|Fig. 58: No fruit is borne in greater abundance than the crisp, sour, pale-yellow Otaheite gooseberry (Phyllanthus acidus). When cooked in sugar, the fruit and juice turn ruby-red. In: K. & J. Morton, Fifty Tropical Fruits of Nassau, 1946.|
This is a curious and ornamental shrub or tree, 6 1/2 to 30 ft (2-9 m) high, with spreading, dense, bushy crown of thickish, rough, main branches, in general aspect resembling the Bilimbi (q.v.). At the branch tips are clusters of deciduous, greenish or pinkish branchlets 6 to 12 in (15-30 cm) long, bearing alternate, short-petioled, ovate or ovate-lanceolate, pointed leaves 3/4 to 3 in (2-7.5 cm) long, thin, green and smooth on the upper surface, blue-green with a bloom on the underside; altogether giving the impression of pinnate leaves with numerous leaflets. There are 2 tiny, pointed stipules at the base of each leaf. Small, male, female, and some hermaphrodite, 4-parted, rosy flowers, are borne together in little clusters arranged in panicles 2 to 5 in (5-12.5 cm) long, hanging directly from leafless lengths of the main branches and the upper trunk, and the fruits develop so densely that they form spectacular masses. The fruit is oblate with 6 to 8 ribs; is 3/8 to 1 in (1-2.5 cm) wide; pale-yellow to nearly white when fully ripe; waxy, fleshy, crisp, juicy and highly acid. Tightly embedded in the center is a hard, ribbed stone containing 4 to 6 seeds.
Origin and Distribution
This species is believed to have originated in Madagascar and to have been carried to the East Indies. Quisumbing says that it was introduced, into the Philippines in prehistoric times and is cultivated throughout those islands but not extensively. It is more commonly grown in Indonesia, South Vietnam and Laos, and frequently in northern Malaya, and in India in home gardens. The tree is a familiar one in villages and on farms in Guam, where the fruit is favored by children, and occurs in Hawaii and some other Pacific Islands.
It was introduced into Jamaica from Timor in 1793 and has been casually spread throughout the Caribbean islands and to the Bahamas and Bermuda. It has long been naturalized in southern Mexico and the lowlands of Central America, and is occasionally grown in Colombia, Venezuela, Surinam, Peru and Brazil. Formerly an escape from cultivation in South Florida, there are now only scattered specimens remaining here as curiosities.
The Otaheite gooseberry is subtropical to tropical, being sufficiently hardy to survive and fruit in Tampa, Florida, where cold spells are more severe than in the southeastern part of the state. It thrives up to an elevation of 3,000 ft (914 m) in El Salvador.
The tree grows on a wide range of soils but prefers rather moist sites.
The tree is generally grown from seed but may also be multiplied by budding, greenwood cuttings, or air-layers. Seedlings will produce a substantial crop in 4 years.
The Otaheite gooseberry is prone to attack by the phyllanthus caterpiller in Florida. This pest eats the bark and also the young leaves, causing total defoliation in a few days if not controlled by pesticides.
The tree often bears two crops a year in South India, the first in April and May, and the second in August and September. In other areas, the main crop is in January with scattered fruiting throughout the year.
The flesh must be sliced from the stone, or the fruits must be cooked and then pressed through a sieve to separate the stones. The sliced raw flesh can be covered with sugar and let stand in the refrigerator for a day. The sugar draws out the juice and modifies the acidity so that the flesh and juice can be used as a sauce. If left longer, the flesh shrivels and the juice can be strained off as a clear, pale-yellow sirup. In Indonesia, the tart flesh is added to many dishes as a flavoring. The juice is used in cold drinks in the Philippines. Bahamian cooks soak the whole fruits in salty water overnight to reduce the acidity, then rinse, boil once or twice, discarding the water, then boil with equal amount of sugar until thick, and put up in sterilized jars without removing seeds. The repeated processing results in considerable loss of flavor. Fully ripe fruits do not really require this treatment. If cooked long enough with plenty of sugar, the fruit and juice turn ruby-red and yield a sprightly jelly. In Malaya, the ripe or unripe Otaheite gooseberry is cooked and served as a relish, or made into a thick sirup or sweet preserve. It is also combined with other fruits in making chutney and jam because it helps these products to "set". Often, the fruits are candied, or pickled in salt. In the Philippines, they are used to make vinegar.
The young leaves are cooked as greens in India and Indonesia.
Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*
|Ascorbic Acid||4.6 mg|
*According to analyses made in El Salvador.
Wood: The wood is light-brown, fine-grained, attractive, fairly hard, strong, tough, durable if seasoned, but scarce, as the tree is seldom cut down.
Root bark: The root bark has limited use in tanning in India.
Medicinal Uses: In India, the fruits are taken as liver tonic, to enrich the blood. The sirup is prescribed as a stomachic; and the seeds are cathartic. The leaves, with added pepper, are poulticed on sciatica, lumbago or rheumatism. A decoction of the leaves is given as a sudorific. Because of the mucilaginous nature of the leaves, they are taken as a demulcent in cases of gonorrhea.
The root is drastically purgative and regarded as toxic in Malaya but is boiled and the steam inhaled to relieve coughs and headache. The root infusion is taken in very small doses to alleviate asthma. Externally, the root is used to treat psoriasis of the soles of feet. The juice of the root bark, which contains saponin, gallic acid, tannin and a crystalline substance which may be lupeol, has been employed in criminal poisoning.
The acrid latex of various parts of the tree is emetic and purgative.