Edible

Crataegus mexicana - Mexican hawthorn

Crategeus mexicana fruit

I encountered this Mexican hawthorn tree at the Gold Ridge Experimental Farm in Sebastopol, CA - Luther Burbank’s former laboratory. Although much of the acreage has long been converted to housing development and only a small tract of the former farm remains, there are some interesting trees surviving. One area I return to whenever I visit is the small group of Cratageus species in the back where a few species, including C. mexicana, are still thriving.

Compared to the Chinese Hawthorn, C. pinnatifida, the Mexican hawthorn tastes much better out of hand and has an interesting aroma, reminiscent of some obscure tropical fruit or synthetic bubblegum.

The fruit of Crategeus mexicana is eaten in Mexico cooked, raw, or canned. It resembles a crabapple, but it has three or sometimes more brown hard stones in the center. It is a main ingredient used in ponche, the traditional Mexican hot fruit punch that is served at Christmas time and on New Year's Eve. On Dia de los Muertos tejocote fruit as well as candy prepared from them are used as offerings to the dead, and rosaries made of the fruit are part of altar decorations. A mixture of tejocote paste, sugar, and chili powder produces a popular Mexican candy called rielitos, because it resembles a tiny train rail.

In some parts of Mexico, tejecote is taken for treating flu and cough, and also to prevent several cardiovascular diseases.

Due to its high pectin content, the fruit is industrially processed to extract pectin for the food, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, textile and metal industries.

Other uses include food for livestock (for which the leaves and fruits are used) and traditional medicinal uses; a Mexican hawthorn root infusion is used as a diuretic and as a remedy for diarrhea and fruit-based preparations are a remedy for coughing and several heart conditions.

The Mexican hawthorn tree's wood is hard and compact, it is good for making tool handles as well as for firewood.

Pseudocydonia sinensis - Chinese quince

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I first encountered this spectacular quince species at the Burbank Experimental Earm in Sebastopol, California. Notable for its massive fruit, which is at first a light green then turning yellow as it ripens. Among the apples, Sorbus domestic, and a number of other surviving Burbank species this one seems to be growing strong and quite productive.

The tree is a deciduous, semi-evergreen tree in the Rosaceae family (Rose, Pear, Apple, Loquat). Native to Eastern Asia in China this is the sole species in the Pseudocydonia genus. Previously Pseudocydonia was placed in the Asian genus Chaenomeles, however differs in that Pseudocydonia lacks thorns and produces single flowers. The Chinese Quince is closely related to the European Quince, Cydonia bologna. The two species differ in that Chinese quince has somewhat serrated leaves and smooth fruited skin. The fruit on the Burbank Hybrids also appear to grow larger.

The tree is referred to as mùguā-hǎitáng (木瓜海棠).In Chinese, mùguā (木瓜) also means, “papaya”.

Grows 8-10 m long. The fruit is a large ovoid pome 12–17 cm long with five carpels; it gives off an intense, sweet smell and it ripens in late autumn.

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The large fruit is hard and astringent, however after a period of frost the fruit does become a bit softer and less astringent. The fruit can be used in the same way as quince, poached, baked or used for making jam. The tree is also grown as an ornamental in Southern Europe.

In Korea it is used to make a preserved quince and quince tea.

The bark and trunk of larger trees are highly ornamental. The wood is frequently used in Japan for shamisen, a three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument derived from the Chinese instrument sanxian.

The fruit is used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Recent pharmacological studies suggest that extracts of phytochemical in the fruit have antioxidant and antiviral properties.

Canarium commune - Canari, Java Almond, Kenari Nut

I'm pretty sure this is Canarium commune (photos below), a close relative of Canarium ovatum, the Pili Nut. I took this photo and collected seed from Summit Botanic Garden outside of Panama City in Central America where they also have a collection of Pili nut among many other interesting species from their earlier years as an experimental garden.  

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Canarium commune, also known as Java Almond or Kenari Nut, is a tree native to Southeast Asia from Indonesia to New Guinea. 

USES and ETHNOBOTANY

The edible nut / kernal can be eaten raw or cooked and is prepared in a variety of ways. In its area of origin it is highly valued as a traditional snack. The nuts can be used as a substitute for the common almond.

Nuts can be ground into a powder and used to make bread. The seeds are used in a wide variety of dishes by the local people. The seed contains about 72% oil, 13% protein and 7% starch. Interestingly, it has been found that adding a strained emulsion of the crushed, ripe kernels to cows milk will make the milk much more digestible when fed to babies and infants. An edible oil is obtained from the seed which is preferred to coconut oil by local people where Java Almond is traditionally grown and consumed. 

An oil derived from Canarium commune is also used in the cosmetic and aeromatics industries called Elemi Oil. Elemi produces a bright lemony, woody fragrance with a hint of fennel, frankincense and grass. Elemi is known to be clarifying and cleansing with energizing properties. It stimulates mental ability and works well for morning meditation, tai chi or yoga exercises. It creates a spirit of hopefulness and is said to relieve depression.

Traditionally, people use elemi with substances that are refreshing and cleansing such as mastic, lemongrass, and sweet grass.

Elemi is also used topically to treat skin disorders and ulcers.

AGROFORESTRY

In agroforestry systems the tree is traditionally planted in nutmeg groves to provide shelter and shade and a secondary overstory crop. 

The tree and its various products have a  wide range of additional traditional uses. 

Pouteria sapota - mamey sapote

Originating in Central America, Mamey has become common in the throughout Caribbean, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. It is widely cultivated in the American tropics, sold in produce markets and, to a lesser extent, supermarkets. Historical records indicate that the Mamey served as the principal source of food for Cortez and his soldiers during their march to Honduras in 1524. The fruit was a very important food source for the Mayan and Aztec civilizations.

Depending on weather it is grown from seed or grafted, and depending on the variety, the Mamey tree can take on a variety of forms. Larger seedling varieties can grow up to 30 m tall, grafted trees can be managed at a relatively low height. The fruit is large, 10 – 20 cm long, either round or oblong with a thick, rough peel. The bright reddish pulp surrounds a large shiny seed. The photos below show an exceptionally large fruit, the largest I have ever seen.

Good Mamey varieties can be very sweet and aromatic, eaten fresh, or used in fruit drinks and ice creams. In Central America the large seed kernel is traditionally toasted and ground with cacao to make a hot beverage. Medicinal properties are attributed to both the fruit and the seed. The fruit is rich in carbohydrates, vitamin A and C, calcium and phosphorous.

Synsepalum dulcificum - miracle fruit

The Miracle Fruit is native to West Africa where it is cultivated in backyard plantings. Today it has been introduced to Florida, California and numerous tropical areas of the world, however you will find most people have never heard of it. The fruit is more of a novelty then a significant source of food or nutrients, however there appears to be increasing interest in the berry and the incredible sweetening effects it has when eaten in conjunction with sour and acidic foods.

The taste of the fruit itself is nothing spectacular to speak of. There is relatively little fruit around the shiny seed. The pulp tastes somewhat like a cherry. However, due to a substance in the fruit called ‘miriculine’ it has the power to inhibit the receptors of sour and acidic flavors on your tongue, thus rendering certain foods sweet when normally they are sour, such as lemons, tomatoes, beer, some cheeses, hot sauce, vinegar, wine, and so forth. Miracle fruit changes the flavor of foods and beverages that you wouldn’t typically consider to be sour or acidic, and some foods are not affected at all.

There is growing interest in this fruit looking into its potential applications in cancer and diabetes research.

The tree is small, with attractive foliage, and, when in fruit, covered in bright red berries. I have a huge number of these trees in urban nurseries, they are great for container growing and seem to produce more fruit when its roots are somewhat contained.

Article from the New York Times: A Tiny Fruit That Tricks the Tongue

Manilkara zapota - Chico Sapote, Nispero

Indigenous to Mexico and Central America, Sapodilla (or Chico Sapote) is a traditional food plant of the Mayan and Aztec cultures and the source of chewing gum, or chicle, chewed by the Aztecs in pre-Colombian ties, still used in some commercial gums. The tree has spread to other parts of the tropical world, becoming a minor fruit crop. Although grafted varieties can be managed low, larger trees can reach a height of 20 m. The tree is evergreen and produces round or egg-shaped fruits, which vary in size. Good varieties can be truly incredible. A good Sapodilla tastes like brown sugar, very sweet and slightly gritty like pears.

Sterculia apetala -Panama Tree

Sapindaceae, Blighia sapida, Akee, Seso Vegetal

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Akee is native to and widely cultivated on the East coast of Africa. The English brought it from there to their colonies in the Caribbean where it is now well integrated. It is the national fruit of Jamaica.

The tree ranges in height from 10 - 25 meters. The canopy is open and broad. The fruit is a capsule in the form of a pear. When the fruit is ripe it splits open, exposing three shiny black seeds encased in a creamy white colored flesh, which is the part consumed. The fleshy arial has been described as looking similar to a small brain.

Akee is a curious and potentially dangerous fruit. If the unripe fruit is opened and the aril is eaten it can be deadly, or sufficiently poisonous to induce a coma. When picked before it is fully ripe the fruit contains a chemical that limits the body’s ability to release the backup supply of glucose that is stored in the liver. That supply is essential because once the body uses up the sugar immediately available in the bloodstream, an event that usually occurs several hours after eating, it depends on this glucose to keep blood sugar levels normal until the next meal. Without it, blood sugar plunges dangerously. Enough people have died from eating unripened akee to make it illegal to bring the raw fruit into the U.S although that restriction doesn’t apply to canned and properly processed akee.

Symptoms of akee poisoning can include uncontrollable vomiting, dizziness, severe hypoglycaemia, convulsions, coma and even death.

However, if the fruit is left to ripen and open itself, the flesh poses no danger whatsoever. All other parts of the fruit should never be eaten.  I remember visiting the Lancetilla botanical gardens Tela, Honduras. In their flier they discuss Akee, giving reference to the wife of the founder to the garden who had the mishap of consuming unripe Akee and, as a result, falling into a coma and eventually dying.

Akee can be eaten fried or boiled, typically with fish or meat. The texture is similar to eggs. A curious fruit indeed.

Akee is considered highly nutritious due to its high content of fats.

The tree thrives in a hot, humid climate and does not support long, dry periods. It is best grown in deep, well drained, soils. Liming is beneficial.