From the book
Fruits of Warm Climates
by Julia F. Morton
Season, Harvesting and Keeping Quality
Pests and Diseases
The bilimbi, Averrhoa bilimbi,
L., (Oxalidaceae), is closely allied to the carambola but quite
different in appearance, manner of fruiting, flavor and uses. The only
strictly English names are "cucumber tree" and "tree sorrel", bestowed
by the British in colonial times. "Bilimbi" is the common name in India
and has become widely used. In Malaya, it is called belimbing asam,
belimbing buloh, b'ling, or billing-billing. In Indonesia, it is
belimbing besu, balimbing, blimbing, or blimbing wuluh; in Thailand, it
is taling pling, or kaling pring.
In Haiti, it is called
blimblin; in Jamaica, bimbling plum; in Cuba, it is grosella china; in
El Salvador and Nicaragua, mimbro; in Costa Rica, mimbro or tiriguro;
in Venezuela, vinagrillo; in Surinam and Guyana, birambi; in Argentina,
pepino de Indias. To the French it is carambolier bilimbi, or cornichon
des Indes. Filipinos generally call it kamias but there are about a
dozen other native names.
Plate XVII: BILIMBI, Averrhoa bilimbi
tree is attractive, long-lived, reaches 16 to 33 ft (5-10 m) in height;
has a short trunk soon dividing into a number of upright branches. The
leaves, very similar to those of the Otaheite gooseberry and mainly
clustered at the branch tips, are alternate, imparipirmate; 12 to 24 in
(30-60 cm) long, with 11 to 37 alternate or subopposite leaflets, ovate
or oblong, with rounded base and pointed tip; downy; medium-green on
the upper surface, pale on the underside; 3/4 to 4 in (2-10 cm) long,
1/2 to 1 1/8 in (1.2-1.25 cm) wide.
Small, fragrant, 5-petalled
flowers, yellowish-green or purplish marked with dark-purple, are borne
in small, hairy panicles emerging directly from the trunk and oldest,
thickest branches and some twigs, as do the clusters of curious fruits.
The bilimbi is ellipsoid, obovoid or nearly cylindrical, faintly
5-sided, 1 1/2 to 4 in (4-10 cm) long; capped by a thin, star-shaped
calyx at the stem-end and tipped with 5 hair-like floral remnants at
the apex. The fruit is crisp when unripe, turns from bright-green to
yellowish-green, ivory or nearly white when ripe and falls to the
ground. The outer skin is glossy, very thin, soft and tender, and the
flesh green, jelly-like, juicy and extremely acid. There may be a few
(perhaps 6 or 7) flattened, disc-like seeds about 1/4 in (6 mm) wide,
smooth and brown.
Origin and Distribution
a native of the Moluccas, the bilimbi is cultivated throughout
Indonesia; is cultivated and semi-wild everywhere in the Philippines;
is much grown in Ceylon and Burma. It is very common in Thailand,
Malaya and Singapore; frequent in gardens across the plains of India,
and has run wild in all the warmest areas of that country. It is much
planted in Zanzibar. Introduced into Queensland about 1896, it was
readily adopted and commercially distributed to growers.
1793, the bilimbi was carried from the island of Timor to Jamaica and,
after some years, was planted in Cuba and Puerto Rico, Trinidad, the
lowlands of Central America, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Surinam,
Guyana and Brazil, and even in northern Argentina, and it is very
popular among the Asiatic residents of those countries as it must be in
Hawaii. Still it is grown only as an occasional curiosity in southern
are all much the same wherever they are grown, but P.J. Wester reported
that a form with sweet fruits had been discovered in the Philippines.
bilimbi is a tropical species, more sensitive to cold than the
carambola, especially when very young. In Florida, it needs protection
from cold and wind. Ideally, rainfall should be rather evenly
distributed throughout most of the year but there should be a 2- to
3-month dry season. The bilimbi is not found in the wettest zones of
Malaya. The tree makes slow growth in shady or semi-shady situations.
It should be in full sun.
While the bilimbi does best in rich, moist, but well-drained soil, it grows and fruits quite well on sand or limestone.
efforts at grafting and budding have not been rewarding, though Wester
had success in shield-budding, utilizing non-petioled, ripe, brown
budwood cut 1 1/2 to 2 in (3.8-5 cm) long. Air-layering has been
practiced in Indonesia for many years. However, the tree is more widely
grown from seed.
Bilimbi trees are vigorous and receive no
special horticultural attention. It has been suggested that they would
respond well to whatever cultural treatment gives good results with the
Season, Harvesting and Keeping Quality
India as in Florida, the tree begins to flower about February and then
blooms and fruits more or less continuously until December. The fruits
are picked by hand, singly or in clusters. They need gentle handling
because of the thin skin. They cannot be kept on hand for more than a
Pests and Diseases
No pests or diseases have been reported specifically for the bilimbi.
bilimbi is generally regarded as too acid for eating raw, but in Costa
Rica, the green, uncooked fruits are prepared as a relish which is
served with rice and beans. Sometimes it is an accompaniment for fish
and meat. Ripe fruits are frequently added to curries in the Far East.
They yield 44.2% juice having a pH of 4.47, and the juice is popular
for making cooling beverages on the order of lemonade.
the bilimbi is used in place of mango to make chutney, and it is much
preserved. To reduce acidity, it may be first pricked and soaked in
water overnight, or soaked in salted water for a shorter time; then it
is boiled with much sugar to make a jam or an acid jelly. The latter,
in Malaya, is added to stewed fruits that are oversweet. Half-ripe
fruits are salted, set out in the sun, and pickled in brine and can be
thus kept for 3 months. A quicker pickle is made by putting the fruits
and salt into boiling water. This product can be kept only 4 to 5 days.
The flowers are sometimes preserved with sugar.
Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*
*According to analyses of fruits studied in Nicaragua and the Philippines.
Very acid bilimbis are employed to clean the blade of a kris (dagger),
and they serve as mordants in the preparation of an orange dye for silk
fabrics. Bilimbi juice, because of its oxalic acid content, is useful
for bleaching stains from the hands and rust from white cloth, and also
tarnish from brass.
Wood: The wood is white, soft but tough, even-grained, and weighs 35 lbs/cu ft. It is seldom available for carpentry.
In the Philippines, the leaves are applied as a paste or poulticed on
itches, swellings of mumps and rheumatism, and on skin eruptions.
Elsewhere, they are applied on bites of poisonous creatures. Malayans
take the leaves fresh or fermented as a treatment for venereal disease.
A leaf infusion is a remedy for coughs and is taken after childbirth as
a tonic. A leaf decoction is taken to relieve rectal inflammation. A
flower infusion is said to be effective against coughs and thrush.
Java, the fruits combined with pepper are eaten to cause sweating when
people are feeling "under the weather". A paste of pickled bilimbis is
smeared all over the body to hasten recovery after a fever. The fruit
conserve is administered as a treatment for coughs, beri-beri and
biliousness. A sirup prepared from the fruit is taken as a cure for
fever and inflammation and to stop rectal bleeding and alleviate
Last updated: 3/17/114 by ch