Facts and benefits of Carissa (natal plum)

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Health benefits of Carissa (natal plum)

Carissa (natal plum) Quick Facts
Name: Carissa (natal plum)
Scientific Name: Carissa macrocarpa
Origin South Africa
Colors Green when unripe and turns into bright red to violet when ripe
Shapes Ovoid egg-shaped red fruit, 1-3 in. (2.5-7.6 cm)
Flesh colors Somewhat-grainy, deep red or crimson with white mottling
Taste Juicy, tart, sourish-sweet
Calories 93 Kcal./cup
Major nutrients Vitamin C (63.33%)
Copper (35.00%)
Iron (24.63%)
Carbohydrate (15.73%)
Potassium (8.30%)
Carissa macrocarpa also known as Natal plum big num-num, Amatungulu and grootnoem-noem is native to South Africa and is also planted in some parts of America. It is a member of the Dogbane or Apocynaceae family. Fruit can be eaten fresh or can also be cooked. People enjoy the Carissa fruit raw or in jellies, jams, pies, and sauces. They taste like a slightly sweet cranberry with the texture of a ripe strawberry, but many people say like a slightly unripe cherry. The entire plant except for its red colored fruit is poisonous. Only the fruit of this plant is edible and though it is called a plum it hardly tastes like one. The fruit is low in cholesterol, sodium free, and vitamin C, B1, B2, A, calcium, protein, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, copper and is low in fat.

Carissa can be difficult to grow because the plant exudes a milky sap when cut or broken, which worsens harvest and transportation of the fruits because they can easily be damaged. And the berries have a short shelf life because the sap clots. Not only is the crop a valuable source for nutrition, it became a huge source of income for African farmers and has the potential to do well in a global market.


Carissa is a hardy, evergreen, spiny and indigenous shrub that grows as high as 7 feet (about 2 meters) and as wide as 10 feet (about 3 meters).The plant thrives well throughout the tropical and subtropical climates and grows wild on the poorest and rockiest soils and is grown as a hedge plant in dry, sandy or rocky soils. It is most fruitful on deep, fertile, well-drained soil but if the soil is too wet, there will be excessive vegetative growth and lower fruit production. It has many branch, spiny twings; laterx milky. Stems are generally thorny with forked spines.


The plant has ovate leaves that are dark green with a glossy sheen. They are usually 1-3 inch long and are formed along the branch in an opposite arrangement.

Flower & Fruit

Flowers are star shaped that emit a sweet jasmine like scent. Sepals very narrowly ovate, 3-6 mm. Corolla white or pink, tube 1.1-1.8 cm, pubescent inside; lobes oblong, 0.9-2.4 cm, overlapping to left. Later the plant produces ovoid egg-shaped red fruit, 1-3 in. (2.5-7.6 cm) and is 16-seeded.  The fruit is green when unripe and turns into bright red to violet when ripe. The fruit has tough skin which is slightly bitter in taste. Flesh is somewhat-grainy, deep red or crimson with white mottling.  The fruit has mild, slightly pungent flavor and juicy, tart, sourish-sweet taste. As mentioned before entire plant is poisonous except the red colored fruit.


As its name recommends, 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 transported 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.

Traditional uses and benefits of Carissa

  • It is enriched with iron component and is beneficial for anemic patients.
  • It is also used to cure the effects of Scurvy.
  • It prevents excessive secretion of bile by liver and prevents biliousness.
  • It provides comfort during diarrhea.
  • It effectively reduces fever.
  • It regulates and optimizes the heart functions to avoid heart disease.
  • Being depressant in nature, it diminishes excitability to cure Anxiety.
  • It is recommended during constipation to get relief.
  • It strengthens and tones stomach and keep stomach related problems away.
  • It is beneficial to stop internal bleeding.
  • It mitigates cough.
  • It removes impurities from the blood.
  • It is favorable in reducing the blood sugar level and aids in curing Diabetes.
  • Ripe fruit is taken as an antiscorbutic and remedy for biliousness.
  • Leaf decoction is valued in cases of intermittent fever, diarrhea, oral inflammation and earache.
  • Root is used as a bitter stomachic and vermifuge and it is an ingredient in a remedy for itches.
  • Roots contain salycylic acid and cardiac glycosides causing a slight decrease in blood pressure.

Ayurvedic Benefits of Carissa

  • Ascaris: Consume 10 ml of root decoction of Carissa twice a day.
  • Biliousness: Consume 4g unripe fruit of Carissa once a day.
  • Fever: Make Leave decoction of Carissa. Drink a cup of it twice a day.
  • Internal bleeding: Eat 10 g ripe fruit of Carissa once a day. It helps to cure internal bleeding.
  • Appetite: Fresh fruit juice of Carissa is consumed in a dose of 10-15 ml to improve the appetite and digestion.
  • Micturition: The decoction of the root is given in a dose of 30-40 ml to treat difficulty in micturition.
  • Cardiac muscles: Fresh juice of the fruit of Carissa is consumed daily in dose of 15-20 ml to strengthen the cardiac muscles.
  • Wounds: Paste prepared from the leaf or bark is applied over wounds for its treatment.
  • Diabetic ulcer: Paste of the root is applied over the diabetic ulcer

Culinary Uses

  • Fruit can be eaten out of hand or made into pies, jams, jellies, and sauces.
  • It can also be used in desserts, yogurt, ice cream etc.
  • 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.

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.

Other Facts

  • Fruit of the Natal plum shrub is the only edible part of the plant.
  • Fruit gives a pink dye.
  • Shrub does have sharp spines, so it can work well as a barrier or hedge.
  • Fruits have been used as agents in tanning and dyeing.
  • Karanda leaves have furnished fodder for the tussar silkworm.
  • Paste of the pounded roots serves as a fly repellent.
  • White or yellow wood is hard, smooth and useful for fashioning spoons, combs, household utensils and miscellaneous products of turnery. It is sometimes burned as fuel.


Carissa Pie

  • 1 pint Carissa (sliced crosswise)
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon margarine
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • pastry

Slice well-ripened Carissa into a deep, buttered, baking dish. Mix flour with sugar and sprinkle over the fruit. Dot lightly with margarine. Pour water over the mixture. Top with pastry, slit to allow steam to escape and bake at 450° for ten minutes, then at 425° for 20 minutes until fruit is cooked and pastry is brown. Serve hot with Carissa Sauce flavored with lemon juice or with vanilla.

Carissa Sauce

Rinse fruit, cut in quarters. Take out seeds retaining pulp. Measure ½ cup sugar or sugar substitute to each cup cut Carissas. Over low heat, cook the Carissa and sugar (no water added) until fruit is soft. Use as a sauce similar to cranberry sauce. For jellied sauce, add 2 tablespoons of water for each cup of Carissa. Cook until fruit is tender. Strain juice through jelly bag or a double layer of cheesecloth. Add to ½ cup sugar for each ¾ cup juice. Cook until thickened.

 Carissa Bread

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons shortening, melted
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1½ cups Carissa, seeded and chopped
  • 1 orange rind, grated
  • ½ cup chopped nuts

Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and soda. Add egg, orange juice, shortening, and hot water. Stir only until flour is moistened. Fold in Carissa, orange rind and nuts. Bake at 350° in greased and floured loaf pan for 45 minutes. Yield: 20 servings.

Carissa Salad

  • 1 pound Carissa
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons gelatin
  • ½ cup cold water
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ½ cup diced apples
  • ½ cup pecans

Cook Carissa in one of cup water until tender, strain and add sugar. Moisten gelatin in cold water. Add to sugar and Carissa. Stir until dissolved, and then add celery, apples and nuts. Chill in the refrigerator and serve on lettuce.














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