Conkerberry (scientific name Carissa spinarum) is also known as bush plum. This is an oversized shrub belonging to the dogbane family also called Apocynaceae. This herb is found widely distributed in places having tropical climatic conditions, especially in Southern Asia, Africa, and Australia as well as many islands of the Indian Ocean. This species is very common in Australia, where the plant is also known as currant bush or, more vaguely, as the "native currant" or simply "black". However, this plant doesn't have any close relation with true currants (Ribes) or plums (Prunus). True currants are actually members of an altogether different plant family called eudicots. In India, this species is also known as wild karavanda or wild karanda.
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Conkerberry or bush plum is a multi-stemmed shrub growing up to a height of anything between 0.5 meter and 3 meters. This plant bears shiny green leaves that appear opposite to each other on the stems. The leaves are narrow and their shape may vary from lanceolate to ovate. Each conkerberry leaf measures 1 cm to 5 cm in length. The branches of this shrub have sharp thorns measuring 1 cm to 3 cm in length. The shrub bears white flowers that are star-shaped and measure about 1 cm in diameter. The flowers are followed by green ovate shaped berries that are about 1 cm to 2 cm long. When ripe, the color of these berries changes to deep purple or black.
In Australia, the conkerberry fruits have a dense growth, especially in the tropical central and northern regions of the continent nation. The fruits of conkerberry are edible and the aborigines of the country have a preference for this fruit. In Australian cookery menus, these berries are a very popular supplementary food.
Usually, conkerberry or bush plums are found growing on fine textured soils in partially dry coastal areas. They have a preference for clay-loams and clay soils. However, in places which are more arid, these plants have a tendency to remain confined in places having elevated amounts of moisture, for instance the flood out areas or the base of hills. These plants possess the ability to endure extreme ecological conditions and can also survive in a variety of habitats. For instance, in Australia, conkerberry plants are regularly found growing together with other plants like poplar box (E. populnea), Eucalyptus brownii, brigalow (A. harpophylla) or gidgee (Acacia cambagei). These shrubs are generally found growing in the periphery of forests, coastal rainforest and also vine coppices in places that receive over 900 mm rain annually. In addition, they are found growing as softwood scrubs and in the open eucalypt savannas that receive below 700 mm rain annually.
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The Australian aborigines inhabiting the central regions of the country use the conkerberry fruits in the form of a popular bush tucker food. In addition, the fruits of this tree are also a favourite of the Australian emu, bustard and several other birds in the same range. Even the leaves are an excellent food for butterflies, such as Australian crow (Euploea core) and moths.
Conkerberry is often considered to be a weed in northern Australia, especially the grazing land where these plants suffocate grasses, thereby decreasing the options of livestock to feed on the grasses. In addition Carissa spinarum also gets in the way with stock handling as well as offering shelter to vermin. Moreover, conkerberry shrubs also possess the ability to reproduce very fast by the layering method and usually it becomes problematic to check their growth and spread mechanically. Managing them with herbicide use is also expensive. Contrary to this, people in Queensland province of Australia have endeavoured to reinstate the habitats of small birds in disturbed arid rainforest area by planting these shrubs.
Fruits, bark, leaves.
Occasionally referred to as a bush plum, Carissa spinarum flourishes when grown in the sandy soils found in northern Queensland and the Top End. These shrubs bear small oval shaped fruits during the period between May and August. These fruits are sweet tasting and can be consumed raw. The bark of this plant is immersed in water to prepare a therapeutic rinse.
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In Africa, Carissa spinarum is a familiar plant for its anthelmintic effects in humans as well as animals, while the portion of the root growing above the ground is used for treating venereal disease. As it is believed that the sap of the root possesses tonic properties and restores vitality, people chew it and swallow the saliva. The plant is macerated in gin, rum and similar substances and used in the form of bitters as well as an expectorant. When the conkerberry root is crushed, it gives out a potent odour of methyl salicylate. When the root is rubbed onto one's fingers, it causes a prickly feeling.
The root scrapings of this herb are employed for treating glandular inflammation, also known as adenites. A decoction prepared from the root and blended with pimento is used in the form of an anthelmintic, particularly against taenia. In addition, conkerberry roots are also used for treating problems related to the chest, as a medicine for cough and in the form of an abortifacient and tonic. The bark of the root is also blended with spices and the mixture is employed in the form of an enema for curing lumbago as well as other pains.
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A decoction prepared from the leaves of this shrub is considered to be effective for treating diarrhea, intermittent fever, earache and even oral inflammation. The leaves are boiled in water and applied as poultice to alleviate toothache.
The unripe conkerberry or bush plum fruit is loaded with tannins and, hence, it is used medicinally in the form of an astringent. On the other hand, the ripe fruit of this herb is eaten as an anti-scorbutic and also to cure biliousness. The roots of this herb enclose an active compound known as carissin, which may be useful in treating cancer.
The bark of this herb encloses white latex, but as of now scientists have not been able to find any medicinal property of it. The roots of conkerberry shrub are placed in water-gourds with a view to make the water have a more agreeable taste. In addition, they are used in culinary to conceal the potent odour of substances being cooked.
Sometimes, people fix a part of the root to their hut roof as it is considered to repel snakes. The fruits of this plant are also an excellent source of tannins and have been traditionally used in dyeing.
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The wood of bush plum is hard and has a white or yellow hue. As this wood is also smooth, it is used for making combs, spoons, various household utensils and assorted turnery products. In addition, it is also used for fuel.
The fruits as well as the roots of conkerberry (Carissa spinarum) are edible. The fruits are consumed raw or cooked to prepare jams and other items. The fruit is not only sweet flavoured, but also gives a pleasant feeling when consumed. The fruits are usually included in the food of the sick people in the form of an appetizer. Conkerberry fruits are also fermented to make vinegar.
Although the conkerberry fruits are edible, they should only be consumed when they are completely ripe. Undeveloped or young fruits are poisonous by nature. However, the flavour of ripened berries is sweet and they are a popular food of the indigenous peoples residing in Australia, especially in the central regions of the continent nation. This herb also yields a milky sap which is also poisonous like the unripe conkerberry fruit.