Canoe Plants of Ancient Hawai`i
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`Ape - `Awa -`Awapuhi -Hau -Ipu -Kalo -Kamani -Ki -Ko -Kou -Kukui -Mai`a
Milo -Niu -Noni -`Ohe -`Ohi`a `Ai -`Olena -Olona -Pia -`Uala -Uhi -`Ulu -Wauke
`Ulu belongs to the Moracceae (fig or mulberry) family. Its scientific name is Artocarpus altilis, Artocarpus incisus or Artocarpus communis. The staminate male flowers grow in an upright yellowish-green cylinder at the branch tips. The pistillate female flowers form a large ball just below the male flowers. It is this female flower that develops into a spherical or, depending on the variety, elongated green globe, rough on the surface, becoming about eight inches in diameter and weighing up to 10 pounds. Its ripe fruit is yellowish or brownish. The fruit is actually thousands of little fruit growing together around a core to form a ball with polygonal markings at each fruit boundary. Its flesh is a mealy sweet pulp, similar to the potato. `Ulu fruit is usually picked while still firm and will soften in a few days. If not picked before it softens on the tree, it often falls and smashes. Pick `ulu with the aid of a "picker" as the branches are brittle and can break easily.
Breadfruit, the name for which `ulu is well-known, is a high carbohydrate vegetable, not a fruit as we generally use the term. It is a good source of calcium, a wholesome food high in vitamins A and B, with some ascorbic acid and thiamine. In green breadfruit, the carbohydrates are in the form of starch, turning to sugar as the fruit ripens. This food contains no fat.
There are recipes throughout the islands indicating many ways to prepare breadfruit. It may be steamed, baked, boiled, marinated or stir-fried. It is also mashed into an `ulu poi. Although it is usually cooked before eating, I know people who were beginning to acquaint themselves with breadfruit, doing so by first eating it uncooked and raw, and seeming to enjoy it that way.
When cutting a green breadfruit to prepare it for cooking, a milk-like, extremely sticky sap is released. It can stain clothing. It is a good idea to keep your hands, the knife and the breadfruit wet with running tap water, or at least to oil your utensil with vegetable oil. One of the most basic cooking methods is to remove the stem and core, cut the breadfruit into large sections and to simmer it in lightly salted water in a big pot from 30 minutes to an hour to the consistency of a cooked potato. Drain and cool it, remove the skin, and prepare to use it as you would a white or sweet potato. Delicious alone with seasonings or combined with other vegetables into another dish or a salad.
The breadfruit tree has many uses other than for food. All parts of the plant give off the milky sticky sap. When the sap is used alone or when mixed with other plants, it can be applied to the skin to heal cuts, scratches and various skin diseases. It is also used as a moisturizer for wind-cracked or scaly skin. Mouth sores can be treated with the sap and the leaf buds. The sap can also be used as a chewing gum, and more importantly was used in ancient days as a glue and caulking material, for such as canoe building. In the old times, a bird-lime made from the sap was used to catch nectar-feeding birds for their brightly-colored feathers. These were collected for their service as warm and colorful capes for the chiefly ones. The fallen and sun-dried male flowers of the `ulu can be lit, and the smoke is a nontoxic mosquito repellent in these days of that notorious introduced species.
The wood of the tree's trunk is light in weight. Hawai`i's craftsmen used it for making canoes, woodwork for homes, drums, surfboards and for papa kui`ai or poi boards. A low grade tapa cloth was made from the inner bark of young branches. The rough sheath, maloulu, was used as a dry abrasive in the final polishing of bowls and utensils. It was also used to sand kukui/candlenut before they were strung into lei.
Breadfruit is propagated from shoots growing from the roots or from one inch diameter root cuttings, 9 to 10 inches long. These can be placed in a shaded bed until a 2-3 foot top has grown. The `ulu plant grows an extensive root system, so it is best to plant it where it will have plenty of room to stretch out and also up! It does not transplant easily. Trees begin to bear five to seven years after planting the root shoot.
Kahanu Gardens of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, located on the Hana coast of Maui, grows nearly 100 varieties of breadfruit. Hawai`i mythology tells us that the `ulu fruit is the symbol of the creation, and of the generosity of a loving and abundantly providing creator.
Breadfruit leaf designs are often used in Hawai`i's quilt patterns and are printed in various ways on modern-day fabrics, ceramics and upon other goods. Maui Community College and the Hotel Hana-Maui use logos featuring `ulu leaves.
Traditionally, `ulu is planted to provide a life-time of food at the birth of a keiki `o ka `aina, a child of the land, kaulana na pua `o Hawai`i Nei, the glorious children of this Hawai`i.
National Tropical Botanical Garden's Hana, Maui preserve contains the largest known collection of breadfruit cultivars. This collection serves as a germplasm repository for this important South Pacific food crop, housing cultivars from over 17 Pacific island groups and Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Seychelles.
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