Kalo thrives in the worst conditions where most agricultural crops cannot survive. Kalo can also withstand severe neglet and or even rototilling(bad idea though). Interesting because the traditional food plants of the Tohono O'odham also do well in conditions in which nearly all major food plants perish without large amounts of outside inputs and extra effort. Resilient plants that thrive in difficult conditions create resilient people.
One of the Tohono O'odham food plants, Prickly pear cactus, has leaf pads that have been proven to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce cholestorol. It is important for indigenous people to eat traditional foods for health and to keep their culture alive. People are like plants in that they become adapted to the conditions they live in--the longer there, the more they create and depend upon mutually beneficial relationships with their plant and animal co-inhabitants.
Diabetes is an epidemic disproportionately affecting recently colonized cultures mainly due to the introduction of seemingly unlimited supply of potent simple and complex carbohydrates (grains,flour, sugar). Diabetes is predicted to affect 1/3 of children born after 2000.
I know many people with diabetes and have recently been diagnosed as pre-diabetic--so I have a personal stake.
Now, I doubt anyone wants to eat only what was in their native homeland before colonial contact. Many people have no idea what their ancestors ate before the introduction of grains, and more recently, high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.
So what's the solution to the big mix up of the diospora of humanity and chronic disease and ecological devestation? Agroforesty systems that integrate edible and medicinal perennial, shrub, and tree crops and support species (nitrogen fixing groundcovers and green manure trees). Perennials and woody crops offer nutrient dense super foods (2-3 times more nutrition according to UK based Agroforestry Research News). Many perennials are also in low carbohydrates and simple sugars. There are also numerous herbal medicines that have have been proven to reduce blood sugar levels.
The ecological crisis caused by relying heavily on demanding annual crops like grains is severe. The amount of top soil loss, pollution, and species eradication associated with annual agriculture has led Jared Diamond, UCLA professor to call agriculture "the worst mistake in the world".
Luckily, agroforestry systems can reduce erosion and pollution in addition to increasing local species diversity including native plants and animals. There is the potential to produce more too--so we can have our greens and eat them too. Studies consistantly reveal well designed agroforestry can produce more while restoring the environment.
I believe that improved nutrient cycling between the soil and plants improves the nutritional content of plants. Wild grown and agroforestry grown medicinal herbs likely have more nutrition than monocrops herbs. There are many medicines that agroforestry can provide.
One example is the bark of the tree Pterocarpus marsupium (vijasar) which studies have proven to reduce blood sugar levels. While it is 8% less effective than tolbutamide, Pterocarpus doesn't have the long term side effects. Avoiding simple carbs would help even more. Reseachers are speculating that Pterocarpus regenerates the islets of Langerhan in the pancreas--that's where insulin is created.
Transitioning to a site specific polycultural agroforestry system is much easier said than done. Here on the Big Island of Hawaii, we have just about every growing condition one can imagine, including over 100 soils types. Go two miles and there can be completely different set of growing conditions. The varied conditions make it difficult to expand successful models.
The flip side is that Hawaii's diverse conditions offer ideal habitat for an incredible number of plant species. Kalo won't grow everywhere people live, it never did. But prickly pear can grow where kalo cannot. Thankfully, Luther Burbank bred a spineless prickly pear--which happens to be excellent cattle fodder too. Pterocarpus marsupium can probably grow on Kona side at mid-elevations.
There are other uncommon plant species that regulate blood sugar levels that grow well in East Hawaii such as Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus undtatus), Yacon (Polymnia sonchifolia), and Miracle Fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum). Many uncommon food and medicine plants have been bred through traditional agroforestry practices and thrive in those conditions. But many need humans to keep them living and reproducing, who knows how many edible, medicinal, and useful plants have are on the edge of disappearing due to the big change up?
More funding is needed to identify, protect, propagate, and research the uses and interaction of rare, uncommon, and underutilized species. We need to keep the traditional foods alive because they kept humans alive for eons--they offer us "new" superfoods and medicines. If 25% of the money spent on pharmacutical research for diabetes was spent on researching and advocating home and agroforestry production of underutilized foods and medicines; we would be getting to the root of the problem rather than medicating the symptoms. Do your part--let your food be your medicine, from your home garden.