Belimbing (camias)



The belimbing (Averrhoa bilimbi), which belongs to the Oxalidaceae family, is a tropical fruit native to Malaysia and Indonesia.1 The fruit is important locally for its medicinal uses and as an ingredient in Malay cooking.2

Origin and distribution
The belimbing, also known as camias (or kamias), is native to Malaysia and Indonesia.3 It belongs to the same family as the sweeter starfruit, which the Malays call belimbing manis, to distinguish it from the camias which they call belimbing asam for its sour-tasting fruits.4 The fruit’s scientific name, Averrhoa bilimbi, is derived from Averroes (b. 1126d. 1198), a famous Moorish physician; and bilimbi is from the Malay name for the fruit, belimbing.5


In 1793, the fruit was introduced to Jamaica from the island of Timor and spread to South America soon after. Today, belimbing is found as a cultivated or semi-wild crop throughout the tropics: in Sri Lanka, Burma, India, Thailand, Australia, South America, the lowlands of Central America and occasionally in southern Florida, United States.6

Description
Belimbing trees are evergreen and measure between 6 to 9 m tall. The leaves tend to crowd towards the ends of branches, occurring in pairs of seven to 19 leaflets that ovate, measuring between 5 to 12 cm long. The branches are very few and upright, while the flowers are small with reddish-purple or crimson free petals between 10 and 22 mm long. Its flowers are auxiliary or cauliflorous, appearing directly on the branches and trunk.7 They are produced all year round.8 The belimbing fruit are berries, yellowish-green, lobed slightly and can grow up to 10 cm long.9 The skin is thin and smooth, enclosing a soft, juicy flesh that tastes sour.10 Seeds are few, flat and occur at the centre of the fruit.11 The plants grow well in a seasonal humid climate and do not tolerate flooding and salinity.12

Usage and potential

Food: The fruit is rarely eaten raw because it is regarded as too acidic. In some countries such as Costa Rica, however, the uncooked fruit is prepared as a relish and served with rice and beans.13 The belimbing is often dropped into dishes that call for a tangy or sour taste, such as sambals, pickles and chutnies. It is added to curries to provide acidity and it tastes particularly good with fish.14 It is also used in the production of vinegar.15 Belimbing can be used to make drinks and jam with plenty of sugar added, or preserved in syrup.16 The pickled version is also popular, prepared by taking half-ripe belimbing, washing and dusting them with salt, and leaving them to wilt in the hot sun before submerging them in brine.17 The juice of the fruit is also used to prepare cooling and refreshing drinks such as lemonade.18

Medicine: The Malays make a concoction of the leaves along with the fruit which is believed to treat syphilis.19 In traditional Malay medicine, the fruit juice is also used to treat pimples, hypertension, diabetes and dizziness.20 The juice is also used as eye drops and is considered a “magic cure” for certain eye problems.21 The leaves are heated and applied to treat itchiness.22 An infusion of the leaves is consumed as a protective measure after childbirth.23 The leaves, fruits and flowers are boiled together and drunk to cure a cough. The flowers are used to treat toothaches.24 Indonesians use the leaves to treat a range of ailments including boils, rheumatism, mumps, pimples, diabetes, whooping cough and fever.25 The fruit is used to add flavour to nasi dagang.26 The Javanese make a preparation called rujak mricha to induce perspiration, using the fruit and pepper.27 Traditionally, the fruit is useful in treating piles and scurvy.28 In the Philippines, the juice of the fruit is used in treating fever.29 In Indonesia and the Philippines, a leaf decoction is used to stop internal bleeding and treat rectal inflammation.30

Other uses: The high acidic (oxalic acid) content in belimbing makes it a useful remover of rust and stains from knife blades, hands, clothing and almost all types of metal.31 The Malays used it to clean their keris or dagger. In 19th-century Philippines, the juice of the fruit was used as soap for cleaning dirty hands – a common practice of the washermen.32

Variant names
Common names: camias (or kamias), belimbing33
Scientific name: Averrhoa bilimbi34
Malay names: blimbing asam, blimbing assam, bilimbing buluh, belimbing wuluh, belimbing buluk35
Chinese name: mu hu gua (木胡瓜)36
Other names: cucumber tree, tree sorrel37



Author
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja



References
1. Jensen, M. (1995). Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide. Bangkok, Thailand: FAO Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 582.160959 JEN); Chin, H. F., & Yong, H. S. (1980). Malaysian fruits in colour. Kuala Lumpur: Tropical Press, p. 54. (Call no.: RSEA 634.609595 CHI)
2. Tate, D. J. M. (1999). Tropical fruit. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 32. (Call no.: RSEA 634.6 TAT)
3. Jensen, M. (2001). Trees and fruits of Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide. Bangkok: Orchid Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSEA 582.160959 JEN)
4. Wee, Y. C. (2003). Tropical trees and shrubs: a selection for urban planting. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 223. (Call no.: RSING 582.16095957 WEE); Hutton, W. (1996). Tropical f.its of Malaysia & Singapore. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, p. 35. (Call no.: YRSING 634.6 HUT)
5. Wee, Y. C. (2003). Tropical trees and shrubs: A selection for urban planting. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 223. (Call no.: RSING 582.16095957 WEE)
6. Morton, J. (1987). Bilimbi. Fruits of warm climates. Retrieved 2017, April 17 from Purdue University website: https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/bilimbi.html
7. Chin, H. F., & Yong, H. S. (1982). Malaysian fruits in colour. Kuala Lumpur: Tropical Press, p. 54. (Call no.: RSEA 634.609595 CHI); Jensen, M. (2001). Trees and fruits of Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide. Bangkok: Orchid Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSEA 582.160959 JEN)
8. Chin, H. F., & Yong, H. S. (1980). Malaysian fruits in colour. Kuala Lumpur: Tropical Press, p. 54. (Call no.: RSEA 634.609595 CHI)
9. Jensen, M. (1995). Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide. Bangkok, Thailand: FAO Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 582.160959 JEN)
10. Hutton, W. (1996). Tropical fruits of Malaysia & Singapore. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 634.6 HUT); Chin, H. F., & Yong, H. S. (1980). Malaysian fruits in colour. Kuala Lumpur: Tropical Press, p. 54. (Call no.: RSEA 634.609595 CHI)
11. Chin, H. F., & Yong, H. S. (1980). Malaysian fruits in colour. Kuala Lumpur: Tropical Press, p. 54. (Call no.: RSEA 634.609595 CHI)
12. Jensen, M. (1995). Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide. Bangkok, Thailand: FAO Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 582.160959 JEN)
13. Hutton, W. (1996). Tropical fruits of Malaysia & Singapore. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 634.6 HUT); Tate, D. (1999). Tropical fruit. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 32. (Call no.: RSEA 634.6 TAT)
14. Hutton, W. (1996). Tropical fruits of Malaysia & Singapore. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 634.6 HUT); Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, p. 272. (Call no.: RCLOS 634.909595 BUR)
15. De Lima, V. L. A. G., de Almeida Mélo, E., dos Santos Lima, L. (2001). Physicochemical Characteristics of Bilimbi (Averrhoa Bilimbi l.). Revista Brasileira de Fruticultura, 23(2), 421–423. Retrieved from website: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0100-29452001000200045&lng=en&tlng=en
16. Jensen, M. (1995). Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide. Bangkok, Thailand: FAO Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 582.160959 JEN); Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, p. 272. (Call no.: RCLOS 634.909595 BUR)
17. Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, p. 272. (Call no.: RCLOS 634.909595 BUR)
18. Tate, D. (1999). Tropical fruit. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 32. (Call no.: RSEA 634.6 TAT)
19. Wee, Y. C. (1992). A guide to medicinal plants. Singapore: Singapore Science Centre, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 581.634095957 WEE); Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, p. 272. (Call no.: RCLOS 634.909595 BUR)
20. Muhamad bin Zakaria & Mustafa Ali Mohd. (1994). Traditional Malay medicinal plants. Kuala Lumpur: Fajar Bakti, p. 64. (Call no.: RSING 581.634 MUH)
21. Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, p. 272. (Call no.: RCLOS 634.909595 BUR)
22. Wee, Y. C. (1992). A guide to medicinal plants. Singapore: Singapore Science Centre, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 581.634095957 WEE)
23. Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, p. 272. (Call no.: RCLOS 634.909595 BUR)
24. Muhamad bin Zakaria & Mustafa Ali Mohd. (1994). Traditional Malay medicinal plants. Kuala Lumpur: Fajar Bakti, p. 64. (Call no.: RSING 581.634 MUH)
25. Wee, Y. C. (1992). A guide to medicinal plants . Singapore: Singapore Science Centre, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 581.634095957 WEE); Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, p. 273. (Call no.: RCLOS 634.909595 BUR)
26. Muhamad bin Zakaria & Mustafa Ali Mohd. (1994). Traditional Malay medicinal plants. Kuala Lumpur: Fajar Bakti, p. 64. (Call no.: RSING 581.634 MUH)
27. Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, p. 272. (Call no.: RCLOS 634.909595 BUR)
28. Rajarajan, E. S., & Sukumar, E. (2001, August 19). Medicinal bilimbi. Retrieved 2017, April 17 from The Hindu website: http://www.thehindu.com/2001/08/19/stories/1319045c.htm
29. Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, p. 272. (Call no.: RCLOS 634.909595 BUR)
30. Morton, J. (1987). Bilimbi. Fruits of warm climates. Retrieved 2017, April 17 from Purdue University website: https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/bilimbi.html
31. Jensen, M. (1995). Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide. Bangkok, Thailand: FAO Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 582.160959 JEN); Polunin, I. (1987). Plants and flowers of Singapore. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 152. (Call no.: RSING 581.95957 POL)
32. Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, p. 273. (Call no.: RCLOS 634.909595 BUR)
33. Jensen, M. (1995). Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide. Bangkok, Thailand: FAO Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 582.160959 JEN)
34. Polunin, I. (1987). Plants and flowers of Singapore. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 152. (Call no.: RSING 581.95957 POL)
35. Jensen, M. (1995). Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide. Bangkok, Thailand: FAO Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 582.160959 JEN)
36. Boo, C. M., Chew, S. Y. J., & Yong, J. W. H. (2014). Plants in tropical cities. Singapore: Uvaria Tide, p. 87. (Call no.: RSING 581.95957 BOO)
37. Jensen, M. (1995). Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide. Bangkok, Thailand: FAO Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 582.160959 JEN); Tate, D. (1999). Tropical fruit. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 32. (Call no.: RSEA 634.6 TAT)



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Averrhoa--Southeast Asia
Cookery, Malay
Tropical fruit--Southeast Asia
Plants
Science and technology>>Agriculture>>Fruit crops
Nature>>Plants