Olena and Turmeric Research at UH

Dr. Ted Radovich, Principal investigator of sustainable and organic farming systems laboratory associate prof, since 2006

Article by Heidi Bornhorst

Olena or turmeric (Curcuma longa) syn. C. domestica, SE Asia, is one of our Hawaiian canoe plants. We have long valued and used it here in Hawaii.  It is a bit tricky to grow and perpetuate since it goes dormant in the winter time.

It has very pretty flowers which we call ‘Pua Olena’ here in Hawaii.  We even have a mele and hula about Turmeric.  The leaves are attractive and grow separately from the flowers stalks, which emerge in late summer, after the leaves have been growing for a while.

You can use the roots (rhizomes actually) for many recipes.  I grate mine with a micro planer, as I’m cooking and to add to drinks.  I keep the precious and ono rhizomes in the freezer until I’m ready to cook with them.

“Poor man’s saffron” turmeric is another name for Olena

It is the Base for common English / Indian curry. Local curry stew has a heavy turmeric base, Japanese sweet curry also has a heavy turmeric base.

It has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine.  My friend from Sri Lanka shared a whole book on the medicinal uses with me.

It is also one of the latest “super health” foods.  Everyone these days seems to be taking some form to cure inflammation, fend off Alzheimer’s, keep surfing or hiking etc.

If you go to the health food store, look online or even shop at regular grocery stores there are all kinds of Turmeric, Curcumin etc. products to “Cure you” or maintain health

Some make Olena tea, some infuse it, and some do pills.  I think it’s best to eat our vitamins.  Heating and cooking with some fat like olive or coconut oil enhances the benefits. There is potential for Hawaii farmers and value added producers with this plant crop.  But let’s make sure it is science based.

Some of our nursery growers like Ken VInzant of Olomana Tropicals (another UH Manoa CTAHR graduate) are growing some of the many pretty flowering species and varieties of Curcuma. (Check him out at the next Foster Botanical garden plant sale on Saturday May 20, 2017)

So what is the science behind it?  And how can this beautiful and useful ginger benefit our Hawaiian green economy? Lots of info on-line, but we do need the accurate science.


Dr. Ted Radovich of UH Manoa is one of several researchers interested in this crop and is focused on the yield and quality of the several species and varieties available locally.  Some future prospects among ‘olena relatives are listed here ( The Latin name for the genus is Curcuma.

  1. mangga/ C. amada smells like green mango, and is very aromatic. Primarily for culinary use. It looks like ginger root, and is frequently pickled. It has a heavy yield so growers like it. Chefs are investigating its potential.
  2. aromatica is the original Ayurvedic curcuma. There are more than one species being called by this name. According to international experts, the nomenclature of Curcuma generally is very messy and confused.
  3. zedoaria white turmeric or zedoary turmeric. Several Hawaii growers are producing it.

Other species:

Ted found some gingers called “Finger root” or ‘Chinese keys’ Boesenbergia rotunda in Chinatown.   The Lady selling it called it ‘Cambodian turmeric’.  It has large fingers coming off tiny rhizome.

Ultimate GOALS of UH: yield, quality and agronomy; genetic variability UH research station to help growers add value Hawaii small scale production

Initially trials are going on in Waimanalo and Maui, Kauai Extension agents evaluations have been initiated statewide. UH and cooperating farmers are Learning the agronomy and it is in very early stages.

Curcumin content is one of the things to evaluate for. Drs. Alvin Huang and J.P. Bingham are among the Hawai’i researchers working on this. UH has a germplasm collection and germplasm, grown both in soils and aquaponics

There is lots of research on Curcumin and its analogs, biological activity on this antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, the literature is quite dense

We strive to Keep up with, and help our growers says Radovich.

There are a number of growers and more now. It is fairly easy to grow, but is seasonal goes dormant, that’s where the growing gets tricky

Prices vary from 4-12$ a pound, at peak season costs are lower.


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About the author  ⁄ Garrett Webb

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