Common name: Bilimbi, Cucumber tree, Tree sorrel, Irumban puli, Bumbling plum, Pickle fruit, Belimbing
Bilimbi trees were very common in Kerala, the southernmost state of India, a few years back, and was used as a sour component in fish curries. But they are not as popular with modern day gardeners since the extremely tangy fruit does not have many other culinary uses.
These trees can grow to a height of 12-15 meters with a heavily branched trunk, which sometimes starts branching just above the soil. Bilimbi leaves are long and pinnate with an odd number of 15-31 leaflets which are dark green on top and light green below. Leaflets are oblong in shape and about 10 cms long.
Flowers are very pretty, turning in color from light green to dark green and then a deep purple just before the fruits appear. These flowers appear in bunches almost anywhere on the stem, even lower down on the bark, close to the ground. Fruits are long, green and fleshy, about 4-8 cms long and resembles the star fruit in taste.
They are initially green and turns yellowish-green when they ripen. The flesh is very tangy and almost impossible to eat raw, but it is eaten raw with salt and spices in some parts of the world.
Bilimbi fruits are used as substitutes for tamarind or tomatoes in fish curries, sambal, chutneys, sauces and salads. They are also cured, pickled and dried so that they can be stored for longer periods of time.
The fruit has many medicinal uses in treatment of diabetes, hypertension, hemorrhoids, obesity and inflammations. Leaves are used in treating skin diseases, itches, mumps and rheumatism. Flower infusions are used in treating coughs and colds.
But these remedies should be used with caution since the fruits contain oxalates that can cause kidney failure if consumed raw in large quantities.
The fruits contain huge proportions of Vitamin C, B, calcium and iron. So it is good to grow a bilimbi tree in your backyard and use the fruit in your cooking when they are in season.
The tree can bear 200-300 fruits in season giving you a bountiful harvest. It needs good sunlight and a well-drained soil, but otherwise, is a low maintenance tree that can live for many years.
Propagation is from seeds, and also through grafting and layering, but with moderate success.