Gathering kukui nuts and re-landscaping for a play space

18 09 2010

Aged kukui nuts prior to cleaning and polishing into Hawaiian jewelry

The studio and its surrounding garden of fruit trees and raised vegetable beds is not my choice for a toddler to play in, so I’ve cleared out the heliconia under the avocado tree to plant a soft thick green ground cover of clover with Miss Marvelous in mind. She likes to explore and play in the outdoors.

Those following the progress of Miss Marvelous may see what she looks like at 16 months this September. I snapped this image in the car on a shopping trip. She loves shopping!

The heliconia patch was there since purchasing our place. It has survived with not much care for more than 26 years. When the patch was full and thriving, gathering the fallen avocados in August was like hunting for Easter eggs in a forest.

Off and on since trimming the plants to the ground I’ve dug up roots, runners, sprouts, as well as rusty iron pieces from the old VW bug, now in its last disintegration phase.

Just by running my fingers through the coarse soil, I found lots of old, old kukui nuts, whole ones and halves of different colors—black, brown, white, multi—from the neighbor-in-the-back’s tree on the other side of the panax hedge. They were easy to find, a meditative search akin to shell seeking.  In all our years here I never gathered many.

Today I thought I’d rescue the nuts for my friend Kamakea who turns them into jewelry, and I saved them for her.

The kukui fruit with its outer skin covering or husk still intact. On the tree they are a gray-green color.

Next I looked for kukui nuts that were freshly fallen for another friend, Cathy, who makes inamona, a roasted nutmeat relish mashed with paakai (salt) and used in Hawaiian cuisine.

It is a long process to prepare inamona, about as long as it takes to make kukui nut jewelry. Cathy said, as long as the outer covering is still intact, it’s good for inamona. Kukui nuts are seasonal, and they are starting to fall now.

Sure enough, in and among the fallen dried leaves in the corner of the lot were these round fruit. So I scooped those up too. When I have a few more, I’ll deliver them to Cathy.

The kukui tree (Aleurites moluccana) is amazing. It has many uses. It is a canoe plant originally brought to the Hawaiian Islands by Polynesians who arrived here by canoe. You can spot the tree in the mountains by looking for light, mint-green-colored leaves.

In Hawaiian culture the kukui is one of the kinolau (forms taken by a supernatural) of the Hawaiian pig god Kamapuaa; the shape of the leaf resembles the head and ears of a puaa (pig). Freshly plucked leaves with stems on are arranged together by knotting the stems make beautiful lei (wreaths). In laau lapaau (Hawaiian medicine), the mashed kernel, as in inamona, is a laxative and prescribed for relieving constipation.

It is often called the candlenut tree. Kukui means light. Hawaiians skewered the oily kernels and burned them for light. The oil is the preferred oil for polishing wooden utensils for food, such as umeke (bowls) and platters. You can now find the oil on the commercial market as a cooking oil and in cosmetics.

The kukui tree also provides wonderful shade. Mahalo e ke Akua! Combined with the canopy of the avocado tree and a ground carpet of hardy clover, I envision a delightful play space for Miss Marvelous. She’ll just have to duck during the month when the fruit fall.

Copyright 2010 Rebekah Luke
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