PLANT NAME: Aleurites moluccana (L.) Willd.
OTHER NAMES: Aleurites triloba, Croton moluccanu
COMMON NAMES: Kukui (“Light”) [Hawai'i]; candlenut [USA]; tuitui [Cook Islands; Tonga]; lama [Samoa]; ti’a’iri [Tahiti]; ‘ama [Marquesas]; tutu’i [Austral Islands]; shi li [China]; lauci [Fiji]; kurup [Papua New Guinea].
PHARMACEUTICAL NAME: Nope.
NOMENCLATURE: Aleurites comes from the Greek “aleuron” which means “covered with flour.” This is a reference to the fine hairs of kukui that make it look as if it were dusted with flour. The word kukui means, “light” in Hawaiian. It is also a word for “lightbulb.”
FAMILY: Euphorbiaceae (spurge family).
CATEGORY: Downward draining herbs – purgatives ~.
PROPERTIES: Astringent, bitter, cold.
PLANT PART USED: Whole plant.
TOXICITY: TOXIC. Kukui is used as a “poison” in Haiti and Turkey. If too much kukui was taken in old Hawai’i, and diarrhea resulted, specially prepared Tacca leontopetaloides (pia) root was given with poi.
CAUTIONS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS: Not in pregnancy. Not with diarrhea. (Please note: Kukui was once used for digestive infections such as dysentery to remove pathogens. This is NOT recommended.)
ENERGETIC CAUTIONS: Not with weak central Qi. ~
PREPARATION OF MEDICINE: For oil, use nuts that sink in water. Crack them with a hammer, take the meat out and place it in a baking pan. Heat oven to 450˚. Bake for 15 minutes. Let cool, mash, and place in a glass jar. Place the glass jar in the sun. Add nuts and pour off oil as desired. Please note that kukui oil can go rancid. To preserve it, add 5 drops of grapefruit seed extract plus 2 drops of vitamin E per ounce of oil. You may have to experiment with different types of vitamin E oil until you find one that blends easily.
To obtain sap, young fruits are pulled from the tree and the sap is taken from where the stem met the fruit. A dap on the tip of your tongue will show how it might be used for teething in babies… or even thrush. This sap from the green fruit is called waikea, and the juice of the green nut is called kohu kukui.
DOSAGE: For constipation, 1 roasted nut. Topical as needed.
STATUS IN HAWAI’I: Polynesian Introduction. Low to moderate pest factor. It is presumed that because kukui seeds were too heavy to be carried by birds that kukui is a Polynesian introduced plant, and not a native. Considering that kukui can create monostands, this might be the case. But it can also beg the question about the ancestors of our endemic heavy-seeded Pritchardias.
MERIDIAN AFFINITIES: Stomach, large intestine ~.
WESTERN FUNCTIONS REPORTED: Anti-infective; anti-mycotic; aperient; aphrodisiac; emollient; laxative; purgative; stimulant; sudorific.
TRADITIONAL CHINESE ENERGETIC FUNCTIONS (~ = extrapolated):
1) Drains downward and moves the bowels~.
2) Clears damp heat~.
3) Clears stomach heat and stomach fire~.
4) Mends the tissue, stops pain~.
Kukui Common Medicinal Uses
- Oil for massage
- Roasted nuts as a cleanser
- Sap for Thrush
Kukui Cross-Cultural Medicinal Uses
- Oil is used topically to stimulate hair growth in Fiji.
- Oil topical for burns, stretch marks, and “lump in stomach”[Hawaii].
- Sap for skin fungus [Hawai'i].
- Coral cuts [Tahiti (bark infused)].
- Septic wounds [Samoa (bark, root); Tahiti (bark infused)]. A salve is made from the nuts for external ulcers and sores [Hawai'i, Malaya].
- Constipation or cleansing [Costa Rica; Hawai'i (flowers / roasted nuts); Papua New Guinea (leaves)] Raw Kukui nuts are more cathartic than cooked ones.
- Diarrhea, dysentery [Fiji, Java].
- Sprue (A tropical digestive disease) [Malaya]; stomachache [Celebes]; “lump in stomach”[Hawaii (oil topical)]; voracious appetite [Hawai'i]; stomach and abdominal problems (“kahi”) [Tonga (bark infused in combination)]; bowel cramps [Sumatra (charred nuts topical on navel)].
- Food poisoning [Papua New Guinea (leaves)].
HEAD AND THROAT
- Sap, flowers, and bark infusion for thrush, sore throats, tonsillitis, toothache, canker sores, or bad breath [Hawai'i].
- Headache [Cook Islands (oil topical); Malaya (boiled leaves topical)].
- Conjunctivitis [Fiji (fruit sap)].
- Sap topical, or salve made from nuts for external ulcers, infections and sores [Hawai'i, Malaya].
- Fever [Malaya].
MUSCULOSKELETAL / TRAUMA
- Young leaves topical (sometimes heated) for broken bones, bruises, wounds, pain [Hawai'i, Western Samoa (bark)]; sciatica [Malaya]; swelling [Hawai'i, Malaya].
- Tumors (bark topical) [Japan].
- Teething (sap from nut) [Hawai'i] thrush [Hawai'i (sap from nut); Polynesia (bark infused as a gargle)]. Dried flowers have been used in childhood coma [Hawai'i].
- Pediatric mouth infections [Tonga (leaves infused)].
- In Hawaiian language, the word kukui can imply “enlightenment.”
- In old Hawai’i, Kukui nuts were sometimes thrown into a fire and used to place a curse upon a thief.
- Kukui (especially the variety with long narrow leaves) is kinolau (the physical manifestation) of the prankster Hawaiian pig-god Kamapua’a, who throughout the millennia has seduced, annoyed, and intrigued the volcano goddess Pele.
- Groin swelling, “swollen womb” Sap used, and also smoke used as a “douche” [Hawai'i]; gonorrhea (boiled leaves topical) [Malaya]; male contraceptive [Papua New Guinea (seeds topical on the genitals)]; postpartum weakness and “bone pain” [Fiji]; infertility in women [Tonga (bark decocted)].
- The oil was used topically to prevent stretch marks on a pregnant woman’s belly.
- Bark and green fruit used for asthma, wheezing [Hawai'i]; cough [Fiji].
OTHER MEDICINAL USES
- Weakness, debility [Hawai'i]; unconsciousness [Fiji (bark decocted)], Hawai’i].
- Hernia [Fiji].
- Chestpain [Fiji].
- Recurring illness [Fiji (bark decocted)].
- Neuralgia [Fiji (fruit or bark boiled in seawater as a mouthwash)].
USE AS FOOD:
“It is advisable for the visitor to partake sparingly of the inimona [sic] until he has observed how this dish agrees with him.” – – Otto Degener
Kukui nut is roasted, mixed with Hawaiian sea salt (pa’akai) and made into a tasty condiment called ‘inamona. ‘Inamona was also traditionally eaten to help deliver a child. To make ‘inamona, mix 12 roasted, shelled, and ground kukui nuts with 1 small Capsicum frutescens (nïoi), and 1 teaspoon of Hawaiian sea salt (pa’akai).
- In old Hawai’i soot from burning nuts were used for tatoos and fixed with the juice of Plumbago zeylanica (‘ilie’e).
- The dried sap from a slashed kukui trunk was mixed with water and used to make an adhesive or “varnish” called “pïlali.” It was used to protect kapa cloth, and the root-bark provided a copper-colored dye.
- Kukui nuts were chewed by fishermen and spat on the surface of the water to reduce ripples, reduce glare, and aid in locating fish. An inner bark infusion was used to season and dye fishnets for camouflage. They were treated every month or so. The wood was sometimes used to make fish net floats, and a type of fish bait was made with baked coconut meat.
- Kukui nuts can contain up to 80% oil. This oil was once used for almost everything in old Hawai’i, but its primary function was to provide fuel for light. Numerous lamps, torches, and other devices were used to burn kukui oil as illumination. A kalikukui was a kind of “shishkabob” of kukui nuts skewered on a coconut midrib. Six to ten kalikukui were sometimes placed together to make a large torch called an’aulama. A smaller torch called a lama was made from a piece of bamboo stuffed with kukui nuts. There were also stone oil lamps called poho kukui that used a strip of kapa as a wick.
- The oil can be used to protect wood in a similar way as linseed oil. To oil wood on a lathe, the roasted nuts can be placed in a piece of fabric and rubbed onto the wood. The oil was used to stain surfboards and the root was mixed with charcoal to dye canoes black. It was also used to make soap and as waterproofing for paper.
- In the early 1800s, up to 10,000 barrels of kukui oil per year were shipped to Russians living in Alaska.Today kukui oil is used in high performance racecars.
CONSTITUENTS: Moluccanin, moretenone, moretenol, alpha-amyrin, and beta-sitosterol. The oil contains linoleic acids. The fruit contains alkaloids. The nuts have 626 calories, 7.grams of water, 19 grams of protein, and 63 grams of fat. They also contain 8 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of ash, 80 milligrams of calcium, 200 milligrams of potassium, 2 milligrams of iron, and 0.06 milligrams of thiamine.
Warning: These traditional combinations are offered for informational purposes only and not recommended for use. Ingredients may be irritating, toxic, or both.
“Lumps”: the green shells with Artocarpus altilis (‘ulu) sap and powdered Diospyros spp. (lama) or powdered Mariscus javanicus (‘ahu’awa) [Old Hawai'i].
“General debility”: with Christella cyantheoides (kikawaiö) fern, Bidens spp. (ko’oko’olau), fish, and “‘uala poi” (sweet potato poi) [Old Hawai'i].
Disturbed digestion: with weaknessin children (6 months to two years) with Peperomia spp. (‘ala’alawainui) stems, Jambosa malaecensis (‘öhi’a ‘ai) bark, onion, Morinda citrifolia (noni), Saccarum spp. (ko / white sugar cane) [Old Hawai'i].
Asthma: with Syzygium malaccensis (‘öhi’a ‘ai), Acacia koa, Peperomia spp. (‘ala’alawainui), Bidens pilosa (kïnehi), kokohe (?), Morinda citrifolia (noni), Waltheria americana (‘uhuloa), Solanum nigrum (pöpolo) [Old Hawai'i].
Severe headaches: oil with Phyllanthus virgatus (moemoe) leaves. This may be headache possibly due to meningitis [Tahiti].
Abscess: with Bobea spp. (‘ahakea) juice and spring water, boiled, topical [Old Hawai'i].
Enema: with salt water, and juices of kukui, Sida fallax (‘ilima), Osteomeies anthyllidifolia (‘ülei ) bark and Cordyline fruticosa (la’i) shoots [Old Hawai'i].
“Sprue” (a tropical disease): bark juice with Cocos nucifera (coconut) milk [Java].
RANGE: Pan tropical. Native to Malaysia.
HABITAT: Likes moist valleys. Up to 1200 meters.
GATHERING: Fruits twice per year. Gather fruits from trees or nuts from the ground. Throw away nuts that float in water. The kinolau is Lono or Kamapua’a.
PROPAGATION & CULTIVATION: From seed: Use nuts that sink. Soak in hot water 5 minutes before planting. Seeds take 3-4 months to germinate. To transplant seedling, keep soil surrounding the start intact.
- Methanol extract lowers cholesterol in rats [Pedrosa 2002].
- Constituents inhibit Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa [Locher 1995].
NOTES ‘N QUOTES
“Whenever anyone grows tired of the secondhand sort of existence that depends on purchased products, and wants to resume the intimate relationship with nature that man once enjoyed, the kukui-nut stands ready to furnish him with food, flavor, tannin, oil, paint, varnish, medicine, and magic.” – – Euell Gibbons
- A kukui tree can be one beeg buggah, up to 3 feet in diameter and 60 feet tall.
- Two useful fungi: Auricularia auricula (pepeaio) and Trametes versicolor (yun zhi) grow on rotting kukui logs. In the 1800s the Chinese grew a similar fungus, Auricularia cornea, on fallen kukui logs for export to China.
- Kukui flowers are dioecious, with both male and female flowers on the same plant.
- Kukui is the state tree of Hawai’i and the flower of the island Moloka’i. Kukui leaves are used to make the “lei of Moloka’i.” The polished seeds are also used in lei making.
Hawaiian valleys often glisten with the shiny leaves of the kukui tree, painting a reminder of the ancient land divisions called “ahupua’a” and land stewardship called “kuleana.”
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