Aleurites is a genus of flowering evergreen trees native to tropical and subtropical areas of South America, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The trees produce a large fruit with poisonous seeds from which oil can be harvested. Aleurites oil has traditionally been used as a paraffin wax, a lubricant, and an ingredient in paint, varnish, and soap. The most widespread and well known species in the candlenut, Aleurites moluccana, the state tree of Hawaii.
Candlenut is also called candleberry, country walnut, Indian walnut, kemiri, kukui nut, and varnish tree. Its large geographical range is due to the spread of the plant by humans. It grows in parts of South and East Asia, Polynesia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Aleurites moluccana gets its common name from the fact that the seed can be used as a candle due to its rich oil content. The nut is also cooked and eaten in Hawaiian, Indonesian, and Malaysian cuisines, where it is used in sauces and condiments. The nut is very rich, with a similar texture to the macadamia nut, but a much more bitter flavor. Like the oil harvested from them, the nuts are slightly toxic when raw. Aleurites oil can also be used as cooking oil if it is treated to remove poisonous elements.
Aleurites also has a number of uses in traditional medicine. The oil is believed to stimulate hair growth and health. It may also be used as a laxative. The bark of the plant has been used to treat tumors in Japan, and gastrointestinal complaints in Java. The boiled leaves are used in Malaysia to treat headache, fever, gonorrhea, swollen joints, and ulcers.
The ancient Hawaiians had a great number of uses for Aleurites moluccana. The seeds were traditionally strung into strands on a palm leaf rib and burned one by one to provide light. These strands were also used to measure time, since each nut burned for about 15 minutes. The oil could also be extracted from the nuts and used in a lamp.
Various parts of the candlenut tree, including the flowers and shells, were used by the Hawaiians to make leis, traditional garlands. The charred nuts were used to make ink for tattoos, and a reddish dye for clothing was extracted from the bark. Aleurites wood was used to make canoes, as well as parts of bigger boats. The oil was used to preserve fishing nets.