This is the second post in our Hawaiian Hedge Plant series and we will be outlining the many marvelous uses for the sacred Hawaiian Ki or Ti Plant.
One of the most sacred and versatile plants introduced to Hawai’i by early Polynesian settlers was the Cordyline fruticosa, once considered a member of the Lily family botanists have reclassified the plant as an Agave. Known to Hawaiians as the Ki or Ti Plant, This tightly clustered plant with wide blade-shaped leaves 7 to 10 cm wide and 40 to 80 cm long is fast growing, reaching heights anywhere from 1 to 4 meters.
This popular and storied Hawaiian hedge plant is considered to bring good luck to those who plant it near their homes. The Ki was sacred to Lono, deity of fertility and music and his consort Laka goddess of the hula or dance. It was used as an emblem of the Ali’i and denoted elite rank, privilege, and divine power. The kahili, (feather standard of royalty and the nobility) in its earliest form, was a Ki stalk with its clustered foliage of glossy, green leaves at the top. The leaves were used by the Kahuna La’au Lapa’au or high priests and administers of the Kapu(ancient Hawaiian law) in many healing, religious, and ceremonial rituals.
Practical Applications for Ki, Ti, Si, La’i – Cordyline fruticosa
Some of it’s many practical uses included: food wrappings, cups, plates, rain capes, hula skirts, leis, cordage, footwear, hukilau nets, fishing lures, and thatching material.
Food and Beverage-
Ki root was baked to extract sugar and the baked Ki root itself was savored as a desert, used as a preferential emergency food in times of famine, and brewed into a beer during pre-contact times which has since evolved into a distilled spirit, known today as Okolehao (iron bottom). Once used as a treatment for scurvy, it is best described as a cross between rum and tequila.
Ki is most likely indigenous to Southeast Asia and was transported throughout the Pacific by Polynesians who used the relatively light weight, compact, starchy rhizome for food during long ocean voyages.
Topical Medicinal Uses-
The natural shape of the Ki leaf lends itself well to creating hot packs, poultices, and herbal wraps packed with other medicinal hedge plants. Here are some simple and effective traditional Hawaiian la’au applications for Ki leaf.
Aches & Pains: For muscle pain and stiffness in joints snugly wrap one large Ki leaf around the joint or muscle area overnight. Repeat for 5 days or as needed.
Back Pain: Wrap heated river stones in Ki leaf and apply to sore muscles for inflammation and pain relief.
Fever: Place the Ki leaf in cool water, and then apply the leaf as a compress directly on the effective areas to help reduce fever. Cover the patient with a light sheet, to avoid chilling.
Decongestant: Steam from boiled young green Ki shoots and leaves can be used as an effective decongestant and the fragrant Ki flowers reduces asthma symptoms.
Stress Relief: Young green Ki shoots can be boiled and chilled to make a muscle relaxant and nerve calming beverage.
Magical or Metaphysical Uses-
Ki stalk was used as a diving rod in the practice of Huli Honua which is akin to the Taoist tradition of Feung Shui. The intuitive understanding of the movement of earths energy fields or Geomancy as practiced by the ancient Hawaiians, was the process of aligning oneself with the mana or energy of the ’aina or the land. Understanding the flow of that mana could be determined with the Ki stalk. The proper alignment of all man-made structures with-in the flow of the earth’s energy fields was essential for harmonious and successful living in ancient Hawai’i.
Today the Ki leaf is used in ritual cleansings and blessings. Dipped in a mix of Hawaiian sea salt with fresh water and accompanied with a pule or prayer, the Ki Leaf is used to sprinkle the holy water over it’s recipient(s); offering divine protection from evil and an invitation for the presence of good.
Aloha nui & Happy Gardening!