Hiking for Health and Food

Hiking is something I always loved to do and yet never seemed to do enough of. When I was a young adult in my mid teens, I loved to go out into the pastures and woods surrounding our rural home. I’d spend hours out there just sitting by the small pond next to the forest, listening to frogs and trying to spot turtles. The woods felt more like my home than my family’s house.

If I wasn’t by the pond, I was sitting under the trees or walking some dirt trails probably walked many times before by cattle and deer. I spent a lot of time in contemplation, maybe more than the average teen, although I don’t know the numbers to say for certain! This was also around the time I started to really grow curious about nature spirituality and the occult.

From those interests I also started to learn more about plants, foraging, and self sustainability. Although we didn’t have any wild fruit trees, I was still able to find plenty of wild onions, dandelions, and various other wild herbs to test out and satisfy my curiosity. It’s been a long time since those days and after deciding to cut myself off from all electronics for a few hours one day, I realized how much I miss that connection and how little time I spend outdoors compared to my days as a teen. Of course, now I’m an adult with a job and other responsibilities, but I find that to be more of an excuse than anything. Now that I find myself on beautiful O’ahu, surrounded by nature, I’ve made it my mission to do just that.

One of my new favorite hiking spots is the 4.8 mile ‘Aiea Loop trail. It’s a gorgeous trail along a ridge of the Halawa Valley on the Southern coastline with a total elevation gain of around 900ft. The trail, like many others, is lined on both sides with what seems like a never ending sea of strawberry guava trees (also known as Cattley guava and cherry guava). It also has a pleasant fragrance from the many lemon eucalyptus trees that were planted there back in the 1920’s. There is also an abundance of Norfolk pines, maybe more than I’ve seen elsewhere on the island so far. Also sprinkled in the mix are the endemic koa and ʻōhiʻa lehua (a species of flowering evergreen) trees. The ‘Aiea Loop Trail also features some amazing views of the Southern Coast and of the H-3 interstate running through the mountains.

With all that said, my focus today was on the ripe fruit of the strawberry guava trees. If you’ve never had one, the best way that I can describe the taste is sweet, bitter, tart, and a hint of fresh pine. They don’t get very big, but I find them to be pretty tasty and worth picking a lot. Many of the locals also tend to come out and pick them while enjoying the trail. These trees aren’t native to Hawai’i and their hardiness and low maintenance makes them a resilient invasive species. They also tend to grow happily in hard to reach places, like along the steep ridges of ‘Aiea Loop, Manoa Cliff trail, and the Moanalua Middle Ridge trail where it’s difficult or even impossible to manage.

Fresh strawberry guava fruit.

The first time I ever tried one of these fruits was during a foraging hike event with Slow Food O’ahu along the Manoa Cliff trail. Slow Food USA is a great organization with the mission:

Seeking to create dramatic and lasting change in the food system, Slow Food USA reconnects Americans with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food. We inspire individuals and communities to change the world through food that is good, clean and fair for all.

https://slowfoodusa.org/about/

As someone who believes in the importance of ecology and sustainability, I am all about their cause and I was happy to see a presence here. Through that hike I learned a decent amount about local edible plants that can be found around the island. One section of the trail was a large grove of these guava trees which we stopped to sample. I really enjoyed their flavor, so I was happy to see they were also growing along the ‘Aiea Loop trail during my first trail run there. Although they are unfortunately an invasive species and are difficult to manage due to the nature of their growing locations, the positive is that they do provide fruits to enjoy to hikers and animals. I like to think that we can help a little by foraging for them and reducing chances for the seeds to spread even more.

I enjoy hiking, trail running, and foraging, so if I can combine them together, that’s even better. This is a bit of a random Blog entry, but I wanted to write a little about my thoughts and maybe even inspire others to look into the wild foods they can find in their areas. If you can find a local foraging group, even better! Developing a deeper connection to local land and plants is really an enriching experience. In our modern world most don’t seem to think much about where their food comes from outside of a super market shelf. That connection to the land and our food is but a small shadow cast in the back of minds with seemingly more relevant things to think about. I personally don’t feel there’s much that is more important than understanding the food cycle and our part in it.

For now, I’ll just keep enjoying fresh guava fruit and promote education when I can.

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