The Story of Lehua & It's Current Plight

Ohia Lehua tree

It’s Summer Time in Hawaii! Summer is the time of the amazing Ohia Lehua honey harvest! We work very hard in the summer as the Lehua honey must be extracted and bottled immediately before it sets in the comb. The Lehua honey crystallizes within days so it demands extra care and a lot of extra work to get it packed within the month.

Here at Big Island Bees the packing room is bustling as we work overtime extracting and packing this exceptional honey before it sets in the comb. The extra labor is well worth the trouble as the Ohia Lehua is a very special honey; it was even selected to be part of the Slow Food movement’s The Ark of Taste.

The Ark of Taste is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction.
To qualify for the Ark of Taste a product must be:

  • Outstanding in terms of taste – as defined in the context of local traditions and uses
  • At-risk biologically or as culinary traditions
  • Able to be sustainably produced
  • Culturally or historically linked to a specific region, locality, community or traditional production practice in the U.S.
  • Produced in limited quantities, by farms or by small-scale processing companies, for home consumption, or, in the case of endangered plants and animals, for the purpose of regeneration

Endemic to Hawaii, the Ohi’a Lehua tree Metrosideros Polymorpha, is the first tree to grow directly out of the hardened black lava covering the island of Hawaii. The flowers of the Ohia tree are called Lehua and their brilliant red color contrasts vividly against the black rocks and the pale green greyness of the leaves.

The tree was considered sacred to the ancient Hawaiians, it’s wood was used to create tiki, the standards of the Kahili , kapa beaters , clubs and daggers. The flowers were used in lei making and for medicinal purposes.

The LehLehua blossomua is the official flower of the island of Hawaii. It is also known as Pele’s Flower. In Hawaiian mythology, Ohia and Lehua were two lovers. The Volcano Goddess Pele desired Ohia, but Ohia only had eyes for Lehua and rejected Pele’s advances. In a jealous fit, the fiery tempered Pele turned Ohia into a twisted tree. Heartbroken Lehua pleaded with the other gods to help her. Out of pity, the gods turned Lehua into a flower, which they placed on Ohia's tree forever uniting the two lovers. The legend remains today that it will rain when a Lehua is plucked from the tree, signifying the tears of the separated lovers.

The residents of Hawaii cherish the Ohia Lehua honey. They recognize its unique quality , taste and its connection to these sacred islands. Most unfortunately, Ohia Lehua is facing the threat of extinction due to a Rapid Ohia Death (ROD) fungus that is spreading in the native forests. Click here to learn more about ROD. Luckily the areas where we keep our bees have not yet been affected. We hope that a cure to this problem will be found or that the spread can be kept to a minimum.


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