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`Olena flowers: Turmeric

English name:

Family name:
Scientific name:
Curcuma domestica
Introduced by:
Polynesian introduction
See Also...



`Olena is widely dispersed, from Southeast Asia, Oceania and Australia. It is cultivated extensively in India and used there both as a condiment and a dye. More than 54 species of Curcuma are known from India to Australia.


It is found in the lower forest zone as a wild species, but was formerly planted as part of the horticultural complex. Hawaiians also planted it near their houses for medicinal purposes. It grows best in the presence of ample moisture and fertile land, as damp forested valleys.


Stem: `Olena is a monocot herb with underground stems called rhizomes, from which cluster of several leaves arise.
Leaves: The leaves come up in the spring and die back in the fall. Overlapping petioles (leaf stalks) 8 inches long or more form a false stem that bear light green thin blades, 8 x 3 inches or larger.
Flower: A cylindrical flower cluster develops from the center. It bears large, pale green, pouchlike curved bracts, each with two or more pale yellow flowers, except for tip of cluster where only pink bracts without flowers exist. Seed production is rare, but plant propagation is possible from the buds on rhizome nodes that sprout into young plants.

Two kinds of `olena are present in the gardens today. One is the common variety with green stem and yellow root flesh. The other has a reddish brown stem and the flesh of the root is greenish yellow, this is called `olena maku`e.


The" root" (rhizome)of turmeric has been used as a spice and dye for some foods, as in curry powder, and as a dye for cloth in India, where about 60,000 acres of the plant are cultivated. Turmeric paper is a pH indicator, useful fiber can be extracted from the leaf midribs.

In Hawaii, it was valued ceremonially for sprinkling to purify objects, things, places and people. Before the abolition of old rituals, the pounded root was mixed with sea water and this was sprinkled where ever there was need to exorcise evil. The steamed root was eaten as medicine and source of deep orange dye for tapa. The raw root yielded a juice that was an earache remedy.

In Society Islands, the main use of `olena was to produce a deep yellow dye with which dancers stained their bodies. The steamed root pounded and mixed with coconut milk, was relished as a tasty sauce for octopus and squid.


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Last Modified: 14-Dec-2010 13:23 HST