From Eat the Weeds
and Other Things Too website
by Green Deane
Natal Plums Num
Natal Plum fruits nearly year round
Plum: Incredible Edible Landscaping
A good reputation is hard to maintain when your closest relative has a
reputation for killing people. That’s the public relation
situation for the Natal Plum.
There are few foraged fruits that can match the Natal Plum in sheer
deliciousness. Yet, it is a member of one of the most deadly plant
families along side its cousin the Oleander, which makes headlines by
fatally poisoning the unknowing and the suicidal.
Fruit is flecked with bits of latex
Officially known as Carissa
grandiflora (kuh-RISS-uh gran-dif-FLOR-uh) the Natal Plum
is part of the Dogbane family. The botanical name for that family is
Apocynaceae which is Greek for “keep it away from the
dog” meaning it kills them easily. It does us, too. Nearly
all parts of the Natal Plum are poisonous, like the Oleander, except
for the red-ripe fruit. They taste like a slightly sweet cranberry with
the texture of a ripe strawberry — some say like a sightly
unripe cherry. It’s surprising that someone hasn’t
concocted a commercial fruit juice that tastes like the Natal Plum. If
they mixed it with some orange juice it could be Natal
Naval… lot of marketing possibilities there.
As for the Oleander, it is one of the deadliest shrubs in Florida, not
the deadliest plant but certainly in the top three. It’s
commonly used in landscaping along highways because it can tolerate
heat and all the heavy metals and exhaust and other transportational
effluvia vehicles spew such as rubber, asbestos, motor oil, grease,
paint et cetera. Accidental and intentional deaths from Oleander
poisoning are common. When you have a toxic relative like that, you can
see how good side of the Natal Plum tends to get lost.
Double thorns help identification
Natal Plum copes well with salty winds, making it a good choice for
coastal areas. It grows in mounds two to seven high and as wide.
It’s tolerant of various lighting conditions and is a popular
landscaping plant. Because of its double spines —a good
identification characteristic —it makes a popular security
hedge. The Natal Plum in the accompanying pictures came from a vacant
commercial lot in Orlando. I drove past it often in the distance and
curiosity upon seeing red prompted its discovery. I’ve also
seen it as a landscape plant inside the national Canaveral Seashore
Park — across the road from the rangers’
headquarters on a sand dune — and in the dry hills of San
Natal Plums are often used in landscaping
Natal Plums have shiny, deep green leaves and snowy white flowers.
Their scent intensifies at night and they bloom for months at a time.
The fruit appears in summer and fall, or fall and winter in warmer
climates, and at the same time as it blooms. In moderate climates the
fruits can appear throughout the year and the ones shown were picked in
Orlando, Fl., in early January. But I’ve also picked them in
July. The fruit can be eaten off the bush or made into pies, jams,
jellies, or even sauces. It is rich in Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium
and phosphorus. An analyses shows the fruit’s moisture is
78.45%; protein, 0.56%; fat, 1.03%; sugar, 12%; fiber, 0.91%; ash,
0.43%, and ascorbic acid 1 mg per 10 mg in weight…. meaning
it is 10% vitamin C. That makes citrus look anemic.
Natal Plum seeds
There are 6 to 16 seeds in each fruit and each is about the size of one
flat instant Quaker oat. Some references say they are toxic, but
Professor Julia Morton — the first and final authority in
Florida — says they are “not objectionable when
eaten” and she writes the entire ripe fruit can be eaten as
is. I eat them seeds and all and seem to be no worse for it. A ripe
fruit is one that is plum red and slightly soft to the touch. No
peeling is necessary. Halved or quartered and seeded, it is suitable
for fruit salads, gelatins and as topping for cakes, puddings and ice
cream. One word of caution: Don’t cook the fruit in an
aluminum pot. Stewing or boiling causes flakes of edible latex to leave
the fruit and adhere to pots. It can be removed by rubbing with oil.
Don’t like eating plant-made latex? Then also avoid fresh
figs because they have it as well.
Carissa edulis, only ripe fruit is edible
There are at least three other Carissas with edible fruit. C. bispinosa grows
to 10 feet and has repeatedly forked spines. One to two seeds, native
to South Africa. Carissa
carandas is a native of India, a sprawling or climbing
shrub. Ripe fruit turns from wine red to black, lots of latex. Carissa edulis is
often spineless, or with a few simple spines. Fruit red to reddish
Carissa comes from the Sanskrit word “corissa” the
local name of one the the species. Macrocarpa is Greek for large fruit.
macrocarpa is called the Natal Plum because it is native
to the Natal area of South Africa north to Mozambique. The most common
name for the plant outside of English is ‘num-num.’
The Zulu call it amatungulu —a marketing nightmare. Among
others Africans, the fruit is called noem-noem, with the pronunciation
starting with a clicking sound on the ‘N’.
The recipes are from
*The Rare Fruit and Vegetable Council Cookbook, by
the Rare Fruit and Vegetable Council of Broward County, Inc., Davie,
Florida (out of print) and
**Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange Cookbook, Lois Sharpe. (The exchange
still exists but their cookbook may not.)
1¾ cups apple juice or cider
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 inch stick cinnamon, broken
4 whole cloves
Stir the above ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat,
stirring constantly, until boiling. Reduce heat and cook until clear,
stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add:
¾ cup orange sections
¾ cup grapefruit sections
½ cup seedless grapes
1 cup seeded, halved Carissa
Cover and chill overnight. Remove spices and stir well before serving
cold. Makes 6 servings.
1 pint Carissa (sliced crosswise)
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon margarine
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
Slice well-ripened Carissa into a deep, buttered, baking dish. Mix
flour with sugar and sprinkle over the fruit. Dot lightly with
margarine. Pour water over the mixture. Top with pastry, slit to allow
steam to escape and bake at 450° for ten minutes, then at
425° for 20 minutes until fruit is cooked and pastry is brown.
Serve hot with Carissa Sauce flavored with lemon juice or with vanilla.
Rinse fruit, cut in quarters. Take out seeds retaining pulp. Measure
½ cup sugar or sugar substitute to each cup cut carissas.
Over low heat, cook the Carissa and sugar (no water added) until fruit
is soft. Use as a sauce similar to cranberry sauce. For jellied sauce,
add 2 tablespoons of water for each cup of Carissa. Cook until fruit is
tender. Strain juice through jelly bag or a double layer of
cheesecloth. Add to ½ cup sugar for each ¾ cup
juice. Cook until thickened.
2 cups flour
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, well beaten
½ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons shortening, melted
2 tablespoons hot water
1½ cups carissa, seeded and chopped
1 orange rind, grated
½ cup chopped nuts
Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and soda. Add egg,
orange juice, shortening, and hot water. Stir only until flour is
moistened. Fold in Carissa, orange rind and nuts. Bake at 350°
in greased and floured loaf pan for 45 minutes. Yield: 20 servings.
Wash and drain fresh, ripe fruit. Split, remove seeds, and put on ice
until shortly before serving. Stuff cavities with low-fat cottage
cheese or light cream cheese. Place on a bed of shredded lettuce.
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
½ cup cold water
1½ cups boiling Carissa juice or juice and pulp
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1½ cups chopped celery
Sprinkle gelatin on cold water and let stand 5 minutes. Dissolve sugar,
salt, and softened gelatin in boiling Carissa juice. Allow to cool and
add lemon juice. When mixture begins to thicken, add chopped celery.
Turn into a mold and chill. When firm, turn the mold onto a bed of
shredded lettuce and garnish with light mayonnaise, if desired.
1 pound Carissa
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons gelatin
½ cup cold water
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup diced apples
½ cup pecans
Cook Carissa in one of cup water until tender, strain and add sugar.
Moisten gelatin in cold water. Add to sugar and Carissa. Stir until
dissolved, then add celery, apples and nuts. Chill in the refrigerator
and serve on lettuce.
Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
Much branched evergreens, dense and rounded, wide canopy, sharp,
branched spines, broken stem produces milky sap. Thick, glossy, dark
green, opposite leaves, leathery texture. up to three inches. Waxy
white, star-shaped blooms, two inches in diameter, five petals, borne
in dense sprays, very aromatic.
Time of year: In the right climate, it blooms and fruits all year.
Heaviest fruiting in spring and summer.
Drought tolerant, can endure salty soil, salty winds and heat. Likes
full sun but can tolerate some shade. Because of these qualities it is
used — despite it spines and toxic foliage — as a
landscaping plant, most often for businesses.
preparation: Only the ripe fruit is edible, raw or cooked.
The rest of the plant is very toxic. Watch out for the spines.