by Cheyne Mita
Here's what I'll say about the experience in the sustainability gardens: it was more pleasant then I was expecting. From someone who prefers being immersed in technological innovation - whether it's through clothes shopping, game consoles or the internet, I don't hate the outdoors. I enjoy being outside, but here it's more on the base interests - because who can enjoy a constantly hot climate? Obviously, most people can tolerate it- surfers, farmers, gardeners, skaters.
I've come to realize the differences of why people come to love it.
Personally, Hawaii holds no candle to Washington or Canada in regard to outdoor activities. Nothing's more refreshing than taking a day to walk around parks or forest hikes with light fog and crisp air. The air is so much cooler, the trees are more moist, and it's perfect.
Here, hiking is similar. It's still enjoyable, but it's more as a stamina challenge for a view, where a cool breeze is an afterthought. In the stead of trees, people enjoy waterfalls here.
But Hawaii's charm lies in the tropical aspect. It's why people love gardening and preserving the natural plants, because it feels authentic. And I understand why people pursue what they do here.
Last week, we set up tents outside to showcase the native plants and their products, as well as have students take a survey about sustainable cafeteria improvements. There were also other entertaining activities like poi pounding and singing during the fair.
Of our products, the awapuhi conditioner was well received.
We also had a natural traditional aloe blend face mask which was made through pounding. It was a really enjoyable activity in our practice. Visitors exchanged odd glances at us for that though, since it looks like wet, cooked spinach in soup form.
You can't really fault them for that. It's great keeping the skin on your face clear and glowing like a baby, but past the various clay and charcoal masks, putting leaves on your face is definitely one of the more unusual instances.
The cool, moisturizing sensation that the aloe gives makes the mask well worth wearing, though.
Thanks to the input from many of you students, a more sustainable cafeteria should be coming soon. Look forward to that! After it reopens in the fall, that is.
Some quick tips on identifying native plants and their uses. Most aren't edible, but other than that cover most of the spectrum of ailments.
Awapuhi (Shampoo Ginger)
Scientific name: Zingiber zerumbet (Sounds very German)
The standout feature to identify this plant is the green/red cones that resemble pinecones and pineapples.
When scratched or rubbed, the leaves (and flower heads when broken) produce a sticky substance that nourishes your hair. Admittedly, I find it quite cool that it's a natural conditioner, but it feels weird handling these stalks because it gets your hands sticky. Despite how it looks (and being a conditioner) the liquid is also drinkable.
Additionally, the ginger stalks are used to relieve physical ailments and remedy skin diseases.
Kukui Nut (candlenut tree)
Scientific name: Aleurites moluccana
Kukui nuts. You see them everywhere, on leis in black, brown and white.
You can identify them by their greenish-white flowers and brown candlenuts. Another defining trait is that they have leaves going in multiple directions.
Much like the awapuhi, the kukui nut oil serves as an all-purpose nutritional moisturizer. However, kukui nut oil can also serve as pure, environmentally-friendly sunscreen.
Scientific name: Cocos nucifera (Do note it's still your average coconut)
The coconut plant (Niu) can easily be identified with its yellow stalks and green leaves.
If you attended Niu Valley Middle School, you'd understand now.
Little tidbit aside, coconut oil has the most versatility out of the bunch that includes all the uses of the other plants and more. It's antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and increases metabolism. Essentially, it helps your skin look fuller, brighter, cleaner and healthier overall, depending on the use.
Also, due to being an antibacterial and oil, coconuts can be used as an organic deodorant.
Don't go overboard on the coconut oil otherwise you'll start smelling like it.
Scientific Name: Morinda citrifolia
What's unique about this plant that makes it easily identifiable is its odd, alien-looking fruit. It can also be identified for its shiny leaves.
The leaves can be used to brew herbal tea and relieve physical ailments. The herbal tea has somewhat of a dry, bitter taste to it, from my experience.
The fruit is generally used to make superfood juice, and the benefits are similar to drinking tea.
Scientific name: Plantago hawaiensis
The identifiable traits for this plant are its long or round leaves, and the fuzzy brown stalks that resemble corn stalks or wool.
When rinsed/washed, the leaves serve as antiseptics (removing surface bacteria from open wounds).
by Cheyne Mita
If you were to ask me, I'm not much of a gardener, and I'm perfectly satisfied buying from the store rather than growing my own food. I had a phase as a kid where I was enthralled with growing fruits and vegetables, but fell out of becoming more serious about it, realizing the maintenance that is sometimes required - I always believed in the superstition that weeding causes calluses.
However, working in the gardens has changed that view and allow me to understand what makes it appealing. Weeding is still manual labor, yes, but when the grass is long, it can be immensely rewarding. There's a special sense of accomplishment after you remove and organize a large pile of anything, because it looks so much cleaner with evident progress. Being in an open area outside also compliments this, one contributes to a bright open lime-green garden, and it's pleasing to look at alongside the clear blue skies.
Personally, I love the minimalist/KonMari aesthetic of needing less by only "keeping what sparks joy". Staying organized is not easy, but it allows you to live better by giving you time to focus on enjoying the little things that happen in the moment. Gardening provides a similar rush that people get from shopping sprees and the subsequent rearrangement of those clothes, except it occurs regularly and comes without the price tag.
Another perk is being able to slow down and appreciate the occasional company of animals. During one of our clean-up ventures in the garden, clearing weeds and invasive species, a curious white rumped shama decided to hang out with us. It's so cute!
Unfortunately, as much as it looks like a native bird, it's actually an introduced bird. Which is a bit sad that the many native birds have been vanishing over the years