Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hawaiian Healing and Tea with Kahu Lyons Naone

The room at Viewpoints Gallery was packed.  Hawaiian teacher and practitioner Kahu Lyons Naone gave a talk recently, ostensibly about Hawaiian Herbal Teas, but the teas were just a tiny portion of what he talked about, which included Hawaiian culture, plant gathering protocols, healing, plant medicine, and respect for the land, our ancestors, and each other.

Kahu Lyons Na'one

I’ve debated about what is appropriate to share publicly on this blog, and what is inappropriate or maybe even harmful to share. Kahu Lyons Naone talked very freely, but in thinking about the nature of the internet and how we use information, I want to be very respectful of the information he shared.  
First of all, I want to say that the information I share may not be fully correct or the truth, meaning that I am sharing information through my personal filter and there may be mistakes or inaccuracies in how I heard what he said. So the information may not be accurate, there may be misspellings, inconsistencies, or other miscommunication, and while I may be able to contact Kahu Lyons Naone for corrections, the approach I have may not be in balance with the information he presented. So please do not regard this as the truth.

Also, Kahu Lyons Naone asked that we be very respectful in how we apply the knowledge, and to not go out, willy-nilly (my words, not his), experimenting with different plants or medicines to see their effects. He asked for some caution in using this information. In addition, this is not meant to be medical information or advice, since I am not a doctor and Kahu Lyons Naone does not have a medical degree! Basically, this is where I try to protect myself and him from lawsuits without using legal jargon. Get your advice and guidance from a qualified doctor, not from information on my website. This is for cultural and educational enrichment only.

I was really blown away by what Kahu Lyons Naone shared with us:

What is aloha? He posed this question to the audience. His answer: Aloha, if students don’t understand this part of it, they are not allowed to pick up a leaf (for healing or gathering). Alo – face, look at each other in the eye and share breath, aloha. Face each other and share. At that moment this person and I receive a spiritual breath at the same time.

Otherwise we’re lost.

Ha, (with a soft h) call it whatever you want, whatever name for spiritual connection that you want. 

Last year I had blogged about Aloha for the A-Z Challenge, and this is an even deeper idea of aloha that I wonder now about my previous conceptions of aloha. 

What is the spirit of the plant? So the medicine can penetrate. Ha – long breath, soft h. what’s important is who you are and how you use it.

On healing: We don’t call it healing. We call it pono (being in balance, righteous). When you see a doctor you are not pono, you are off balance.  We don’t give you an herb for each diagnosis. The body can heal itself. We don’t want you to keep taking medicines your whole life. He holds up a leaf, saying there is no scientific medicinal value in this. Healing is a partnership between the plant, practitioner and something higher.

On plant spirits and gathering plants for healing purposes: There are protocols to be done before gathering plant, to prepare oneself culturally, spiritually. Know the moon cycle (he refers to the Hawaiian moon calendar which is important for certain tasks or activities), the weather, the time of day, and so forth.

Treatment is very specific for the person who requests it: You may go out to where the plants are, and there may be several plants of the variety desired, but you do not simply go out and pick.
One can go out there, reach out and feel it and say this is the one. I ask the plant which one is for me. You don’t just pick the tea. You ask for the tea for…( a person’s name). The plant is very specific for that person.

His demonstrates his body trembling or quivering as he faces the audience.

Naka means quiver. Are we real because we quiver? Kanaka Maoli is the term for native Hawaiians. This is what it means.  Are we real because we quiver?

If my mind is on something else, this plant will not quiver. (I will not know which plant to choose.) So I have to do the protocols again.

Respect is a very important component of gathering plants, or using them in a treatment. If the plant spirit is not respected, there is no healing. He relates a story of going to Mexico with an Oneida man to assist in a medical treatment using a native plant there, and the natives told him and the Oneida man that “This was none of their business.” We said, “we know.” The foreign doctors involved in the study had forgotten to honor the spirit of the plant.

Weeds are medicine. There is even a word for it: nahelehele, and Kahu Lyons gave a story of how that came to be. 

Three spiritual plants Kahu Lyons Naone discussed:

Popolo – this is considered a weed, but it has spiritual and cultural value. It belongs to the nightshade family and has little purple berries. Kahu Lyons said popolo is one of the few plants one can give to children under 1 year old. You chew it, put it on a soft spot on the child’s head and sing to the child, to bring the child back into balance. (Keep in mind, he did not explain which part of the plant to chew, how to chew it, or how much to chew, so there is not enough information to try this at home. Please don’t try this at home.)

La’i, commonly known as the ti leaf plant (not to be confused with tea plants for tea drinking). Kahu Lyons requested that we call this plant la’I and not ti leaf plant, as many of us were taught to say. (I was  distressed after hearing this, that I went to a blog post on "Hawaiian shamanism" and added the word la'i everywhere I had the words ti leaf). This is a very important plant to the Hawaiians, used for cooking, carrying, for blessings, for leis, and the root is edible. And those are only the uses that I know of – I’m sure there are many more.

La’i is a plant safe for children besides popolo. If you put it on a child’s head, it is cooling. Then all the children want one. Note: I am sure there are protocols and ways of administering this plant, as opposed to simply picking a leaf and putting it on someone’s head.

Kahu Lyons Naone demonstrating a la'i leaf on his head.

Ohe – a specific variety of bamboo with skinny leaves, not the decorative bamboo we commonly see. Kahu Lyons says he uses ohe to apologize in places or to spirits where there is imbalance, where things were disregarded or destroyed. Then he follows the ohe with la’i.

Later on, Kahu Lyons Naone talks about 4 teas that we can use:

Mamaki  (with caution)
Wapine or Lemongrass (with caution)
Pe’a or Avocado
Lau’ae fern

I’ve decided to not go into great detail with these teas, for the time being, because there was so much information at his talk and I am still trying to process it internally. But I would like to note that Kahu Lyons specifically said to not mix one kind of Hawaiian herbal tea with another herb, because the plants interact, and one does not know the effect. He cautions for example, against drinking a mixture of mamaki and lavender tea. I am not recommending that anyone go out to drink any of these teas either because he had specific precautions about how to drink the tea, the way the plant is prepared, and how often to drink.  

Kahu Lyons also talked about the Hawaiian god of healing and change and how he was taught to respect the plant gathering protocols as a child by his elders. He talked about the usage of the left hand or the right hand in healing, and how to travel and which way his hands face. He talked about the wet and dry side of the islands and how that affects the plants one gathers, and the value of "weeds." Kahu Lyons is a kumu or master teacher. He could be called a kahuna, a Hawaiian spiritual healer or shaman. He is such a good teacher that anything he teaches would be interesting, even if it is how to watch paint dry. I look forward to learning from him in the future. I also feel as if perhaps I know less than what I thought I knew before.


  1. A very interesting topic. I agree with the philosophy. Respect the plants. Now and then I come across the Mama amongst her plants thanking them for bearing fruit, for about to give us fruit, for gracing her world.

  2. Thanks Susieee! I'm wondering why (grrr) I didn't get a notice about this comment before? Your mama is a wise woman.


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