Vaccinium dentatum

Image of ohelo


heloEricaceaeEndemic to the Hawaiian IslandsLnaihale, LnaiThough all three native species are known by the Hawaiian name helo, distinctive names were given for two of them: helo ai (V. reticulatum) literally "edible helo" known for its delicious berries; and helo kau lau (V. calycinum), meaning "to put [placed] on trees," perhaps referring to the plants nature of occasionally growing in trees (ephiphytic).The early Hawaiians enjoyed eating the berries much as we do today. The fruit was not readily available as everyday food since they grew high in the mountains. But like hikers today, they were eaten when found ripe.The leaf buds, leaves and fruit were combined with other plant material for abdominal pains. The ingredients were pounded together into a mash and strained through the leaves of ahuawa (Cyperus javanicus), and drunk in the morning and evening.New leaves (liko), fruit (berries) and flowers were in used lei making.HELO and PELE:helo was considered a sacred plant by the early Hawaiians. No one was to eat any berries without first offering them to Pele, the goddess of fire, lightening, dance, volcanoes, and violence. With branches of helo berries in hand, they would say:"E Pele, eia ka helo 'au; e taumaha aku wau ia oe, e ai hoi au tetahi." (O Pele, here are your helo [branches]; I offer some to you, some I also eat.) Then, they would toss a portion of the branch with berries attached into the crater as an offering to Pele. After which they were allowed to eat some.In 1823, among the first white people to visit Klauea was Reverend William Ellis and his missionary entourage, accompanied by Hawaiians. On the journey, when the missionaries became hungry they ate some helo berries and were quickly warned to give some to Pele first before partaking of them. Ellis wrote, "We told them ...that we acknowledged Jehovah as the only divine proprietor of the fruits of this earth, and felt thankful to Him for them, especially in our present circumstances. We traveled on, regretting that the natives should indulge in notions so superstitious."Following the example of Ellis, in December 1824, the High Chieftess Kapiolani (c.1741-1841) set out on a mission from Kona to visit the still active Klauea where she would dare Pele to do her worst, even though her husband and others tried to dissaude her. She made the long journey of about one hundred miles mostly by foot with a large company. There she was met by a priestess of Pele threatening her with Pele's displeasure if she continued with her hostile errand, and prophesied that she and her followers would perish miserably. With defiance, she descended into the crater, gathered helo berries and ate them without first offering them to Pele, and threw rocks into the crater to insult the goddess. She and her eighty followers went to the edge of Halemaumau caldera and addressed her followers: "Jehovah is my God. He kindled these fires. I fear not Pele. If I persih by the anger of Pele, then you may fear the power of Pele; but if I trust in Jehovah, and he should save me from the wrath of Pele, when I break her tabus [taboos], then you must fear and serve the Lord Jehovah. All the gods of Hawaii are vain!" Then they sang hymns. There was no wrath from Pele. Kapiolani and her followers did not succumb to any horrible death as prophesized they surely would.From June to September the berries are harvested extensively on Maui and Hawaii Island to make jams and jellies. Berry collecting is allowed in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but the amount is limited to one quart per person per month. Collecting for commercial jam production is illegal.nativeplants.hawaii.edu

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David Eickhoff
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