Tuesday, 21 July 2015 00:00

Plumb truths of lovilovi plum

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aFor it was in Madagascar, the large Indian Ocean island on the southeast coast of Africa, that the Flacourtia indica or the Governor's Plum-a species of a flowering plant native to much of Africa-found a prosperous home. From this bio diverse hot spot, where 90 percent of its plants and animals are endemic, arose the Flacourtia to bloom, flower and fruit and then spread its genes throughout the tropical and temperate parts of the Asian region including fertile Sri Lanka.

And as its presence grew, so did the list of names used to refer to this small deep red, purplish fruit with the sweet and sour taste expand. Each country that gladly adopted it and made it native, baptised it with its own holy rain. In Malay it became kerkup kechil, in Thai ta-khop-pa. The French pronounced it prunier de Madagascar and grosse prune de café. The Spanish christened it ciruela governadora. The Tamils called it choththaik-ka'laa or katukali; and for the Sinhalese it was uguressa, though it is also called katu lovi. Beside these native names, the fruit is also called the Batoko Plum, Indian Plum, the Ceylon Plum and the Sweet Lovilovi.
Uguressa Is A Small Berry Type Of Fruit Resembling An English Plum Which Is Up To An Inch Across

What the stoic plum demanded was a dry and warm climate to grow. It could withstand droughts but not the frosts as evidenced in Sri Lanka where the plum grows in almost all areas of the Island except in the high elevation zones. It also thrived in thorny woodlands and, with such an undemanding nature, soon colonised parts of South America and China, Puerto Rico, and Florida in the USA. In the Caribbean, it found the perfect rhythm to swing with the islanders where the fruit was used in both cocktail drinks and food dishes.

Uguressa is a small berry type of fruit resembling an English plum which is up to an inch across. When it first makes it appearance, its skin is tough and it is green in colour. As it begins to mature, it turns into a dark red. It is at this stage when the first tints of dark pink and red begin to appear on its thin, taut skin that it is ready for plucking. When it has fully ripened, it is reddish to reddish black or purple. A wood like mottling may appear on the skin of some fruits but this is harmless. Buried in the flesh of the fruit there may be found upto ten beige coloured seeds but the average number is between three and seven per fruit.

The flesh is a pale yellow and the taste is both sweet and sour, with an acidic tang. It can be eaten raw. The art of doing it is to first hold the fruit between the thumb and the forefinger and to roll it whilst applying pressure and squashing it gently till it softens. Then chew it, extracting the flesh out of the skin. Then dump the skin. It can also be made into jam and jelly. The fruit can be dried and also be fermented to make an alcoholic wine called ‘cerise' wine, which is very popular in the Caribbean.

Here is a common recipe used in Trinidad and Tobago to make wine. Wash ten cups if fruits in a bucket. Pour ten liters of water and stir in ten cups of sugar and four tablespoons of yeast. Cover the bucket well and leave it for 21 days. Strain the mix thereafter and add another ten cups of sugar. This is to sweeten the liquid. Pour the liquid into wine bottles and add raisins to each bottle. Give it another ten days before drinking.

Uguressa can also be stewed in sugar to be served as a desert. Or it can be pickled. This is done by sautéing the uguressa with ginger, garlic and chilli oil. According to your taste level, add asafetida and fenugreek. Place it in a jar and keep it in the fridge where it can be stored for a few months.
The All Round Medicinal Value Of The Tree Is Such That Almost Every Part Of It Can Be Utilised For Some Purpose Or The Other

But there are other uses apart from eating the fruit. For centuries people in the East have used the uguressa to beat ageing. The American Eurasian Journal of Scientific Research found in a study done in 2010 that flacourtia leaves contain potent antioxidants, which may slow down the signs of ageing and reduce stress levels confirming what the people in Asia have known for ages.

The all round medicinal value of the tree is such that almost every part of it can be utilised for some purpose or the other. Its bark is used to treat intermittent fevers. The pungent leaves are pounded and the extracted juice used in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis and catarrh. The root is used to treat nephritic colic and its gum is used in the treatment of cholera. The fruit is used to stimulate appetite, cure diuretic, jaundice and enlarged spleen. Even its tiny seeds are grounded and used to ease rheumatic pain.

And that's not all. The whole corpus has been used in the most unexpected way. Like the Great Wall of China, it was used to build the Great Uguressa Fence of India. Since the flacourtia is a bushy shrub or tree with thick spikes on its trunk and branches-which can grow up to 25 feet as a shrub or rise to 50 feet as a tree-the British Raj in India ingeniously chose it as the main shrub to lay a 1,500-mile long living thorny fence across India, to prevent the natives from engaging in the lucrative salt trade without paying a tax. It was officially called the Indian Inland Customs Line and was in existence from 1840 to 1879 and was a huge success in raising revenue for the British Empire.

In Sri Lanka, where the season is in February and March, there are two varieties of the fruit. One is the native Uguressa and the other is the Rata Uguressa which was introduced from Malaysia. But unfortunately neither of them is commercially cultivated.

At the Agricultural Department's plant research station at Horana, research is being presently carried out to create varieties that would meet the demands of large scale cultivation. But no matter. For whether Sri Lankan researchers strike gold or not, the Governor's Plum will continue to be the 'people's choice' and find, as it has done throughput the ages, a special plot to fruit in the home gardens of the nation's heart.

See more at: http://serendib.btoptions.lk/
Words And Photography Manu Gunasena

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