pandanus tectorius)
  • Kī (Cordyline fruticosa)
  • Kō—Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum)
  • Kukui—Candlenut, Indian Walnut, or Varnish Tree (Aleurites molucana)
  • Māmaki (Pipterus albidus)
  • Noni—Indian Mulberry, Great Morinda, Cheese Fruit (Morinda citrifolia)
  • ‘Ōlena—Tumeric, Indian Saffron (Curcuma longa)
  • ‘Uhaloa (Waltheria indica)

For more information on the traditional practice of La’au Lapa’au visit lapaau.org