Clidemia Hirta – A Tasty Wild Tropical BerryNov 09, 2016
Right on the day I arrived in Dominica, I came across an intriguing berry on the way to the Emerald Pool. The plant, called Clidemia hirta (commonly - Soapbush or Koster's Curse), grows all around the island as well as in other tropical moist climates. Whenever I found Clidemia, I would pick the berries, eat them, put them in my oats and even add them to baked goods like scones and muffins (recipe follows). But is this wild tropical berry any good for us and can it be a tasty alternative to its blueberry look alike? Time for a bit of research!
This is a guest post by Victoria de Leeuw. She is a permaculture, health and sustainability enthusiast. Victoria joined us at Beyond Vitality Nature Camp for a month, as part of our Work Exchange Program. We hope that you find this article enjoyable and informative.
The plant is a native species to the Caribbean region and is actually a pest for other plants, and not just in Middle and South America. Since it has been introduced in a few regions in Africa and Hawaii it is causing serious damage to neighbouring shrubs and trees. The Clidemia even has the doubtful honour to be nominated as one of 100 "World's Worst" invaders by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Invasive Species Specialist Group.
Fortunately, this plant has some beneficial properties as well. The leaves, for example, are used in traditional medicine. They are put on both fresh (in combination with saliva) and old wounds, and can cure specific skin diseases. The infusion is used for women with heavy menses and serves the same purpose in the form of a bath. Recent scientific research has confirmed that the leaves indeed contain saponin, phenolics and flavonoids. These substances correlate with antioxidant and antibacterial activity from leaf extracts, which means that the plant probably has these properties. The presence of antioxidants even had a group patent the plant for potential use in cosmetics. Also, practical to know when you have to do your business in the jungle - because of its soft texture, the leaves can be used as natural toilet paper.
If we take a closer look at the berries, the general shape most resembles blueberries, although the outer surface is like a strawberry - hairy and covered with hundreds of seeds. The tannins in the fruits are toxic to goats, but not to humans. So while hiking in the tropical forests of Dominica and other Caribbean islands, you can forage these wild berries - but don't feed them to the goats!
[caption id="attachment_4470" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Soapbush or Koster's Curse (clidemia hirta) Photo credits: Elsemieke De Boer[/caption]
That still leaves the question – do they measure up in terms of nutrition and taste? To start with the latter - their taste is quite nice. Kind of bland compared to blueberries, but still somewhat sweet. Not every berry is as tasteful as it seems, but hey, that's nature! They are a good addition to baked goods and juices and nice to pop a few in the mouth. As is the case with many fruits - the deeper the colour, the more antioxidants it contains. In its ripe state, the Clidemia berries are deep purple or blue. Compared to its blueberry look-a-like, the Clidemia is higher in fibre, lipid and protein, and has a lower sugar content, which brings its net calorie count to approximately the same. Little research has been done on other nutritional facts, but the berry is rich in vitamin C. Conclusion - the Clidemia seems to be a harmful plant (to other plants) with harmless berries that are as good for you as blue berries, a perfect wild foraged tropical snack!
Coconut Clidemia Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.
275 g spelt flour (or non-GMO organic whole wheat)
200 g coconut, grated
150 g unrefined cane sugar
75 g whole rolled oats
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp unrefined sea salt
310 ml coconut milk
80 ml virgin coconut oil (or organic pastured butter)
1 whole, free-range egg
3 tbsp raw honey
150 gr Clidemia hirta berries
Optional: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or hempseeds
Heat oven to 180C/350F. Grease a twelve cup standard sized muffin tray with coconut oil. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk the coconut milk, coconut oil, egg and honey. Crack in the egg and whisk until well combined. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Carefully add the grated coconut, oats, berries and optional seeds.
[caption id="attachment_4469" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Soapbush or Koster's Curse (clidemia hirta). Photo credits: Elsemieke De Boer[/caption]
Spoon the mixture in the muffin tray. Bake the muffins for approximately 25-30 min or until lightly browned on top and when a skewer comes out clean. Enjoy!
About the author
Victoria de Leeuw is an inspiring student and world traveller with a keen interest in permaculture, health and sustainability. She also enjoys baking on her free time! We recently had the pleasure of hosting her at Beyond Vitality Nature Camp. She travelled all the way from The Netherlands to help us at the camp for a month, as part of our Work Exchange Program. From being a very hard worker on the land to an excellent baker in the kitchen, Victoria was a very well rounded, unique individual, which we really enjoyed having with us. If you would like to connect with Victoria, you can get in touch with her here on Facebook.
We offer a unique opportunity for experiential learning in the areas of rewilding, movement, holistic nutrition and sustainable living while residing in a beautiful place, eating nourishing food from the land and working with a group of unique individuals from around the globe. Unleash your wild side and check out our Work Exchange Program here.
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