Natal Plum

Carissa macrocarpa

Herbs gallery - Natal Plum

Common names

  • Carissa
  • Natal Plum

Native to South Africa, natal plum (scientific name Carissa macrocarpa) is a shrub that belongs to the dogbane or Apocyanceae family. This ripe fruit can be eaten fresh out of hand as well as cooked. Many people take delight in consuming ripe natal plum raw, while there are others who use the fruits to prepare jams, jellies, pied and sauces.

The flavour of natal plum fruits is somewhat akin to the sweet cranberry and its texture is like that of a ripened strawberry. However, there are several people who claim that the fruit tastes like the slightly unripe cherry. Barring the red hued fruits, the entire natal plum tree is poisonous. In fact, only the fruit of this plant is edible. Although the fruit is called natal plum its taste has nothing to do with that of the actual plum.

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As the name of the fruit suggests, natal plum is native to South Africa's Natal province. In Africa, plants belonging to the Carissa species are found growing over a vast area extending from Senegal to Sudan and then again from Ethiopia to South Africa. Towards the beginning of the 1900s, this plant was taken to the Philippines. However, this species is not a common sight in South Asia. In fact, a close cousin of natal plum called karonda (scientific name Carissa carandas) has its origin in India and, hence, this species is often seen in the south-east Asian nation.

In present times, is found growing all over the African continent as well as in the warmer areas of the United States, such as Hawaii, California and Florida. A number of people tried to introduce this shrub to Israel, but their attempts proved to be futile.

In fact, it can often be difficult to cultivate natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) as this plant gives out a milk-like sap when its branches are cut or broken. This actually makes the harvesting and transportation of the red-colored fruits more difficult because the sap may damage the fruits easily. The sap, which clots easily, is also responsible for the short shelf life of the berries. The natal plum is a very important source of nutrition, besides being a major income source for the farmers in Africa who cultivate the shrub. Moreover, this fruit has great potential to do good business in the global market.

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Natal plum possesses the ability to tackle salt-laden winds. Hence, this species is an excellent choice for cultivation in the coastal regions. Carissa macrocarpa plants are a common sight along the coasts in Natal and Eastern Cape. The leaves of natal plum are deep green and glossy and the plant bears white blooms whose aromatic odour becomes intense during the night. Similar to other species belonging to genus Carissa, the natal plum is also a prickly, evergreen shrub that oozes a milky latex. This plant is in bloom for a month at a stretch twice a year. The fruits of natal plum are ornamental and plum as well as round. They appear twice in a year – once in summer and again in autumn (fall) soon after the flowering seasons are over. In coastal areas where the temperature is moderate, the plants bear fruits throughout the year.

The natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) is a strong, evergreen, prickly shrub that is indigenous to South Africa and the plant grows up to a height of about 2 meters. In width, the shrubs are about 3 meters. This plant grows and survives well in all places having tropical and sub-tropical climatic conditions. In the wild, natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) grows on the rockiest and poorest soils. In arid, sandy and rocky soils, natal plum is grown as a hedge plant. The plant grows best in fertile soils that are deep and well-drained. However, if the plant is grown is wet soil, it will result in too much vegetative growth and even the fruiting will be less. The plant produces excessive branches, prickly twigs and when they are cut or broken they ooze a milky sap. Usually, this plant is thorny and has forked spines.

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Carissa macrocarpa produces deep green, glossy, opate leaves. Usually, the leaves measure anything between 1 inch and 3 inches in length and they appear opposite to one another along the branches.

The flowers of the natal plum are star shaped and they emit an aroma similar to that of jasmine. The sepals are narrow and ovate measuring anything between 3 mm and 6 mm. The corolla may be white or pink and the tube may measure between 1.1 cm and 1.8 cm. While the tube is pubescent inside, the lobes are oblong shaped measuring between 0.9 cm and 2.4 cm in length and they are overlying to the left side. Within two years of the germination of the seeds, the plants start producing ovoid-shaped red-colored fruits that measure between 2.5 cm and 7.6 cm. Each fruit contains 16 seeds.

The unripe fruits have a green hue, which changes to vivid red and later to violet when they are ripe. The skin of the fruit is tough and tastes somewhat bitter. The flesh of the fruit is slightly grainy and deep red colored inside. Often the fruit may be crimson-hued with white mottling. The flavour of natal plum is slightly pungent, but they are succulent. They have a tart, sweetish-sour taste. As discussed earlier, except the colored fruit, the entire natal plum plant is poisonous.

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Parts used

Fruits, leaves, roots.

Uses

Natal plum is loaded with iron and, hence, it is highly beneficial for anemic people. In addition, this fruit is used to treat the side effects of scurvy. It has been found that consuming natal plum helps to prevent the bile from secreting too much bile and also put off biliousness. This fruit is also comforting when one is suffering from diarrhea. It is an effective natural cure for fever.

The natal plum is also useful in regulating as well as optimizing the functioning of the heart, thereby effective in preventing heart disease. As the fruit is a natural depressant, it reduces excitability and cures anxiety. It is highly recommended that you eat this fruit if you want to get relief from constipation. The fruit also makes the stomach muscles stronger and tones them, thereby helping to prevent diseases related to the stomach.

Natal plum is also effective in stopping internal hemorrhage. At the same time, consuming this fruit helps to alleviate cough. It also works to cleanse the blood by helping to get rid of its impurities. Natal plum is also beneficial for people suffering from diabetes as it helps to lower the levels of blood sugar, thereby curing diabetes.

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A decoction prepared with the leaves of Carissa macrocarpa is said to be effective in curing diarrhea, intermittent fever, earache and oral inflammation. The root of the plant is employed in the form of a bitter stomachic (a medicine that serves as a tonic and promotes digestion and improves appetite). It is also used in the form of a vermifuge and is an established cure for itches. The roots of Carissa macrocarpa enclose cardiac glycosides and salicylic acid, which helps to lower the blood pressure to some extent.

Natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) contains more vitamin C compared to an orange. In effect, 100 grams of this fruit supplies the body with 63 percent of our daily requirement of this vital nutrient. Precisely speaking, vitamin C is an antioxidant that works to perk up the immune system, heal wounds, delay the aging process, enhance the health of teeth and gum, in addition to, offering various other health benefits.

In addition, this fruit contains significant amounts of iron and copper that helps to put off anemia and, at the same time, improves the hemoglobin count in the blood. It also helps to get rid of feebleness and fatigue, dizziness and depression.

Apart from iron and copper, this fruit also encloses a reasonable amount of potassium, which is necessary to regulate blood pressure. Potassium also helps to enhance the functioning of the muscles. In addition, it contains the essential mineral magnesium which is beneficial for the health of the heart. The best part of natal plum is that it contains less calories.

Aside from the therapeutic benefits offered by natal plum, Carissa macrocarpa plant is widely used as an ornamental plant and has commercial value as it is often used in for landscaping alongside the sea walls, landscaping in hotels and restaurants in the form of a barrier plant or hedge plant. In addition, the natal plum is also used in the form of a ground cover on slopes to prevent soil erosion.

Culinary uses

Aside from eating the ripe natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) fruit out of hand, it can also be used to make jams, jellies, pies and even sauces. In addition, you can incorporate the fruit in desserts, ice cream, yogurt and other similar foods. You can also chop natal plums and fold them into recipes prepared with sweet bread. You can also make a pie with natal plum by adding sugar (one cup) and water (one cup) with two pints of this fruit. Bake the pie pastry after placing it on top. You can also cut natal plum dices to salads comprising vegan cheese, apple, raisin and a dark green such as spinach.

You can also steam natal plums to make a preservative. Together with this process, mix water and sugar at very high temperature. Subsequently, transfer the softened and steamed plums to the blend and cook it till it forms a thick consistency resembling apple butter's texture. It is worth mentioning here that fruits that are somewhat unripe are most suitable for preserving. You can also use the fruit to make pickles. To make pickles, boil natal plum, take them out from water and add flavours like lemon juice, zesty masala and oil.

The dark juice of natal plum is excellent for adding color to soups and beverages. This juice also adds a sweet pinch to foods. Fruits that are excessively ripe can be preserved in vinegar.

Habitat and cultivation

Carissa macrocarpa or natal plum is mainly found growing in the coastal regions of South Africa. These shrubs can also be found growing on sand dunes as well as on the periphery of the forests along the coastal region in Eastern Cape Province. The species also grows in a vast stretch extending towards north from Natal to Mozambique. Currently, natal plum also grows commonly in southern Florida, while it is cultivated in the southern region of California. People in the Caribbean as well as Central America extensively use this shrub as an ornamental plant.

Cultivating natal plum is quite easy. The seeds of this plant take anything between two and four weeks to germinate after sowing. In the beginning, the growth of the seedlings is very sluggish. Plants that are grown from seeds start bearing fruits in the first two years of their growth. In fact, natal plum can also be propagated by vegetative method and many people actually prefer this to cultivating the plant from its seeds. The most effective method of propagating natal plum involves notching the tender branchlets by slashing them halfway through. Subsequently, the branchlets are bent towards the ground and hang flaccidly. Once these young branchlets have developed callus in around two months, the cutting is detached from the parent plant and planted in sand in locations where there is moderate shade. The cuttings develop roots within a month of planting them in sand. Provided this reproductive method is applied, the natal plum plants start bearing fruits within two years.

Constituents

Natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) fruit contains a number of essential nutrients and consuming it is beneficial for our health. This fruit contains less cholesterol and does not contain sodium at all. On the other hand, this fruit contains nutrients like vitamins A, C, B1 and B2 as well as protein. In addition, it contains several essential minerals like potassium, copper, iron, phosphorus, and magnesium. Last, but not the least important, natal plum is also low in fat content.

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