Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn family)
Endemic to the Hawaiian Islands (Oʻahu, West Maui, Hawaiʻi Island)
IUCN: Critically Endangered
Leaves, tendrils & flowers
Though no known use by the early Hawaiians or in modern times, other species outside of the Hawaiian Islands have the fitting name "chew-stick" (chewstick). The Urban chewstick, or white root (Gouania lupuloides), is used widely by local people from Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico, and into Central and South America as a tooth cleaner. A stick about the thickness of the small finger, with bark removed, is chewed thus strengthening the gums. The stick produces a slightly bitter, yet aromatic, soap-like froth (saponins) when chewed. The softened stick is then used by rubbing the teeth much like a toothbrush.
In times past, dried and powdered forms were exported to Europe and the United States. Jamaicans still use chewstick for medicine and in a mouthwash called "Chew-Dent." They also use it in making ginger beer, a stronger tasting ginger ale. Chewstick is also used in brewing beer as a hops substitute and is perhaps why some Jamaican beers have a distinctive taste.
The genus Gouania is named for Antoine Gouan (1733-1821), a professor and naturalist at Mountpellier, France.
The specific epithet vitifolia means "grape-like foliage," named for its grape-like foliage and spiraled "watch spring" tendrils.