Photo by Rachel Olsson
Let your lettuce go limp and your celery sag. The fronds of ferns — of the fern called pohole, anyway—have everything a saladbrowser wants. The coiled fiddlehead is a basket for dressing. The crunch is crisper than the freshest asparagus tips. The flavor is definite but with almond overtones that linger past the first bite. Then there’s the post-crunch surprise, a gliding slipperiness to the texture. Best of all this is a food not barged into the Islands from distant continents but instead snipped from the shady glens and stream banks of Hawai‘i’s own windward forests.
Pohole continues to slip its way into our regional cuisine for all those reasons, but it’s best eaten immediately. A week or so after harvest, forget it. If you find it, say in your local natural foods store (even Foodland is carrying it now), snap off the ends, parboil it quickly, chill it then get it into a salad ASAP.
Known botanically as Diplazium esculentum (“esculentum” means edible), it is widely recognized in Southeast Asia. Filipinos call it pako. In Japan, warabi. It’s kosade for Koreans. Contract laborers from these regions brought it to Maui during the late nineteenth century— so the story goes —while they labored on the historic ditchtunnel- flume system that carries water from windward Haleakala to the cane fields of the central plains. The plant escaped from cultivation and thrives in rainforest-filled regions like Hana, Maui. In fact, it was a couple in Hana, Eileen and René Comeaux of Hana Herbs & Flowers, who first got this food FDA-approved; they are now shipping fresh-plucked pohole throughout the Islands and to places as un-fernlike as the Bellagio in Las Vegas. They don’t farm it; they “wildcraft” it by tending naturally occurring patches (with the cooperation of the landowners, of course).
The actual Hawaiian name for this fern is ho‘i‘o, and you might find it by this name in markets from Hawai‘i Island to Kaua‘i. But the true ho‘i‘o is a different species of Diplazium, a bona fide native to the Islands, one that hikers can discover in the untrammeled world of our protected forests. But why trammel? Mo’ bettah you buy online or from the store.