Wednesday, January 30, 2013

All About Natal Plum

Many use karonda and Natal plum interchangeably. However, there are a few key differences between these fruits. Karondas have a round appearance, and are often tinged with white. Natal plums are darker and possess a distinct point at their tip. Natal plum’s leaves are also rounder and less pointed than a karonda’s.

Origin of Natal Plum
As its name suggests, Natal plum is native to Natal, South Africa. According to the book, “Lost Crops of Africa,” Carissa species of Africa stretch from Senegal to Sudan, and Ethiopia to South Africa. The fruit was brought to the Philippines in the early 1900s, though it is not common to see the plum in south Asia. Its close cousin, the karonda (Carissa carandas), originated in India and thus appears in the country with greater frequently.

Today, the fruit continues to grow throughout parts of Africa and in warm regions of the US, like California, Hawaii and Florida. Attempts were made to introduce the shrub to Israel, but it didn’t fruit.

Availability of Natal Plum in India
Natal plums grow sporadically in subtropical regions of India. The spiny shrub is tolerant of droughts and in fact, grows best in dry regions with saline, sandy soils at an elevation up to 1500 meters. These low-maintenance conditions allow the shrub to flourish in both the north and the southern temperate regions of India.

India doesn’t grow Natal plums commercially. Garnu and karonda—relatives of natal plums—steal the spotlight for cultivation. Thus, any sightings of these fruits tend to be coincidental. Natal plum’s popularity in India pales in comparison to other regions in Africa, where several tribes treat the fruit as a staple.

Checking for Ripeness in Natal Plum
These fruits are green when unripe, and turn a deep pinkish red when ready for consumption. The fruits also develop a whitish coat in the ripening process, and some gain a deep crimson color. Similar to plums, ripe fruits give slightly to the touch.

Storing Natal Plum:
Being a thin-skinned fruit, fully ripe natal plums bruise easily and must be handled with care. Do not store too many in a bag on top of the other; rather, place them on a paper towel-lined tray with no more than two layers, and put in the refrigerator. These fruits have a short shelf life on account of the sap congealing: Expect a lifespan of no more than a week.

Taste of Natal Plum
At first bite, the ripe fruit’s tender skin gives way to a juicy, tart, sourish-sweet, somewhat-grainy flesh. Some liken the taste to a cranberry’s with overtones of apple and strawberry, and indeed, some horticulturalists claim the fruit may be the “cranberry for the warmer regions.”

Others are less complimentary: The author of the book, “Plants for Mediterranean Climate Gardens” believes the “wet flesh” is relatively tasteless and good only for jam and chutney recipes. Expect milky sap in natal plums akin to a fig’s—as the plums ripen, the latex reduces.

Nutritional Value of Natal Plum
According to the USDA nutrient database, natal plums have the following nutritional value per 100g:

62 kcal
1g Fat (2% RDI)
14g Carb (5% RDI)
.5g Protein (1% RDI)
40IU Vitamin A (1% RDI)
38mg Vitamin C (63% RDI)
Thiamin (3% RDI)
.1mg Riboflavin (4% RDI)
.2mg Niacin (1% RDI)
1.3mg Iron (7% RDI)
16mg Magnesium (4% RDI)
260mg Potassium (7% RDI)
.2mg Copper (10% RDI)

As explained in a 2012 article in Analytica Chimica Acta, the fruits are a rich source of monounsaturated and essential fatty acids. These levels are in accordance with the recommended range for optimal cardio health.

Health Benefits of Natal Plum
Natal plum contains an impressive amount of vitamin C, known to reduce aging, boost the immune system and lung health, and improve teeth and gums. The fruit also contains a substantial amount of iron, known for reducing fatigue, depression and dizziness. Its high level of potassium staves off high blood pressure and improves muscle function.

In traditional medicine, indigenous groups in Africa use the fruit to boost the immune system, and to to ward off colds and flus. The roots are especially medicinal, due to its compound, carissin. Other compounds in the twigs, quebrachytol and cardioglycosides, are antihelmintic. In Ghana, boiled leaves are applied as a poultice on gums to remedy toothaches, and roots treat inflammation, aches, chest pains, and malaria. Root decoctions also treat STDs, restore virility, and may induce miscarriages.

--According to a study published in the 2011 edition of the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, isolates from Natal plum’s stem inhibited proliferation of human leukemia cells.
--A 2011 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reveals that Natal plum’s root extract has wound healing potential based on its strong antimicrobial properties.
--A 2012 study published by Phytotherapy Research indicates that Natal plum’s close cousin, Carissa spinarum’s stem, has appreciable antiviral activity against herpes simplex viruses and cytotoxic activity against human breast cancer and lung cancer cells.
--A study published in the 2012 edition of the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences shows that Carissa carandas extracts have the ability to lower blood pressure.

--According to a study published in the 2013 edition of Phytochemistry Letters, a triterpene carandinol isolated from Carissa leaves exhibited significant cytotoxic activity against three types of cancer cells, proving especially toxic against cervical cancer cells.

Natal plums from

How to Open/Cut:
Natal plums require no peeling (as the skin is edible) and many choose to eat the small, flat brown seeds numbering up to 16 in the fruit’s center. The ability to eat the fruit whole—skin, seeds, and all—is one of the best features of the fruit.

Natal Plum Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Chopped natal plums can be used interchangeably in recipes calling for fresh cranberries. Consider using natal plums for the following:

--Fold in chopped natal plums into sweet bread recipes.
--Make a pie filling by adding 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water with 2 pints of sliced natal plums. Place pie pastry on top and bake.
--Add diced Natal plum to salads with apple, raisin, vegan cheese, and a dark green like spinach.
--Make a preserve by steaming natal plums. Alongside this process, mix sugar and water at high heat. Transfer the steamed, softened plums to the concoction and cook until the thick consistency resembles the texture of apple butter. Note: slightly unripe fruits are best for preserving.
--Make pickled plums by boiling the fruit, removing them, and then adding flavors like zesty masala, lemon juice, and oil.
--The dark juice makes for a nice coloring to beverages and soups, and adds a pinch of sweetness, too.
--Overripe fruits may be processed into vinegar.

*Note: boiling natal plums will cause the latex to stick to the pan. To clean, scrub with an oil like coconut or ideally, tea tree.

Natal Plum jam from

Flavor Complements:
Cranberry, citrus, lemon, lime, apple, grape, grapefruit, pomelo, pomegranate

Herbs, spices, and oil: pecan, walnut, orange juice, lemon rind, raisins

Random Facts:
These fruits can be found as part of the landscaping in Disneyland.

Scientific Name:
Carissa spinarum

Other Names:
Num num

Related Fruits:



  1. Excellent write. Thanks for sharing this info on a very useful plant to whom can be compared our own karonda.

  2. This is amazing!!!! They grow a lot in Bermuda but very few people eat them. I have always known that they were edible and ate them growing up. Now that I know, I will eat them more often.

  3. I saw this now when looking for more info on Natal plum.Your post mentions that it was introduced here in Israel,but did not bear fruit.Today the Natal plum is a very common bush growing here in parks,and also below my window:) Some bushes do bear that lovely fruit,and I have noticed they are the ones that are in an area with more shade.I do collect the fruit and make jam of it.

  4. I've always wanted to grow these, not just for the fruits but the foliage too, which I think is quite attractive. Do you have any info on where to buy them from?

  5. Thanks for sharing such beautiful information with us. I hope you will share some more information about plum. Please keep sharing.
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