Enthobotanist says kiawe friend, not foe, of island

BY CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK

WEST HAWAII TODAY

Kiawe is a food of antiquity from the Americas. For more than 6,000 years, ancient cultures have used kiawe and its relatives for food, wine, fuel, raw materials and smelt gold, said Neil Logan, an enthobotanist, living systems designer and permaculture teacher.

Kiawe was brought to Hawaii from Peru in the early 1800s because “somebody knew of its potential as a nontoxic, highly nutritious food for people and humans, shade, its ability to live in extremely harsh environments, where little else can grow, and its ability to be spread by animals,” Logan said.

Today, kiawe is often viewed as a foe and with such disdain that these “salt-tolerant, nitrogen-fixing, pioneer legume trees” are burned or removed. Logan hoped to change this “short-minded” mindset Sunday afternoon during the Kawaihae Local Resource Council’s monthly meeting.

Inside the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Co., Logan shared the history, biology and cultural importance of kiawe. He studied this species for six years in Hawaii and its native environment in South America, where it’s considered endangered because of centuries of systematic deforestation and disease. Only about 1 percent of the original kiawe woodlands that once existed in the Peruvian desert remain, he said.

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