Honohono grass has been a botanical remedy used in China and Vietnam for hundreds of years to cure a sore throat, treat dysentery or stop bleeding.
The Western world demands scientific data to give credibility to therapeutic potential.
“The world has so much to offer in its natural state,” muses Adrienne Ziegler, a botany student at Windward Community College. “But in order to have validity, you have to have empirical data generated in the laboratory.”
Ziegler and fellow students in Windward Associate Professor Ingelia White’s Botany 205 ethnopharmacognosy class conducted laboratory research to determine the medicinal values, if any, of the grass that grows wild near streams and shaded areas throughout Hawaiʻi.
Ethnopharmacognosy is the study of medicinal plants and their therapeutic properties used by native populations. In the case of honohono, students didn’t have to go far to find samples to test.
“In the medicinal garden here, the plant grows like a weed,” says White. “Our study showed that honohono grass inhibits the growth of some pathogenic bacteria.” Bioassay and clinical tests indicated the effectiveness of honohono grass water extracts in combating sore throat and dysentery and as a blood coagulant.
The students didn’t stop there.
Working with independent study students, they created bio-products made from organically grown honohono—grass-tea and cough drops to combat laryngitis; wine and tonic to ease dysentery; topical coagulant powders, cream and soaps to heal cuts.
They didn’t stop there, either.
Ethnobotany students created delicious and nutritious honohono grass dishes. Their recipes can be found along with lab data in Pharmaceutical and Nutraceutical Values of Honohono Grass. The booklet—second in White’s ethnopharmacognosy series—is supported through USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grants. It is for sale at the Windward campus bookstore.
“We need to be concurrently pursuing medicinally beneficial plants at the same time that we’re pursuing synthetic drugs,” says Ziegler, who plans to pursue a botany degree at UH Mānoa, complete a degree in business and eventually create a line of bio-products available online.
Editor’s note: Story adapted from Windward Community College Mālamalama o Koʻolau spring 2010 newsletter; used with permission.