Here in Hawaii there is a native plant called the ‘Ohelo berry bush. It produces the cutest little red berries this time of year, but they are only accessible in a few places. On Maui they can be found high up the mountainside well beyond civilization. On Hawaii island (a.k.a. The Big Island) they can be found in Volcanoes National Park. The Honolulu Advertiser had a great article on the berries in 2006. They are also found on Oahu and Kaua’i.
Here’s what Duane Choy of the Honolulu Advertiser had to say in regard to the mythology surrounding the bushes:
“In “Hawaiian Mythology,” Martha Beckwith writes of the legend of Kaohelo, who instructs her son Kiha to bury her, when she dies, “on the navel of your grandmother at Kilauea.” Out of her flesh springs the creeping ‘ohelo, out of her bones the ‘ohelo bush; other parts of her body are thrown to Maui, O’ahu, Kaua’i, and become ‘ohelo bushes on those islands.”
They are related to blueberries and cranberries, being about the size of small blueberries and the color of cranberries. Eaten plain they have a mildly tart, but sweet taste and a waxy exterior. They are one of the foods the Nene bird eats (so if you find some, don’t take them all, leave some for the Nenes).
I’ve heard that the proper thing to do with ‘ohelo berries was to pick one and give it back to the goddess Pele, and then eat some yourself. I assure you, I left plenty of berries back on the mountainside. When I got enough for one pie, I stopped.
This time of year is also blackberry season on parts of Maui, and I’m hoping to go berry picking next weekend.
According to Choy,
“Early Hawaiians treated abdominal pains with ‘ohelo leaf buds, leaves and fruit, combined with maunaloa leaf buds and leaves, pawale leaf buds, leaves and fruit, ‘olena root, niu (coconut), and ko kea (white sugar cane). The ingredients were pounded into a mash, strained through ‘ahu’awa, and drunk in the morning and evening.”
As I said earlier, I picked them to make a pie. And, while it might not be a medicinal use as it was in the past, it is absolutely healing to my belly as it fills my desire for pie, and is quite healthful.
Foraging foods and the local food movement have become very popular. But, when foraging for foods be careful, and ask for permission before entering someone’s property. They may need the food for their family, or they may worry about you being injured while foraging. It may be best to ask them to give some of their produce to you themselves. I had permission to pick the berries myself, or else I wouldn’t have gotten them.
Be careful, be good, and eat pie!!!
Oh Hello Berry Pie
adapted from Nourishing Traditions
- One Pre-Baked Nine Inch Pie Crust
(I used the recipe from Artisanal Gluten Free Cooking and saved half for later use)
- 1 to 1 1/4 pound fresh ‘Ohelo Berries
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tbsp (1 packet) Knox Gelatin dissolved in 3 T. warm water
In a food processor puree the berries until fairly well liquefied. Add in the syrup and water and blend again. Finally, with the mixer running, add in the gelatin liquid.
Pour the mixture into your blind baked pie crust, cover, and refrigerate several hours.
Enjoy! A sprig of mint with each piece would be nice, or perhaps mojitos if it’s that kind of a day.