6 Edible Weeds That Grow In Hawai’i


Living in a tropical rain forest, you are constantly fighting back the weeds.  But what if we can find a way to turn the problem into a solution?  By learning a little more about what’s growing in your yard, you might just find out that plant is edible.

6 edible weeds that grow in Hawai’i include:

  • Plantain
  • Guinea Grass
  • Purslane
  • HonoHono Grass
  • HilaHila (Mimosa Pudica)
  • Melastoma

There are even more that can be added to this list, but these are probably the most common for many of us in the islands.  Let’s dive into each one by learning how to identify, harvest and prepare them for delicious meals.

Plantain

Plantain is a super common weed that is found in yards across the world.  A plant that hardy must have something good to show for it, right?  Definitely! And plantain does not disappoint.

Medicinally, plantain has been used for many things:

  • Poultice for wounds
  • Natural band-aids
  • Soothe Insect Bites
  • Remedy coughs

What a lot of people don’t know about Plantain though is that you can eat it!!  Only problem is, if you have ever tried chewing it up to use as a poultice, you may have already learned that Plantain is a little bitter.  

However, when you harvest the young leaves and either steam or saute’ them, somehow that bad flavor disappears!  You are left with a delicious edible green that tastes a lot like Spinach, except a little stringier.  Not bad for a weed that grows all over the place.

Guinea Grass

This grass is a relative newcomer to Hawai’i, originally from Africa.  It tends to grow a couple of inches a day!  It has razor sharp leaves and stems covered in a fuzz that will leave a 1000 tiny splinters in your hand if you touch it.  

It is almost impossible to dig out of the ground, even a weedwacker has a tough time cutting through the tough leaves.

Needless to say, it hasn’t made many fans here in Hawai’i.

Guinea Grass has long been used as a forage for goats and the dried out straw can be made into amazing thatch material.  Recent discoveries have shown that humans can safely eat the seeds from this grass too.

When harvesting Guinea Grass seed to eat you want to be on the look out for a couple of things:

  • Seeds should be plump and green when harvesting
  • Avoid seeds that are purple, red, black or brown with a little fuzz
  • Ensure that they are free of mold

If the seeds you are planning to harvest do not meet any of the above criteria, then feel free to strip the stalk and eat them raw.  Of course, you can also cook them up a little for a tasty treat reminiscent of peanut butter.

This member of the millet family is not widely used due to the difficulty of harvesting enough for adequate consumption, but in times of famine, these seeds can keep you alive.

Purslane

Another common weed found in many gardens around the world, Purslane is another plant that often gets weeded out without giving thoughts to how nutritious it might actually be.  In Purslane’s case, super nutritious.

Purslane is a miracle food packed into red stems and small, green succulent leaves.

  • 17% of the Daily Value (DV) of Magnesium which helps reduce insomnia
  • More Vitamin A, C and Beta Carotene than carrots
  • Rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids that promote a healthy heart
  • Helps reduce headaches due to its source of Vitamin B2
  • Filled with bone building nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and manganese

Purslane can be eaten raw or lightly sauteed and used similar to how you would use lettuce or spinach.

A word of caution, purslane does contain oxalates and must be used in moderation for people with risk of developing kidney stones.  However, if you cook it as opposed to eating it raw, those oxalates are able to cook off, leaving you with something a little safer to eat.

So if you haven’t been harvesting purslane to add to your next meal, what are you waiting for?  You are throwing out a perfectly good food that will grow without any help needed by you.

HonoHono Grass

The HonoHono Grass has to be one of the worst weeds in my garden.  It grows by sending out these long snakey runners that root wherever it comes in contact with the soil and break off really easily whenever you try to weed it.

HonoHono actually refers to the alternating pattern of the leaves.

It seems as if it grows almost overnight.  I swear I can weed a garden patch one day and have it over run with HonoHono grass the next.  But I guess that’s how it goes with weeds in the tropics.

But lookout HonoHono grass!! The word is out.  You can eat it!!

The young tips, leaves, stems and flowers are all edible, raw or cooked.  A great addition to any soup or stir fry.

It is important to note that HonoHono grass has long been used in Hawai’i to treat deep cuts.  There are many other herbs that people use to treat cuts, but HonoHono grass is for those deep tissue cuts.  

When we build our knowledge of what plants can do, they begin to look less weedy by the day.


HilaHila Plant

The HilaHila plant (Mimosa Pudica) is an amazing little plant, but at the same time one I hate having in my garden.  It is covered in tiny thorns that hurt pretty bad when you walk on it barefoot or try to weed it barehand.

At the same time, it’s pretty cool how the leaves are sensitive to touch, retracting back whenever stimulated.  It’s as if the plant was a little shy, which the HilaHila name implies.

I try my best to find its central taproot and pull it out from there, but on occasion you find one that is a little too out of control for that.  To keep it at bay, you can harvest the flowers before they go to seed.

This eliminates its ability to reproduce, but also gives you a powerful medicinal edible that is widely known for its ability in aiding in gastrointestinal issues.

The flowers can be eaten raw in salads or lightly sauteed in your next meal.  I have found them to be rather flavorless when mixed with other foods.  Because of that and how powerful they are medicinally, it really should be a no brainer to throw a few into your next meal.

If you are entrepreneurial minded, you may even want to begin intentionally growing this plant.  It’s popularity as a supplement is quickly gaining steam and is currently fetching a high price in the medicinal market.

Melastoma

Where I live in the Puna district of Hawai’i, you would think this pink flowering bush is as native as the Ohia trees.  This is not the case.  While widespread, Melastoma is actually from Southeast Asia and can now be found on almost every tropical island.

Until I learned that I always thought Melastom and Ohia trees were just two plants that have coevolved together since the dawn of time.  That’s how ubiquitous they are out here.

Similar to the other edible weeds on this list, Melastoma is mostly known as a medicinal plant.  It has been used to treat such ailments as:

  • The leaves are used to treat stomach ache and indigestion
  • Ground up leaves are used to treat cuts and sores
  • The roots are turned into a mouthwash to aid toothaches

And, like the other plants on this list, Melastoma is also edible!  The young shoots, leaf tips and flowers can be sauteed into stir fries while the pulpy fruits can be eaten raw.  The fruits are slightly astringent to sweet and can be a little seedy.  Not to mention the blue tongue it leaves behind.

A Whole World of Edible Plants

As you can see from this short list, there are plenty of plants that are edible beyond the typical ones that may be found at the grocery store. But in order to unlock that world, you have to build up knowledge.

To learn more about edible weeds, it is good to cultivate a curious mind.  A curious mind will help you look beyond the weed and deeper into whether or not that weed might serve some type of beneficial purpose either for you as an edible or medicinal plant.

After doing that for a while, you will begin to realize that the world we know as weeds are actually chock full of edible food rich in nutrition and medicinal properties.  In fact, there are only a few plants that have no benefit to us.  If we get to know those, then the door opens for the rest of the weed kingdom.

Happy foraging!!

Sean Jennings

Sean has been living simply Off-Grid in Hawai'i for over 18 years. He lives debt free on Hawai'i Island with his family and over 40 chickens. When he's not tinkering around the homestead, he's off exploring the shorelines for fish & surf.

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