Camias (Averrhoa Bilimbi), a tropical fruit native to Malaysia and Indonesia, belongs to the family Oxalidaceae. The fruit is important locally for its many medicinal uses and as an ingredient in Malay cooking.
Origin and distribution
Camias (Averrhoa Bilimbi) is native to Malaysia and Indonesia. It belongs to the same family as the sweeter starfruit, which Malays call belimbing manis, to distinguish it from camias which they call belimbing asam for its sour taste. The Averrhoa bilimbi gets its name from two words: Averrhoa, from Averroes (b. 1126 - d. 1198), a famous Moorish Physician; and bilimbi from the Malay word "belimbing". In 1793, the fruit was introduced to Jamaica from the island of Timor and spread to South America soon after. Today, bilimbi is found as a cultivated or semi-wild crop throughout the tropics: in Ceylon, Burma, India, Thailand, Australia, South America, the lowlands of Central America and occasionally in Southern Florida, USA.
Camias trees are evergreen and measure between 6 to 9 m high. The leaves tend to crowd towards the ends of branches, occurring in pairs of 7 to 19 leaflets which 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 that measure 10 to 22 mm long. Flowers are auxiliary or cauliflorous, appearing directly on the branches and trunk. They are produced all year round. When the plants are in bloom, the flowers attract a lot of small bees and insects in the bright morning light. The camias fruits are berries, yellowish-green, lobed slightly and measure up to 10 cm long. The skin is thin and smooth, enclosing a soft and juicy flesh which is sour. Seeds are few, flat and occur at the centre of the fruit. The plants grow well in a seasonal humid climate and do not tolerate flooding and salinity.
Usage and potential
Food: The fruit is rarely eaten raw because it is regarded as too acidic though in some countries like Costa Rica, the uncooked fruit is prepared as a relish and served with rice and beans. Most of the time, camias is 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. It is also used as a substitute for vinegar. It can be used to make drinks and jam with plenty of sugar added, and is preserved in syrup as well. Pickled camias is also popular, prepared by taking half-ripe camias, washing and dusting them with salt, and leaving them to wilt in the hot sun before submerging them in brine. The juice of the fruit is also used to prepare drinks that are as cooling and refreshing as lemonade.
Medicine: The Malays make a concoction of the leaves along with the fruit and use it to treat Syphilis. In traditional Malay medicine, the juice of the fruit is used to treat pimples, hypertension, diabetes and dizziness. The juice of the fruit is also used as eye drops and is considered a magic cure for certain eye problems. The leaves are heated and applied to treat itchiness. An infusion of the leaves is consumed as a protective measure after childbirth. The leaves, fruits and flowers are boiled together and drunk to relieve oneself of cough. The flowers are used to treat tooth aches. The Indonesians use the leaves to treat a range of ailments, including boils, rheumatism, mumps, pimples, diabetes, whooping cough and fever. Javanese make a preparation called rujak mricha from the fruit with pepper and use it to induce perspiration In the Philippines, the juice of the fruit is used in treating fever. In Indonesia and the Philippines, a leaf decoction is used to stop internal bleeding and treat rectal inflammation. Traditionally, the fruit is useful in treating piles and scurvy.
Other uses: The high acidic (Oxalic Acid) content in camias makes it a useful remover of rust and stains from knife blades, hands, clothing and almost all types of metal. The Malays used it to clean their keris or dagger in the olden days. In the 19th century in Philippines, the juice of the fruit was used as soap to clean dirty hands and was commonly practised by the washermen.
Common name: Camias, Bilimbing.
Scientific name: Averrhoa Bilimbi.
Malay name: Blimbing asam, Blimbing assam, Bilimbing buluh, Belimbing wuluh, Belimbing buluk.
Chinese name: In Mandarin Suan guo.
Other names: Cucumber tree, Billimbi., Blimbing, Tree Sorrel, Belimbing.
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
Burkill, I. H. (1993). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula (pp. 272-273). Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives.
(Call no.: RSING 634.909595 BUR)
Chin, H. F., & Yong, H. S. (1982). Malaysian fruits in colour (p. 54). Kuala Lumpur: Tropical Press.
(Call no.: R 634.609595 CHI)
Hutton, W. (1996). Tropical fruits of Malaysia & Singapore (p. 13). Hong Kong: Periplus Editions.
(Call no.: SING 634.6 HUT)
Jensen, M. (2001). Trees and fruits of Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide (p. 73). Bangkok: Orchid Press.
(Call no.: R 582.160959 JEN)
Jensen, M. (1995). Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia: An illustrated field guide (p. 73). Bangkok, Thailand: FAO Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific.
(Call no.: RSING 582.160959 JEN)
Muhamad bin Zakaria & Mustafa Ali Mohd. (1994). Traditional Malay medicinal plants (p. 60). Kuala Lumpur: Fajar Bakti.
(Call no.: R 581.634 MUH)
Polunin, I. (1987). Plants and flowers of Singapore (p. 152). Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 581.95957 POL)
Van Nooten, B. H. (1993). Flowers, fruit & foliage of the tropics (pp. 64-65). Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing.
(Call no.: RSING 581.95982 VAN)
Wee, Y. C. (1992). A guide to medicinal plants (p. 21). Singapore: Singapore Science Centre.
(Call no.: RSING 581.634095957 WEE)
Wee, Y. C. (2003). Tropical trees and shrubs: a selection for urban planting (p. 223). Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing.
(Call no.: SING 582.16095957 WEE)
Tate, D. (1999). Tropical fruit (pp. 32-33). Singapore: Archipelago Press.
(Call no.: 634.6 TAT)
Assorted bilimbi. (2003, January 26). The Hindu.
Lam, P. S. (1996, July 13). Fruit tree for home gardens. New Straits Times, p. 9.
Rajarajan, E. S. (2001, August 19). Medicinal bilimbi. The Hindu.
The information in this article is valid as at 1998 and correct as far as we can 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.