Hawaiian Cure for the Common Cold

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Ripe berries of pōpolo plant.

Pōpolo is one of many useful medicinal Hawaiian plants.

A member of the nightshade family, it resembles a tomato plant, growing to a height of three feet.

While it grows on all of the Hawaiian Islands, it tends to thrive in the Hilo and Hāmākua areas of Hawai‘i Island, preferring the moist ground near waterfalls and in gulches near streams.

The fruit of the plant is very small and almost perfectly round, growing no more than ¼ to 3/8ths of an inch in diameter.

They grow in clusters of three to seven berries, starting as tiny and green nodules, then change in color ranging from medium purple to black when mature.


Plants grown in full sun will produce berries that are darker in color compared to those that grow in more shaded locations.

Note: In its green state the berries are not edible; they contain solanine, which can be toxic.

Young leaves of pōpolo used for cooking. Darde Gamayo photo.

The ripened, sweet and juicy berries can be eaten raw. Take care though, as the juice from the ripe berries will stain both your clothes and fingers. Thus, it was used as a dye for kapa cloth by Hawaiians of old as well as those who continue the practice of kapa making today.

The berries and the leaves have numerous medicinal uses, both in their raw and cooked states.

The leaves have more of the medicinal properties to them. Steam the leaves, then put them in a strainer and squeeze the juice out of the leaves.

Pōpolo bush with young berries. Darde Gamyo photo.


Two to three tablespoons of the leaf juice can be used to aid in alleviating fevers, upset stomach and other internal disorders.

The squeezed leaves can aid in healing topical infections and be used to pack wounds. Pack into the wound, then wrap it with a clean bandage and check every 24 hours. Wounds heal quickly, and often, without scarring.

Historically, the juice of chewed leaves was rubbed on the children to help strengthen their joints.

The raw sap from the leaves mixed with the juice from the berries is used to various types of disorders of the respiratory tract.

“To cure a cold, steam pōpolo leaves that have been wrapped in ki leaves,” said Beatrice Krauss in her book, Plants in Hawaiian Medicine. “Remove the pōpolo leaves and divide them into five equal portions. Eat one portion in the evening for five days.”

Flower and young green berries of pōpolo. Darde Gamayo photo.


Plucked from the tip of the branches, the young leaves can be steeped with a little salt and eaten. It is sometimes used today as a tasty addition to stir-fry with other vegetables.

While there are three other varieties similar to the pōpolo that grow here in Hawai‘i: the pōpolo ‘aiakeakua (S. sandwicense), pōpolo ku mai (S. incompletum) and pōpolo (S. nelsonii) do not have edible fruits.

Only the pōpolo (S. Americanum) has edible fruit. The other species bear fruit, but it is toxic.

As with other medicinal herbs, it is always best to seek expert advice before use.

Big Island Now disclaims any medical expertise. The information included in this article is intended for informational purposes only to increase understanding and knowledge of various traditional Hawaiian medicinal herbs. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions you may have before consuming medicinal herbs.

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