Pōhala Hawaiian Fern Medicine


Article by Sue G. Collins

Photography by Sue G. Collins

Pōhala (v) – to recover consciousness; to wake from stupor. PōHALA, to ascend.

Until recently, four essential oils offered with massage treatments at Spa Montage Kapalua were considered sacred in the traditional Hawaiian lore. Fern Medicine, offering a long list of positive benefits, was “kapu” or forbidden in traditional Hawaiian culture until 2013 when all that was “huna” or secret was lifted. Now, Maui-based company Pōhala is sharing the power of ancient botanicals derived from the fern, a species whose nuclei and chromosomes have remained unchanged for more than 180 million years. According to Pōhala founder Ke'oni Hanalei, of all species alive on this planet today, we know of only one who has preserved their sacred DNA throughout the countless cataclysms that have impacted the evolution of life on Earth. This species is the fern. Ferns exist in evolutionary stasis.

“In our lore, according the Mū Culture (pre-Tahitian Hawaiian Culture), there are 103 Native Hawaiian Ferns, which correlate to 103 individual emotions.  

For example, Ka’ape’ape Fern is the personification of Grace. ‘Ae fern is the personification of Empathy, and Palai Hinahina Fern is the personification of Grief. 

"I resource the medicine of ferns in order to explore, integrate and express the true energy of emotion. This ensures the emotion remains fluid,” Ke’oni says.

Now, guests have the option to chose one of Pōhala’s fern essential oils to complement their service.

“Guests are surprised by the story of Pōhala and the foraging of the ferns and botanicals,” says Jennifer Holzworth, Spa Montage Kapalua director. “This allows them to have a deeper connection with the experience, and a sense of place.” 

Curious about the benefits?

  • Wild Maile Vine promotes positive energy. Ancient Hawaiians resourced Maile as a protection against bad energy 
  • The Pure Polynesia blends vanilla of Tonga, one of the most powerful antioxidants used by ancient Polynesians to soothe anxiety; and ginger, a mood lifter.
  • Lua Trifecta Oil mixes ‘Ohe Bamboo, Palapalai Fern & Ka’ape’ape Fern promoting empathy and love.
  • Pure Plantation promotes mental clarity with the use of ‘iliahi sandalwood, known in the Hawaiian culture as a spiritual tree of wisdom.  

Ke’oni explains all these medicinal oils have been made using a steam distiller. Virtually all plant matter comes from the wilderness of Maui and Kaua’i, many from sacred sites. Each fern or plant holds power in the houses of moon phases, and therefore the harvest and distillation or extraction is performed on those sacred times. 

Recognizing a partnership, he personally reached out to Jennifer at Spa Montage Kapalua.

“The area in which the spa and hotel are located is considered a Wahi Pana (sacred site) to the ancient Hawaiian people, and so I’ve always been drawn to that area. It was considered a healing sanctuary to the ancient people and so I felt it was appropriate to approach the spa to see if Pōhala Botanicals may be compatible for their offerings.”

The massages at Spa Montage Kapalua Bay have each been inspired by the island. The most glorious is the Maui Maluhia, a two-hour treatment with a reflexology massage, full-body dry brushing and customized algae body mask. The nurturing continues with a body cocoon and stimulating sea salt food exfoliation and massage with a choice of essential oils to elevate the experience to the highest level.

With generations of love and botanical understanding buoying him, Ke’oni is proud to bring the power of the plants to the people. 

“My Maui grandmother (tūtū), Kau'ikeonalani, was a very powerful medicine woman. Her mother and her mother-in-law were also medicine holders, or what we Hawaiians call ‘Kahuna.’ I can recall tūtū in her backyard tending meticulously to her plants. Sometimes I would snap twigs and rip leaves off of her ferns. ‘Ha'alele loa!’ she'd yell ‘such defilement!’ and then she would tell me the significance, the power, the essence. The laua'e fern is the personification of Divine Beauty." 

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