Economic Botany

, Volume 68, Issue 1, pp 30–43 | Cite as

Contemporary Gathering Practice and Antioxidant Benefit of Wild Seaweeds in Hawai’i

  • Georgia M. Hart
  • Tamara Ticktin
  • Dovi Kelman
  • Anthony D. Wright
  • Nicole Tabandera


Contemporary Gathering Practice and Antioxidant Benefit of Wild Seaweeds in Hawaii. Wild-gathered seaweeds (limu) are a prominent component of Native Hawaiian diet and culture, but are understudied for their nutritional benefits and contemporary cultural use. This study uses a combination of ethnographic, pharmacological, and ecological approaches to document contemporary levels of wild seaweed gathering and consumption, and it explores the impact of cultivation and eutrophication on the disease-preventive benefits wild seaweeds may provide. Levels of gathering and consumption of seaweed were assessed with surveys of high school students and interviews with adult limu gatherers on O’ahu island, Hawai’i. Antioxidant activity was assessed with laboratory-based assays. Almost all students surveyed reported consuming cultivated seaweeds, one-third reported having consumed wild seaweeds, and one-fifth had gathered them, confirming that gathering practice and traditional diet have persisted in Hawai’i despite major social and environmental change. Wild gathering was three times as high and consumption 60% more prevalent among Native Hawaiians compared to non-Hawaiian students. Further, students with a parent who gathered limu were six times more likely to have gathered limu themselves, asserting the importance of within-family transmission to cultural continuity. A larger proportion of male than female Hawaiian students reported gathering wild seaweeds, indicating a cultural shift from pre-Contact Hawai’i, when women were the predominant gatherers and consumers of limu. The wild seaweeds assessed demonstrated higher levels of antioxidant activity than did cultivated seaweeds. Eutrophication was correlated with a decline in antioxidant activity, indicating that changing ocean conditions may alter the nutritional quality of this traditional food. Today, nearly all students are receiving some antioxidant benefits from seaweed, with Native Hawaiian youth from families that gather seaweed most likely to receive this health benefit. Conservation and restoration of near-shore environments to promote native edible seaweeds in pollution-free areas would provide greater opportunities for Native Hawaiian gathering practice and would support Native Hawaiian health.

Key Words

Limu macroalgae traditional knowledge Native Hawaiian cultivation ethnobotany eutrophication nutrition 





We are indebted to the public high school science teachers, Dana Hoppe, Suzie Wallace, Matt Dillon, Lynette Low, Jeff McKeown, Channing Llaneza, Mandy Llamedo, Tim Harrison, and John Feurer, who generously undertook this collaboration, and to the over 50 community members who took the time to share their knowledge with student interviewers. We especially thank the cultural practitioners, Luwella Leonardi, Eric Nourrie, Pililua Keopuhiwa, Leimomi Mookini, and Constance Castillo, and the many adults interviewed by students involved in this study, who openly and generously shared their knowledge and who allowed conversations to be recorded. Thanks also go to Wally Ito and Uncle Henry Chang-Wo, who patiently and generously explained key cultural, historical, and ecological concepts concerning limu, and to Heather McMillen, Celia Smith, Kehau Hagiwara, Karla McDermid, Alison Sherwood, and Kimberly Conklin, who assisted with fieldwork and taxonomic IDs and/or provided comments on previous drafts. Wen Sun of Marine Agrifuture, LLC (Olakai Hawai’i) provided cultivated Gracilaria spp. samples. We thank the late Isabel Aiona Abbott for her passion, dedication, and enormous contributions to the taxonomy and ethnobotany of the Hawaiian macroalgae that made this work possible. This research was supported by a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Beatrice Krauss Fellowship, and a University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Graduate Student Organization grant to Georgia Hart.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Georgia M. Hart
    • 1
  • Tamara Ticktin
    • 1
  • Dovi Kelman
    • 2
  • Anthony D. Wright
    • 2
  • Nicole Tabandera
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BotanyUniversity of Hawai’i at MānoaHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Daniel K. Inouye College of PharmacyUniversity of Hawai’i at HiloHiloUSA

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