Hawaiian Name(s): ‘uala, ‘uwala

Scientific Name: Ipomoea batatas

Vernacular Name: sweet potato

Family: Convolvulaceae

Status: Polynesian introduction

Authority: (L.) Lam.

Description: Vine with large, underground tubers.

Habitat A tuber crop that can withstand less than 30 inches of rainfall annually, important in leeward coasts (Abbott 1992:28). Most commonly cultivated, but occasionally escaping and persisting near abandoned gardens (Wagner et al. 1990:555).

Medicines: The leaf buds and tuber of many varieties of ‘uala (sweet potato) are said to be good medicines. To cure ho‘opapailua (nausea without a cause), ‘uala huamoa (or another variety) is combined with niu water (coconut, Cocos nucifera) and kī leaves (ti, Cordyline fruticosa); the mash is strained through a niu sheath and drunk to induce vomiting. For pa‘ao‘ao in babies, ‘uala kala leaves and leaf buds are mixed with pork. Adding lu‘au and kukui nut sap (Aleurites moluccana), the mixture becomes a purgative for older children and adults. For nae (shortness of breath) and nae‘oiku (croup), the tuber of the ‘uala kihi is pounded and blended with ‘ōhi‘a ai (Syzygium malaccense), hinahina ku kahakai (Heliotropium anomalum var. argenteum), tap root bark of ‘uhaloa (Waltheria indica), and kō honua‘ula (red sugarcane, Saccharum officinarum. The mixture is strained, cooked, and drunk; ko‘oko‘olau (Bidens spp.) tea is consumed and koali ‘apu (Ipomoea spp.) is used as a purgative For na‘ena‘e (?asthma) and as an emetic, ‘uala lehua is used. To induce sleep or cure lepo pa‘a (constipation), the ‘uala mohihi tuber is combined with kalo pi‘iali‘i (taro variety, Colocasia esculenta), hau ka‘eka‘e bark (Hibiscus tiliaceus), the stems of kikawaioa, and water. The concoction is strained and drunk. It may be followed by a noni fruit (Morinda citrifolia) enema. To remove the thick, tough phlegm from stomach or chest, the tuber of the ‘uwala piko nui is added to the na‘a of kī leaves (ti, Cordyline fruticosa) and water; the mixture is strained through ‘ahu‘awa (Cyperus javanicus) and drunk. During the treatment brackish water is consumed and mai‘a lele (banana variety, Musa spp.) is eaten; koali ‘apu is a purgative. To turn the womb of a woman to the right side, the tuber of the ‘uala pu (or other varieties) is mixed with flowers, leaves, and leaf buds of the ‘ala‘alawainui pohina (Plectranthus parviflorus) and hinahina ku kahakai, as well as noni flowers and flower buds, and the fruit of moa holokula lelo, along with a green kukui nut and kō kea. It is strained, Hawaiian pia is added (Tacca leontopetaloides) and it is cooked, and finally drunk. During treatment tea of ko‘oko‘olau leaves is also consumed; koali ‘apu is the purgative (Chun 1994:239–244).

Non Medicinal Uses: Cultivated principally for its tubers, while leaves can also be eaten, important in dry areas where kalo was not abundant or did not flourish (Abbott 1992:2831); tubers used as bait for fishing (Abbott 1992:85; Lucas 1982:70). Vines used to make an undercushion for lauhala mats in houses (Handy et al. 1972:136); an open lei of uala vines hung around a mother's neck or her breasts beaten with a handful of vines (the presence of the milky sap of uala said to induce the flow of the mother's milk) (Gutmanis 1983:52; Handy et al. 1972:136). Fermented uala "beer" (uala awaawa) brewed, but it is unclear if this is a pre-contact practice (Handy et al. 1972:135).

Specific gravity of wood: unknown

Famous Locations:


`Ōlelo Noeau: [I] Aia i luna o ‘Ualaka‘a. He is up on ‘Ualaka‘a. A play on ‘Uala-ka‘a (Rolling-potato-hill). Said of one who, like a rolling potato, has nothing to hold fast to. The hill was said to have been named for a sweet potato that broke loose from its vine on a field above and rolled down to a field below in Manoa. [II] E lawe i ke o, he hinana ka i‘a kuhi lima. Take vegetable food; the hinana is a fish that can be caught in the hand. A suggestion to take taro, poi, potato, or breadfruit along on the journey and not to worry about meats, which can be found along the way. First uttered by Pele in a chant about the winds of Kaua‘i. [III] He ‘uala ka ‘ai ho‘ola koke i ka wi. The sweet potato is the food that ends famine quickly. The sweet potato is a plant that matures in a few months. [IV] I ka holo no i ke alahao a pi‘i i ka lani. While going along the railroad one suddenly goes up to the sky. A drinker soon finds himself "up in the clouds." An expression used by the sweet-potato beer drinkers of Lahaina, Maui. [V] I ka ho‘olwea aku nei o Kuhelemai. Attended the funeral of Kuhelemai. A play on ho‘olwea (to lift) and ku hele mai (stand up and come), meaning that we stood up and lifted the beer down our throats. An expression used by the sweet-potato beer drinkers of Lahaina, Maui. [VI] Ka i‘a ka‘a poepoe o Kalapana, ‘ina‘i ‘uala o Kaimu. The round, rolling fish of Kalapana, to be eaten with the sweet potato of Kaimü. The kukui nut, cooked and eaten as a relish. This is from a ho‘opapa riddling chant in the story of Kaipalaoa, a boy of Puna, Hawai‘i, who went to Kaua‘i to riddle with the experts there and won. [VII] Kalina ka pono, ‘a‘ohe hua o ka pu‘e, aia ka hua i ka lala. The potato hill is bare of tubers for the plant no longer bears; it is the vines that are now bearing. The mother is no longer bearing, but her children are. [VIII] Kamipulu Kawaihae. Damned fool Kawaihae. Said of Kawaihae natives. Some natives of Kawaihae, Hawai‘i, once sold sweet potatoes to the captain of a ship. He discovered some sticks placed at the bottom of the barrel for filler and called the men damned fools. [IX] Mo‘a nopu o ke kau. Summer's first parched product. The first sweet potato of the summer or the first from one's field. [X] Na pu‘e ‘uwala ho‘ouwai. Movable mounds of sweet potato. It was the custom of Pula‘a, Puna, Hawai‘i, to remove the best mounds of sweet potato, earth and all, to wide strips of thick, coarse lauhala mats stretched out on racks. When a chief came to visit, these mats were placed on the right-hand side of the road and made kapu. Should he return, the mat-grown potato field was carried to the opposite side of the road so that it would still be on the right side of the traveling chief. [XI] Na pu‘e ‘uwala ‘ina‘i o ke ala loa. The sweet-potato mounds that provide for a long voyage or journey. [XII] Ola i ka ‘ohulu. There is substance in the sprouting tubers. Said when there is a poor growth of sweet potatoes during an excessively warm summer. The broken pieces of potato sprouting among the weeds produces a few potatoes that feed the farmer and his family until a new crop is started. [XIII] Ola no ka mahi‘ai i kahi ku‘o‘o. A farmer can subsist on small. Broken potatoes. As long as there are potatoes, even small or broken ones, a farmer gets along. [XIV] ‘Opu palulu. Stomach full of sweet-potato greens. Said of an ignorant person who can only grow sweet potatoes. [XV] Ua ka ua i Papakolea, ihea ‘oe? When it rained at Papakolea, where were you? The reply of a sweet potato grower on Papakilea to one who asks for some of his crop. If one answered that he had been there when the rain fell to soak the earth for planting, but had not planted, then he was lazy and would be given no potatoes. [XVI] ‘Uala li‘ili‘i o Kalepolepo. Small potatoes from Kalepolepo. Said of a stupid person. [XVII] ‘Uala ne‘ene‘e o Kohala. Ne‘ene‘e potato of Kohala. A person who hangs around constantly. Ne‘ene‘e, a variety of sweet potato, also means "to move up closer."

Dye Color and Parts:

Kino lau: LONO.

Location on Bishop Museum Kalihi Campus:

Propagation Information: (Burgess and Enos 1996:22–23; Handy et al. 1972:127–133).

Seed: Seed length approximately 3.5 mm. Photograph: B.Kennedy.
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