Hackberry tends to be a nondescript fruit, neither here nor there. Kevin J. Cook describes the tree in a Colorado-based newspaper, the Reporter Herald:
“Obscure identity and routine disregard have long been hallmarks of the hackberries… Even the name is an artifact of obliviousness. No records document its origin, but the name “hackberry” is botanically illiterate because the tree’s fruit is a drupe not a berry. Being small, round and borne on a plant are not meaningful criteria for what makes a fruit a berry. But the name is embedded in our culture and the name “hackdrupe” will never work.”
Origin of Hackberry
Hackberries are believed to originate in southern Europe, but its origin could extend as far as the Himalaya’s western slopes. According to the World Agroforestry Center, hackberry’s native region includes France, India, Italy, Pakistan, Turkey and the former Yugoslavia, Tunisia, Portugal, Algeria and Morocco.
The fruits have never been the center of attention, but they may have featured in one classic: In Homer’s The Odyssey, famed “lotus fruits” lured Odysseus’s team away from their homelands. Though many believe the fruits in question are date plums, hackberries are a long-shot contender.
Today, these small, pellet-sized fruits have widespread recognition along Europe’s laid back Mediterranean coasts and in the southern parts of the US. In these regions, they serve as decorative trees. Hackberries also grow in Argentina, Iran, Pakistan, northern India, and Afghanistan. Few, if any countries grow them commercially.
Availability of Hackberry in India
Pradip Krishen writes in his book, “Trees of Delhi,” that approximately four of the 70 hackberry varieties grow in India: Celtis australis grows along the central and eastern Himalayan regions. This majestic nettle tree thrive at elevations up to 8,500 feet, and grow best alongside maple, oak and blue pine trees in areas with frost in the winter. Celtis tetrandra, on the other hand, thrives in warmer climates and can survive Delhi’s humidity. It is drought tolerant, and may live up to 1,000 years.
Hackberry’s short season lasts from October through November.
Where to find Hackberry in India
Hackberries are not sold in markets, large or small. In the villages, however, vendors near schools sell scoopfuls of the fruits (often served in the old exam papers of students). Like other wild fruits, birds enjoy them just as much as people: It’s worth grabbing a handful of hackberries from a tree to nibble on the fruit’s grainy, mildly sweet flesh.
Checking for Ripeness in Hackberry
Unripe hackberries are green, and become reddish in the early fall. When they finally ripen in late autumn, their skin turns purplish black. Another sign of ripeness is that the stem is easily twisted off the fruit.
Unripe hackberries taste astringent. As the skin darkens, its astringency gives way to mild sweetness.
Here’s a video showing ripe hackberry foraged and prepared into nut milk. Though the fruit displayed is actually a very close relative (Celtis laevigata), the two are identical enough for the information to be relevant.
Taste of Hackberry
The fruit tastes sweet, and the pulp is dry but sugary like a date. Every fruit possesses a large white kernel, so there’s little pulp to be had per fruit. Utilizing the fruit in recipes is nearly impossible on account of the significant prep work required to remove the kernels. The sweetness varies from tree to tree: Some fruits taste drier than others, and some have sweeter flesh. Because it’s not a commercial crop, the fruits have not been bred to produce a uniform flavor.
Nutritional Value of Hackberry
Little has been disclosed of hackberry’s nutritional value. The US Forest Service lists netleaf hackberry containing 14.35% protein, moderate in phosphoric acid (.38%), and contains the mineral lime (6.27%).
Anecdotally, wild foragers cite the berry as a good source of nutrition: When the seed is ground and eaten alongside the pulp, it becomes a high carb, high protein, and high fat snack.
Health Benefits of Hackberry
According to the book, “Medicinal Plants of China,” hackberries treat a number of maladies including heavy menstrual bleeding, amenorrhea, and colic. Hackberries also act as an analgesic. Traditional healers also claim hackberries make mucus membranes more astringent for peptic ulcers and that they treat diarrhea and dysentery. Native Americans use the bark to treat sore throats, induce child birth and treat venereal diseases
Scientific studies revel the following benefits:
--In a study published by Scientia Pharmaceutica, scientists in Egypt found that hackberry leaves contain significant antioxidant and cytotoxic properties. The report cited these compounds as remedies against aging and for cancer prevention.
--Hackberry’s bark contains quercetin, a compound known for its anti-cancer properties. According to a double-blind study that was presented at the American College of Sports and Medicine, only five percent of the 20 cyclists who consumed quercetin before strenuous exercise reported sick days, as opposed to 45 percent of athletes in the placebo group. Another study published in a 2013 edition of Anticancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry reveals that quercetin inhibits mTor activity in cancer cells. The study also points out quercetin’s ability to relieve inflammation and atherosclerosis.
How to Open/Cut:
Be careful when eating a hackberry: its hard seed has surprised many who have bitten into its thin flesh. Use the recipe ideas below to prepare hackberry into paste, milk, or powder.
Hackberry Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Make jam or syrup: ripe, sweet hackberries require approximately ¼ cup of sugar for every cup of fruit. If still mildly sweet, add more sugar as desired. To extricate the pulp from the seeds, boil in water and mash though a strainer. Add lemon juice or orange juice to the jam as well.
--Grind the flesh with the seed into a thick paste. Combine with soaked dates, nuts, raisins and other dried fruits, dehydrate the concoction, and eat as a power bar.
--To make “nut” milk, crush and soak the fruits. Drain the water, and then blend the fruits. Gradually add water while blending. Then, strain the milky water through cheesecloth and flavor with vanilla, salt and a sweetener such as agave, maple syrup, or sugar.
--Dry the berries, and then pound them into powder. Use the powder as a thickening agent or as a flavoring. For example, early Native Americans used to add the dried powder to porridges. The powder also works in smoothies, too.
--Make no-bake hackberry cookies by adding 2 cups of de-seeded pulp with 1 cup of shredded coconut, 1 cup oats, ½ cup cranberries, ½ cup sunflower seeds, 6tbsp of agave or honey, and salt. Roll into balls and chill. (Recipe from the book, “At Home In Nature: A User’s Guide”)
Fruits: Goji berry, raisin, date, fig, strawberry, grape
Herbs, spices, and oil: Almond, sunflower seeds, walnut, pecan, hazelnut, cashew, nut butters, cinnamon, nutmeg, shredded coconut, vanilla, salt, cocoa, sugar, molasses, maple syrup
Urban planners choose hackberry trees as a nice buffer in parking lots and for highway medians. However, many pedestrians have also slipped on fallen fruits when strolling down hackberry-lined sidewalks.
A French wine maker named one of his red wines “Australis Celtis,” citing his love for the Hackberry tree as the reason.
Celtis australis, Celtis tetrandra, Celtis serotina, Celtis trinervia,
Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata)