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Thursday, January 5, 2012

BRAZILIAN GRAPE TREE - LITTLE-KNOWN OUTSIDE ITS GROWING AREA: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF THE JABUTICABA TREE


BRAZILIAN GRAPE TREE, JABUTICABA, MYRCIARIA CAULIFLORA 
As you might have already guessed the Jabuticaba tree is a native of Brazil, where it has been cultivated since Pre-Columbian times and this particular species is native to a south-eastern corner of that country. There are several types of grape tree, which bear different fruit, however they all have one thing in common- the white flowers which are the precursors of the fruit grow straight from the trunk and branches of the tree, and so do the fruits. When in full bloom the trees look as though they are covered with snow. The tree is a member of the Myrtaceae (myrtle) family which means that it is a distant cousin of the eucalyptus tree, allspice and guavas.
  Jabuti means tortoise and caba means place in the local Tupi language, so the trees grow in the place of tortoises. The tree is a slow growing evergreen which can reach heights of forty-five feet in its natural habitat, although they don’t grow that tall in southern Florida, where they have been introduced. They were introduced into California in 1904, but by 1939 none had survived. Now some are grown in Florida, but they remain trees which flourish best in tropical climates. Some different varieties of grape tree grow in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. Because they are one of nature’s curiosities they are grown enthusiastically by people who adore bonsai (miniature) trees.
  In their natural habitat, and if they are irrigated well and looked after they can produce up to five crops of fruit every year, but usually only manage two. The fruit are eagerly awaited in the areas where they grow, but they are not sold very far afield because they perish quickly and cannot be exported. They are eaten raw, although one shouldn’t eat the skins as they are very astringent as they have a high tannin content, which could be harmful if eaten in large quantities for a prolonged period of time. They are eaten raw or used to make jams and marmalades, although they have to have added pectin to set. Wine can also be made from the fruit which can be sweet or slightly acid and astringent, depending on the variety. The fruit can be bright green when ripe, or purple-black, red-purple and burgundy-purple tasting spicy and slightly acid. It can range from between two and six centimetres in diameter, and has white, gelatinous flesh which clings to the seeds it contains (from 1 to 4). It has been likened to a muscadine grape (hence the name grape tree) with larger seeds.
  In Brazil the skins of the fruit are sun-dried and made into an astringent decoction and used in traditional medicine for asthma, diarrhoea, and it is also used as a gargle for chronic tonsillitis and sore throats. The fruit contains vitamins B1, (thiamin), B2, (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin), vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid, along with the minerals calcium, iron and phosphorous. It also contains the amino acids, lysine and trptophan. The colour of the skin (purple-black) shows that it contains anthocyanins as do aubergines and blueberries, bilberries, blackberries and blackcurrants, which have potent antioxidant properties. Extracts from the fruit have demonstrated some anti-cancer properties in several studies, but more research is needed into its compounds. A unique (so far) one has been found, jaboticabin, a depside, and it is believed that the fruit has anti-inflammatory as well as antioxidant properties.
  If you have never seen pictures like these before, the tree is real and although it looks like one of nature’s jokes like the Nipple fruit, it may have some very beneficial properties.

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