Food Box

‘Akulikuli, sea purslane, at He‘eia fishpond.

Lei flower is edible, who knew?

With company in town last week, I toured the gardens at the Bishop Museum and the guide challenged the four locals on the tour to “teach me something.”

I did. I taught her something: that ‘akulikuli, the creeping vine best known for its brilliant magenta, pale rose, white or ‘ilima yellow flower used in lei, has an edible leaf. We all nibbled some from the Bishop garden.

The leaf–a long, slender, fleshy bit of greenery on a scarlet-tinged vine–bursts with slightly salty moisture when you bite into it, and is said to help balance electrolytes. “We call it Hawaiian Gatorade,” Hi’ilei Kawelo of Paepae O He’eia, the fishpond reclamation project near Kane’ohe, had told me a few months ago. I like it scattered on salads, or even on meats in place of the usual green onion, cilantro, parsley. (And it’s free for the gathering and easy to grow.)

The fact that the leaf is edible and healthful should be no surprise, since the other name for this low-growing succulent is Hawaiian purslane or sea purslane. And purslane is a farm-to-table salad favorite, though it lacks the beachy flavor of the Island variety.

‘Akulikuli, which is indigenous (native) to the Islands, grows both right on the beach, as at He’eia fishpond, where I first ate it, and at high elevations, as in Waimea on the Big Island, where it sends out its glowing, many-petaled, daisy-like flowers. Munch a leaf while you pick flowers.