Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wild Edibles in Hawaii - Common Guavas and Strawberry Guavas

The 3 Foragers on a black sand beach on Maui

Every winter we take a trip to some warm, tropical location to escape New England winters. This year we headed to Hawaii, which we thought would become a once-in-a-lifetime trip experience. It turns out, we are already planning to return to this fantastic environment, lush and filled with edible plants, vines, and trees in every forest, beach, and mountainside. We did partake in many typical touristy activities, but we also got just a sample of the wild adventures that we hope to find on future trips.

Plants on Hawaii have many different origins, some indigenous, others alien. Endemic plants are those species that evolved in isolation on the Hawaiian islands and are found nowhere else. Indigenous plants are those that colonized the island before the arrival of humans, such as those that arrive on the winds or over the ocean. Plants introduced by the first travelers to Hawaii, the Polynesians, are regarded as native. Most of these plants have important uses for food, fiber, medicine, and spiritual significance. Alien species are the plants introduced after the late 1700s since contact with European explorers. Some plants were brought purposely, many were accidental weed introductions. Many alien species are escaped cultivated plants and fruit trees, and many are causing damage to the native and less hardy Hawaiian plants. Two alien species we found very often were these guavas, the common guava and the strawberry guava, both edible.

The common guava (Psidium guajava) is a small tree usually found along roadsides in wetter areas, in disturbed habitats, and in wet forests. Guava is an alien pest on Hawaii, spread by pigs and birds, and often growing in single species thickets crowding out other plants. It is native to the tropical Americas. It has smooth reddish-brown bark and bears opposite leaves that are oval with blunt points, 2"-6" long. The leaves are a matte green with many prominent veins. The fruit is green when unripe, turning yellow and about the size of a lemon when ripe. When cut in half, the inside is pink or white, filled with many seeds. The taste is tart, but wonderfully aromatic. The skin and seeds are edible, adding a touch of bitterness and crunch to the fruit. The fruit is used to make juice, jams, and jellies, and the small tree has some medicinal properties.

The first time we saw this tree, we thought is was a lemon tree on the side of the road in Maui. Robert stopped the car, and I got out to pick a fruit. Immediately I noticed the fruit was not a lemon, since there was a crown at the end of the fruit. I sliced one open to see the beautiful pink flesh dotted with many seeds, and the aroma was pure tropical perfume. We scooped out the flesh with a spoon and Gillian adored the tartness, we all enjoyed the exotic tropical flavor. We picked many of these during our stay in Hawaii, eating them raw as dessert after dinner.

Strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) is the second guava we encountered in great quantities on Maui and Kauai. This small tree is found at higher elevations than the common guava, in damp forests and dry roadsides alike. It is spread by wild pigs and birds, and the tree produces soil chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants. It is native to Brazil and tropical South America, and was introduced in 1825. The bark is light brown and smooth, and the leaves are shiny, smooth and lance-shaped, without veins. Unripe fruit is green, ripening to bright pinkish-red, and about the size of a quarter, often growing in clusters. The inside flesh of the ripe strawberry guava is creamy-white with many yellow seeds, and the flavor is like a tart strawberry. The skin and seeds are also edible. The leaves can be brewed into a tea.

 The Koke'e State Park and the trails at Waimea Canyon in Kauai are sadly turning into mono-forests of strawberry guava, but we were able to pick many of these as a nibble. We first encountered them in Maui on the Waikamoi Ridge Trail, where the forest was thick with strawberry guava trees. There were so many ripe guavas fermenting on the forest floor, Robert said it smelled like someone was making wine.

3 comments:

Yang said...

Ah Ha! Here they are, strawberry guavas, also abundant on the Big Island! My favorite among the wild edibles I tried in Hawaii...

Anonymous said...

What months of the year is Strawberry Guava ripen in the wild state on Kauai? Are there any ripe Strawberry Guavas in the winter and spring months from November to March? Are there any Straawberry Guava trees in Kalalau Valley Hanakapiai Valley Wainiha Valley the Anahola River Valley and along the Wailua River? How long and what months of the year does wild Common Guava ripen on Kauai? These are two of my favorite fruits.

The 3 Foragers said...

Strawberry guavas are pretty much every where we have visited on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. I have only been to HAwaii in December, so I do not know what months exactly they ripen.