Of all the Polynesian peoples, Native Hawaiians ate the greatest variety of limu (seaweed). Out of the 29 different varieties they consumed, only about 14 are eaten today.
In the traditional Hawaiian diet, limu was most commonly eaten as a condiment, frequently served with poi or raw fish. Limu encompassed more than just marine seaweed – it also included freshwater algae and mosses collected from streams, brackish water ponds and loʻi. Hawaiians practiced aquaponics, with loko iʻa (fishponds) that were used to cultivate both fish and limu.
Once limu is harvested, it is rinsed in fresh water to clean out the sand and other debris, drained, chopped, and sometimes seasoned with salt or fermented. The addition of salt depended on the variety of the limu (so as to be preserved for later use). It was eaten raw or it was cooked along with fish or chicken in the imu.
Limu is a source of many important nutrients. All types of limu contain beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, which helps protect and repair cells and helps fight diseases such as cancer and dementia. It is also excellent for eye health. The limu with the highest amount of beta-carotene is limu paheʻe (seasonally found during February). Limu alani has the most iron, which maintains healthy blood and prevents anemia.
Limu has medicinal value as well. Research on limu kāhili, a brown limu, shows it to be especially potent. It helps lower blood sugar, is toxic to cancer cells, and reduces inflammation.
The green-colored hulu ʻīlio works as an anti-bacterial, lowers blood pressure, and fights tumors. Local red marine algaes have shown great promise as a natural anti-virals and antibiotics, and in protecting and repairing skin damage.
There are many other benefits to limu, so get your daily dose in poke, soup, or salad.