Ark of Taste
Ohi'a Lehua Honey
The honey extracted from the Ohi’a Lehua tree is unique to Hawaii. The Ohi’a Lehua grows at many elevations but thrives in the rain forests of the Kau regions of the island. It was the first tree to grow directly out of the hardened black lava covering the island of Hawaii. The flowers of the tree are called Lehua and their brilliant red color contrasts vividly against the black rocks and the pale gray green of the leaves.
The Ohi’a Lehua blossom produces a smooth, white honey that is thick and creamy. It is most distinguished for its texture, which is creamy and yet slightly crystallized. The flavor is sweet, but not overpowering. The taste could be described as floral, rather than herbal, with undertones of salted caramel, and more distinctive overall than other light honeys such as clover or kiawe/mesquite.
The Lehua is the official flower of the island of Hawaii. It is also known as Pele’s Flower. In Hawaiian mythology, Ohi’a and Lehua were two lovers. The Volcano Goddess Pele desired Ohi’a. But Ohi’a only had eyes for Lehua and rejected Pele’s advances. In a jealous fit, the fiery tempered Pele turned Ohi’a 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 Ohi’a'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 decline of the Ohi’a Lehua canopy has been the subject of considerable research since 1975. The once vast tracts of land where they once predominated are starting to dwindle, and the decline cannot be attributed to one sole cause. The lack of ability for the trees to withstand environmental stress, diseases and insect attacks may cause thousands of acres of forest to die off. The environmental stress, mainly dwindling territory, changing weather patterns and invasive species of plants, weakens the trees and leaves them more susceptible to insect attack, which are plentiful. The endemic cerambycid borer is fatal to weakened trees and has caused extensive damage. Other borers, defoliators and sapsuckers also cause injury, as well as root rots of various kinds.
The honeybees themselves are also at risk. The honeybee populations flourished under the temperate climate of Hawaii until 2007 when the Varroa mite arrived. The parasitic mite had a devastating effect on the honeybee population and most if not all of the feral bee colonies disappeared. Since 2010 the local bees were damaged further with the arrival of the Small Hive Beetle, a pest that feeds on pollen, honey and developing bees. If not controlled, they will completely destroy the hive. Because the honey made from this tree is so special and unique, it must be protected with a vengeance. Ohi’a Lehua honey is only produced in Hawaii. It is produced commercially in limited quantities by only a handful of small privately owned apiaries who are kept busy ensuring its purity. Many of these private producers are families who feel a personal calling to keep this honey on the market. These families get a lot of support and praise from the local community for providing them with the honey that they remember from their childhood.
The residents of Hawaii cherish the Ohi’a Lehua honey. They recognize its unique quality, taste, and its connection to these sacred islands.