Natal Plums Num Num

by Green Deane

in Edible Raw, Fruits/Berries, Plants, Recipes, Trees/Shrubs

Natal Plum fruits nearly year round

Natal 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 macrocarpa (kuh-RISS-uh mack-roe-KAR-puh) 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 Diego, California.

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

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 purple.

Carissa comes from the Sanskrit word “corissa” the local name of one the the species. Macrocarpa is Greek for large fruit. Carissa 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.)

Carissa Fruit Soup*

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.

Carissa Pie*

1 pint Carissa (sliced crosswise)

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon margarine

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

pastry

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.

Carissa Sauce*

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.

 Carissa Bread**

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.

Carissa Hors D’oeuvres

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.

Jellied Carissa Salad*

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.

 Carissa Salad*

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.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: 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.

ENVIRONMENT: 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 for businesses.

METHOD OF PREPARATION:  Only the ripe fruit is edible, raw or cooked. The rest of the plant is very toxic. Watch out for the spines.

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anthony April 4, 2012 at 10:38

My Natal Plums are flowering like crazy but no fruit. Any suggestions Deane? SHould I hand pollinate?

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2 Green Deane April 4, 2012 at 12:52

Not every blossom turns into fruit. Hows the bee population around you?

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3 Anthony April 5, 2012 at 11:55

The bees are in full effect, but they love the bananas right now. Weird, Surinam Cherries and Catttley Guavas are are covering the shrubs but my Natal’s and Cherry of rio grand cherry bushes have flowers, but no fruit. I will had pollinate tonight with a tiny artist brush.

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4 Anthony June 1, 2012 at 13:37

Finally one ripe Natal Plum! I will try it tonite when I get home since it was soft this morning.

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5 Susan Scherr August 11, 2012 at 17:47

Just want to be sure, when the fruit is ripe you can eat it whole- peel and all? These grow all over the island I live on! Thanks for your blog. Moving from a zone 3 to a zone 10 has opened up a world of possiblities for edible landscape!

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6 Green Deane August 13, 2012 at 08:19

Yes, eaten whole, but they don’t have a peel but rather a thin skin.

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7 Rachel September 6, 2012 at 00:14

I cut into one to try it. It tastes surprisingly fine for something that people normally don’t eat but you later find out is edible. The fruit did have some white sappiness to it that was a bit scarey considering its relationship to oleander. Is this the edible latex that you refered to and it has in common with figs? I’ve noticed some similar white sappiness in them. Thanks for the blog.

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8 Cynthia September 14, 2012 at 23:07

We have several natal plum shrubs that have been growing in our San Diego garden since 2003. These barely flower — let alone fruit — however, just a block away is a shrub growing just off the street at an abandoned lot. This shrub is so productive that for the past three years I’ve been harvesting fruit two times yearly for the purpose of making the most delicious jam. In fact, this week I pulled 300 (yeah, I count) fruits from this one shrub. Once stewed and pressed this particular harvest yielded TWO GALLONS of juice and pulp! Clearly, in our area, the more neglected the shrub, the better the harvest.

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9 Adam November 20, 2013 at 13:34

Cynthia, do you have a recipe for your natal plum jam? I’d love to give it a try.

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10 Brad December 4, 2014 at 02:15

Hi Cynthia,
We live on the Natal coast of South Africa and have thoroughly enjoyed this fruit from childhood to adulthood. Here we eat it raw. Having now found out that it can be cooked or processed into jams, puddings, juices, etc. We are trying to get recipes to try out. If you would be so kind as to share your recipes with us it would be much appreciated. We want to try pickling, jam-ing, chutneys, juicing and drying of any and all fruit and vegetables available to us.
We live on a 10 Acre smallholding and are trying to live off our farm as much as possible. We also want as natural eating as possible without preservatives added to foods.
Thank you for your time
Brad

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11 Ben Blue October 12, 2012 at 22:57

Wow thank you so much for the information! This has been an amazing help, These plants are grown all over Newport Beach, CA where I take the bus. There is this place called fashion island and near there are tons and tons of Carissa fruits and I took 3 semi ripe ones home today and wanted to look them up since I was wondering if they were okay to eat. I also think the thorns are pretty dang cool…So yeah, whenever I am waiting for the bus I can pick some fruit since everyone seems to ignore them and they are perfectly in season and there are tons of them!

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12 Ka January 2, 2013 at 10:15

Hi Deane. I have an alergy to latex rubber and all the other stuff made of latex rubber. I can still eat these though, right? It has nothing to do with the other kind of latex, right? I would like to try these. I love trying new things.
This website is awsome! I wish I knew about it a long time ago. Man, you did a great job organizing it. And thanks for the newsletter too.

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13 Green Deane January 2, 2013 at 11:15

It’s a different latex base but always be careful first. Do you eat figs? They have latex.

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14 Emily Anderson March 6, 2013 at 21:48

Thank you so much! I have long wanted to know what this plant was : )

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15 RW Akile April 10, 2013 at 20:24

I have seen the plant growing profusely around Los Angeles. Santa Monica City Hall is an especially juicy location as is the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall. I have been eating the fruit in smoothies, salads, and off the bush. Dried the fruit is like raisins, “craisins”. It is known as a “Famine Breaker” because it grows wild from South Africa to Somalia and has been used as a fall back crop in famine prone environments.

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16 Bill Case May 30, 2013 at 14:16

I live on/in Merritt Island, Florida. I have a large natal plum plant – about 9 feet high. It blooms and produces fruit year round. I often eat them as I pick a few, but I have dried them for several years in a dehydrator. I cut in half and remove the seeds, rinse them in water and dry the halves.

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17 N Allen April 26, 2014 at 18:02

I’m in Merritt Island, too. I rooted one from a cutting that I took from a neighboring bush. I’m growing it as a small tree. I’ve eaten about a dozen plums, so far. They were good! And I remember, as a child growing up in Cocoa Beach, hearing that they were poisonous… I’m so relieved to know that they’re not! I grow Surinam, Grumichama, Pitomba, and Barbados cherries, as well.

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18 Elizabeth July 12, 2013 at 15:54

Just found this beauty behind my house in the dunes of North Hutchinson Island. loaded with fruit and ready for harvest. I’m so excited to finally identify it!!! :-)

loved reading how excited everyone was/is to enjoy this fruit, thanks for sharing!

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19 richard graham October 21, 2013 at 17:34

Have about 5 natal plants started lastwinter in my greenhouse. Live outside Atlanta. Will they over winter outside. Also have cherimoya,naranjella, rose applw, mex breadfruit and many more—boy am I having fun.

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20 Syed December 18, 2013 at 18:23

Are they related to Cranberries? Can they be used to make juices like Cranberries?

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21 Green Deane December 18, 2013 at 21:16

Are they related to cranberries? No, not at all. Different families from very different parts of the world. I’ve never tried making them into juice. I just eat them. They do have a little bit of latex so they might always be cloudy and fleckie.

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22 Christine January 7, 2014 at 00:27

I live in LA and these plants were everywhere but I didn’t know they were edible! I spotted a ripe num num the other day and after triple checking, tasted it. It was delicious (so sweet and tangy) but I forgot about the latex and freaked out when I saw white liquid ooze from the bite, convinced I ate a poisonous version of the fruit. After a couple hours, still alright and now I’m craving more num nums. Too bad most gardeners don’t even allow their shrubs to flower let alone bear fruit :(

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23 Yvonne Poynter January 19, 2014 at 13:36

We have a thriving bush in Costa del sol flowers and fruits year round on neglect have eaten the fruit now looking forward to trying the recipes

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24 Richard Wilk March 15, 2014 at 00:32

Natal plum makes a seriously good pie. I used the same recipe as for a cherry pie.

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25 Brenda March 28, 2014 at 19:51

can a natal plum be successfully grown in pots or planters?

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26 Green Deane March 28, 2014 at 20:01

Yes, and they are easy to raise.

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27 poenie duvenage April 8, 2014 at 05:46

please i am looking for n jam recipe tocook some “noem noem” jam i can get n lot of the fruit but have no recipe. if somebody can help me i will very be very thankfull. my sel no is 0724314850 have a nice day

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28 sai April 8, 2014 at 16:21

I live in L.A where can I find this plant or fruit from this plant?

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29 Green Deane April 9, 2014 at 09:13

Hard to say as I live several thousand miles away. It is a very common landscaping plant near the ocean in dry areas. I would look around oceanside hotels, myself. When I last visited San Diego I found them all over the place.

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30 Tara December 5, 2014 at 16:35

You can find them in the beach communities.

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31 Jackalope April 9, 2014 at 18:41

Vintage Green Farms (http://tom-piergrossi.squarespace.com) has a variegated cultivar (Jen’s Beauty) that’s $10 and very pretty. They have great prices and lots of other exotics that make the $16 per box shipping fee worth it. Myself, I got my natal plum seeds from fruits I found growing wild in Hawaii.

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32 Joan Robinson, BERMUDA May 10, 2014 at 16:29

This plant grows here just about year round, as children we called it Japanese Plums. Must try some of the recipies.

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33 Green Deane May 10, 2014 at 22:22

It’s from Africa.

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34 Forrest May 20, 2014 at 09:53

Do these plums grow in New England at all?

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35 Green Deane May 20, 2014 at 18:31

Not outside. Way too cold.

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36 Jim June 11, 2014 at 16:45

I have 5 Carissa’s in my yard. I planted them in the hopes of obtaining a lot of fruit. Only one plant puts out fruit. Any idea what the problem is with the other 4?

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37 Green Gene June 22, 2014 at 12:26

I ate so much of this yummy fruit fresh and as a fish sauce back in the 70s that I got sick of them. But I’m on the lookout to eat them again.

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38 Teresa Hoover September 10, 2014 at 21:25

Where can I see some growing in Miami-Dade?

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39 Green Deane September 11, 2014 at 13:21

I don’t know specifically. But if you go walking along residential area near the coast you should find plenty of it. For a specific location an fellow on facebook named Andy Firk might be able to tell you as he lived there many years.

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40 Asia October 8, 2014 at 12:04

Hello,

I have been trying to find carissa edulis seeds or plants in the US. for awile and was wondering if you can help? I am not looking for Carissa macrocarpa, but Carissa Edulis/Simple Spined Num Num. Please let me know. Thanks!

Best,

AB

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