Native Intelligence: Hawai‘i Island

Captain Cannabis

Story by Meghan Miner Murray. Photo by Jack Wolford.

Hemp is a victim of guilt by association. Though its fibrous stalks and stems kept humankind rolling in rope, fabric and paper for centuries, for the better part of seventy-five years it was illegal to grow in the United States. Even today only select farms—permitted under a special provision of the 2014 Farm Bill—are allowed to grow it. The hang-up? To the untrained eye, hemp is indistinguishable from marijuana. They’re both plants of the same genus, Cannabis, but hemp lacks the level of THC that has been bred into marijuana varietals. In short, you can’t get high from hemp, though it may have healing properties.

Steve Sakala, owner of Honaunau Farm Wellness Retreat, a 7.5-acre permaculture education farm on Hawai‘i Island, has known about hemp’s healing properties for years. Over the last two decades he’s grown medical cannabis and recently won a contract to grow hemp for seed as part of Hawai‘i’s Pilot Hemp Program. In 2017, along with several partners and a Hawaiian cultural adviser, he launched Mana Artisan Botanics, the first “wellness-driven hemp company” in the state.

The Hawaiian word for supernatural or divine power, mana “embodies the quality of healing energy we’re trying to call forth,” says Steve’s partner, Melinda Goossen. Mana Artisan Botanics’ products are infused with organic hemp extract that comes from plants bred specifically for health and wellness purposes rather than as a by-product of hemp grown for fiber or seed. The extract is rich in cannabidiol, or CBD, said to help reduce anxiety and depression, inflammation and even suppress seizures. Small-batch salves, tinctures and oils in glass jars and dropper bottles combine modern plant medicine with packaging that recalls the look and feel of old-time apothecaries.“Almost every person I meet can benefit from cannabis,” says Steve, “even if it’s just a balance tweak.”

Along with a staff herbalist, Steve blends organic-certified CBD extract sourced from Colorado with organically grown and raised products including turmeric, vanilla, macadamia nut oil, passion flowers, comfrey, plantain and lehua honey from their own Hōnaunau farm as well as other organic farms on Hawai‘i Island. “We wanted to highlight Island flavors,” says Steve. “We’re the only CBD company that I know of doing a farm-to-table approach.”