- HONOLULU - Hawaii, long dependent
on tourism and sugar, has found two new treasures buried in its own backyard.
- Noni and 'awa, prized by South Pacific islanders for
hundreds of years for their natural healing and calming properties, look
set to join tea tree oil, St. John's Wort and aloe vera on the shelves
of herbal wonder preparations.
- Sudden global demand has moved 'awa root, which has been
likened to Valium, onto this year's list of top 10 herbal sellers in the
United States. The juice of the noni tree is used to treat everything from
high blood pressure and arthritis to bee stings and jet lag and has even
been linked to controlling cancerous tumours.
- Both have been growing naturally in Hawaii's rich soil
for generations. But they have been left untended for decades and now islanders
are scrambling to catch up with rival producers in Fiji and Vanuatu to
supply a multimillion-dollar market.
- "Fresh noni fruit sells for 50 cents a pound and
dried 'awa root now brings 50 dollars a pound,'' Steve Frailey, a Kauai
farmer who reaps and sows both crops, said.
- Hawaii's oldest corporation, C. Brewer and Company Ltd.,
is planning to harvest 240 acres (97 hectares) of 'awa by 2002. John Cross,
president of the 'awa division, said the firm will plant five acres (2
hectares) a month this year, 10 acres a month next year and 20 acres a
month in 2001.
- Only a shortage of products restrains Hawaii's commerce
in noni and 'awa as world interest shifts the priorities of the islands'
farmers away from the old reliance on sugar.
- "I have to turn away customers. I don't want to
advertise because I don't have enough products to sell,'' said David Marcus,
owner of Hawaiian Herbal Blessings, which manufactures organic noni products
- Although Hawaii's share of the world's 'awa market is
still small, farmers believe their "unique varieties of 'awa will
have a special appeal, akin to Florida orange juice,'' said Ed Johnston,
spokesman for the Association of Hawaiian 'Awa.
- The farmers are actually reaping crops sown by ancient
Hawaiians so carefully and intelligently that some are still flourishing.
Sites were chosen to insure the proper amount of shade and rain and, although
the plants were later abandoned, they propagated themselves naturally,
creating a healthy stock of unique planting material.
- Noni is propagated by seed and there are dozens of seeds
in every piece of fruit. Trees can be found in the wet stream beds on Kauai
and on the dry lava flows on the Big Island.
- In Hawaiian mythology, demigod Maui was restored to life
after noni leaves were placed on his body. Volcano goddess Pele may also
have an affinity for noni. Recently lava flows in Kalapana seem to have
changed course to spare old noni trees.
- One enormous tree is more than 300 years old, according
to Scott Schuett of Hawaiian Herbal Supply, who has three ladders stationed
there for harvesting the year-round crop of fruit.
- In ancient times many Hawaiians had noni trees in their
yards and drank the juice as a cure for anything from influenza to senility.
Today the juice is prescribed by native healers for conditions such as
high blood pressure, diabetes, tuberculosis and arthritis, as well as for
premenstrual syndrome, bee stings, jet lag and detoxification.
- University of Hawaii cancer research has taken noni to
another level. In a March 1992 study of its effects on tumours in mice,
researchers in the departments of pharmacology and medicine determined
that noni "seemed to suppress the tumour growth indirectly by activation
of the host immune systems.''
- 'Awa is also found in home gardens and ancient Hawaiians
gave young children drinks made from certain varieties during weaning,
teething, and when they were hyperactive.
- A recent Duke University study focused on using 'awa
for adult anxiety disorder. It is believed to contain mild psychoactive
properties, helping users transcend normal consciousness and achieve an
- "'Awa helps to open channels of communication with
others, with the elements and with one's ancestors,'' native healer Serge
- In 2000, some large plantings of Hawaiian noni and 'awa
will mature and farmers are wondering themselves if worldwide demand might
eventually push agriculture to surpass tourism as the state's number one
- (Diana Fairechild is a free-lance writer in Hawaii and
author of "Noni: Aspirin of the Ancients'' and "Jet Smarter:
the Air Traveler's Rx.'')