Tumeric (Curcuma longa)
This semi-wild ginger was one of 22 principal plants introduced by early Polynesian culture. It is also known by its Hawaiian name, ‘Olena.
It was grown for its spicy yellow underground stems or roots. The leaf stalks come up in the spring, the yellow and white flowers bloom, then the plant dies down until the fall and winter.
In old Hawai‘i, the pounded root was mixed with seawater in a calabash (bowl) and the solution sprinkled in places where there was a need to remove the restrictions of a kapu restriction. The juice from the crushed root was dropped in to the ear to relieve earache, or into the nostrils for sinusitis. Kapa dyes were obtained from the raw root (yellow) and cooked or steamed root (deep orange).
‘Olena has a peppery, warm and bitter flavor and a mild fragrance slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger. While it is best known as one of the ingredients used to make curry, it also gives ballpark mustard its bright yellow color.
New plants grow readily from sprouting roots. Today ‘Olena is enjoying a renaissance of being added raw to smoothies and salad dressings said to relieve inflammation.