The kukui nut tree (Aleurites moluccanus) is native to Southeast Asia but can now be found in many tropical regions throughout the world. Despite their Southeast Asian origins, Kukui nuts are most often associated with Hawaii, where the species was introduced by Polynesian settlers over a thousand years ago.
These large trees with their distinctive silvery green foliage have naturalized on the Hawaiian islands and become an important part of the Hawaiian culture. In 1959 the kukui nut was selected as Hawaii's state tree to celebrate its many uses.
Traditionally kukui nut wood was used to craft lightweight canoes, make floats for fishing nets, and in the mid 1800s felled kukui logs were used to grow cloud ear fungus (Auricularia polytricha) for export to China, which led to the loss of large areas of Hawaii's kukui nut forests. Today the trees are no longer widely harvested for their wood. Instead, the magic of kukui nut trees is in the nuts themselves.
These productive trees, which can produce as much as a hundred pounds of kukui nuts a year, are frequently planted as ornamentals and were among the first species planted by Hawaii's Division of Forestry and Wildlife in the early 1900s when 16,000 kukui nuts were planted to protect watersheds throughout Hawaii.
Kukui nuts are deeply embedded in Hawaiian mythology, celebrated as a symbol of light, spirituality, enlightenment, and good luck. The seeds are often used in leis, and early Polynesian settlers revered kukui nuts not only as a metaphorical symbol of light but as an actual light source.
Thanks to their unique oil, Kukui nuts, also known as candlenuts, can be used as candles. While individual nuts only burn for a short time, they can be strung together to create long-lasting torches. Kukui oil was also burned in lamps after being pressed from the seeds.
Along with creating light, kukui nuts have been used for a wide range of purposes from medicine to paint for canoes to dye for tattoos, and the oil is still used in a variety of skin care products. Although raw nuts are considered toxic, roasted kukui nuts were also a food source for early settlers and are still eaten in some regions.
As beads, these large, durable seeds make bold, long-lasting additions to leis, bracelets, necklaces, and malas. Natural kukui nuts are most often available in black, sometimes brown, and occasionally marbled or white. They are hollowed out, sanded, and polished. Kukui nuts are available hand-painted with flowers, and are painted to match the colors of schools and sports teams because of their association with good luck.
Because most natural kukui nuts are finished with a high-gloss shine, the look of a natural kukui nut is easy to replicate in acrylic form, but nothing beats a real, tree-grown kukui for their unique beauty, energy, and rich history.
Click here to explore Dream Raven Designs bracelets, necklaces, and malas featuring kukui nuts.
Kukui nut fruit photo by Daniel Ramirez from Honolulu, USA (Kukui Fruit Uploaded by Jacopo Werther) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons