The desert lime is a member of the Rutaceae family. It is a small plant with thorns that can be classified either as a shrub or a small tree. It is native to Australia, in particular the states of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. The fruit was consumed in large quantities in the early days of the colonization of the Australian continent. It was well known to the natives, while the first colonists prized the fruit for its resemblance to the traditional citrus fruits.
The British colonists in New South Wales were very fond of eating sweet products like jams, jellies, pastries and tarts. They introduced them to the region and used the local fruits, such as the desert lime and other wild berries, as ingredients. These were prepared during the month of November, when fruits became ripe. The desert lime could be eaten raw but was an excellent choice for sweets as well, because of the low amount of sugar and calories and its high acidity. European settlers considered it one of the best native Australian fruits.
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The desert lime is a wild shrub that grows in the Australian bush land. It can reach a height of three to five meters and has a very tangled appearance, with a lot of thorns. Its leaves are small and thin, no wider than 1 to 4 mm, and have a color between green and grey. The flowers can also be green, or sometimes white, and have a large size, as big as the actual fruit. They smell sweet and eventually form the fruit, which is initially no bigger than one or two centimetres in diameter. It later increases in size as the fruit becomes ripe. The desert lime fruits need water to mature, so they become ripe in the summer after the plant benefits from the spring rains.
The desert lime is usually harvested from the wild but it can be cultivated as well. It is found in the bush land areas of Australia, where it is quite common and is very popular because of its fruit. However, the plant has become increasingly domesticated lately and there are probably more cultivated desert limes than wild ones today. One of the main causes is the destruction of bush lands and their conversion into farmland and residential areas.
As a bush plant, the desert lime is very resilient and can survive extreme heat and frost, as well as high salinity and long periods of drought. Australian natives used to consume the fruits raw, while the European settlers made them into jams, marmalades, chutneys, pickles and sauces.
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The fruit is one of the most popular Australian bush foods. It used to be abundant in the wild in bush land areas, where it was harvested. Lately, bush land is increasingly converted into agricultural land and the desert lime has disappeared from some areas, while becoming rare in others. The fruit is very similar to the citrus limes found in other parts of the world. The desert limes can be converted into many different products, including drinks or succade. Since the fruits can no longer be found so easily in the wild, efforts to domesticate it have increased. It is often cultivated today, in order to offer an alternative to fruits harvested from nature.
The desert lime is a true member of the citrus family, with distinctive leaves facing upwards and white flowers during the spring. It is often found in groups, especially in areas with heavy grazing, formed by suckles. The fruits look just like normal lemons but are smaller in size and have a porous rind. The flesh is juicy but extremely sour and acid in taste.
All of the Citrus varieties native to Australia grow very slowly and the desert lime is no exception. Cultivated plants are usually grafted, which increases their development rate, reduces the chance of suckles and improves fruit production.
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The very interesting flavour of the wild lime has made the fruit a popular ingredient for modern cooks, in particular in gourmet restaurants. It is used in salads, sauces for fish dishes and of course desserts.
The desert lime must survive in very difficult conditions and has adapted to them very well, with a number of special features. During periods of severe drought, the plant will discard its leaves in an attempt to conserve water. The young shoots have a number of very sharp thorns, in order to repulse various grazing animals.
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The fruits are available in stores in Australia but also exported to other markets. Their unique taste makes them widely used in the food industry. In addition, the fruits is an ingredient in some types of cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.
Desert lime is a major source of limnocitrin and other methoxy flavone glycosides. The human body uses glycosides to heal and repair damage to the skin. It keeps the skin hydrated and elastic, while increasing the intake of other nutrients that have a positive effect on the skin.
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The fruits are very rich in antioxidants, which neutralize the dangerous free radicals produced by our metabolism. They boost the strength of the immune system and allow it to fight back against pathogens and diseases. Eating the fruit also improves the skin, by increasing the production of collagen in the collective tissues. Desert limes are also a great natural source of furanocoumarin. This bioactive compound contributes to the health of the skin, increasing the rate of regeneration, healing wounds and reducing wrinkles and the effects of aging.
Coumarin is another useful substance found in desert limes. It has the ability to kill fungus but also acts like an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent. In addition, coumarin is an ingredient in sun protection products because it blocks the harmful UV radiation in sunlight.
While small in size, the desert lime has a very strong and unique flavour. It can replace the traditional lemon in basically any dish or product. The main differences are that the desert lime is smaller and has a very thin skin. In compensation, the piquant taste is more intense than the one of a regular lemon.
Due to the thin skin, desert limes can be consumed as such, without peeling. A big advantage of this fruit is that it can be frozen for later consumption without losing its taste or aspect. It is a very rich source of vitamin C, with up to three times the amount found in an orange, which makes it an excellent choice in a healthy diet.
In its native range in the states of South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales the fruit is highly prized and is included in many gourmet products. It is eaten raw but also prepared as beverages, jams, chutneys, spreads, juices, ice creams, slushes and salad dressings. Its unique flavour makes it useful as a secondary ingredient in drinks and marmalades. The acidic taste pairs very well with the fish and sea food dishes eaten in Australia. It must be used with care, because of the very strong flavour. Even a very small amount can change the taste of a dish and cover the one of other ingredients. It used to be a rare delicacy when harvested exclusively from the wild but is now more easily available, especially since it can be quickly frozen.