Starfruit - Botany And History

The starfruit or carambolla is a somewhat obscure fruit in the Western contex that proves to be quite popular as a snack food in several parts of Asia. Known for its unique appearance, taste profile, and overall nature, the starfruit is said to be a native species that might have originated from Sri Lanka or the Moluccas, although its exact origins are largely unknown. Despite being a prolific species that can be found in select areas of the Western world and an even larger area of the East, its use as either an edible fruit or as a medicine is chiefly relegated to the Asiatic sphere, although a large number of Spanish and Spanish-influenced territories also have a penchant for the consumption of starfruit as a dessert, a snack, or as a healthful addition to one's assorted diet of fruits. The tree itself has also been cultivated as of late for the purposes of landscaping, primarily due to the unique appearance of its fruits and the pleasing appeal of its tiny flowers.

The starfruit tree is a medium sized tree that boasts moderately-sized, glossy dark green leaves with pale-green edges which grow profusely from stems that are covered by a rich, chocolate brown-hued bark. It is most distinctive for its uniquely shaped dark-green to lime-green fruit that (in some species) turns a nice shade of golden-yellow upon ripening. Named due to the fact that the fruit decidedly looks like a five to eight-pointed star when cut cross-wise, the whole fruit itself has highly noticeable ridges that run parallel to its side. Unlike most fruits whose flesh is the only edible part, startfruits are known for 'full-edibility', being that its waxy skin, its minute 'seeds' and its watery flesh are all edible (only to an extent, as the seeds are best discarded during eating). [1]

Starfruit - Herbal Uses

While it is a relatively popular snack fruit in many Asiatic countries, the primary uses of the starfruit tree in the western context lay not chiefly in the purposes of consumption, but as a type of decorative garden varietal. Owing to its unique appearance, verdant foliage, pretty purplish-flowers, and uncannily shaped fruit, it is often cultivated in large gardens as a hedge tree or as a landscaping tree, lending its exotic beauty to the area especially during its season.

The fruit itself is wholly edible, and is commonly consumed as a cooling snack-fruit in many Asiatic countries. It has a unique taste redolent of very mild limes and is an excellent source of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), making it an excellent antiscorbutic fruit. Unlike some fruits that are only edible in its ripe form, starfruits can be consumed in both ripe and unripe forms (the latter being a folk favourite in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, where it is usually dipped in vinegar and rock salt). [2] In traditional Filipino folkloric medicine, the fruits, whether in whole or pureed form is typically prescribed as a remedy for mild fevers. It can also be employed as an emmenagogue in larger dosages. Pounded into a pulpy form, it can be employed as an anodyne and may be helpful in soothing the nagging pain associated with open wounds. Because of its high ascorbitic properties, it can be further employed as a first-aid remedy for minor injuries, as it not only dulls the pain, but it also acts as a disinfectant. [3] It has been consumed as a remedy for dysentery, and as an appetite stimulant (in its ripe form), especially for convalescent individuals making it an excellent pre-meal aperitif. In very large doses, the fruit can even act as a laxative, so care must be taken to not consume it in excess. The juice of the fruit can also be employed as an eye-wash to treat ophthalmic infections, while in Malayan alternative medicine, it has been used as a galactagogue. [4]

The leaves of the starfruit can be made into either a poultice or a decoction and employed as a febrifuge. A decoction of the combined parts of the fruits and leaves may further be used to settle the stomach and alleviate the symptoms of nausea and indigestion. This decoction may also be drunk to help combat the symptoms of a hangover, or to help treat mild coughing. The leaves, when pounded into a pulp and applied externally are believed to help alleviate headaches, nasal congestion, and relieve the symptoms of fever. [5] More potent decoctions of the leaves have been used as a remedy for angina pectoris and a wide range of inflammatory bowel problems, although its efficiency as an alternative medicine for the former is still relatively unreliable.

The small flowers of the starfruit may be collected and decocted in its dry or fresh form and employed as a vermifuge. When drunk in moderate doses, it is said to expel worms from the digestive track, and act as a general tonic and detoxifier. Milder decoctions of the flowers have been employed in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a remedy for mild cutaneous infections such as warts, boils, hives, and allergies. [6]

The seeds of the starfruit may be extracted and pounded into a fine powder. Mixed with water it can be employed as a remedy for asthma and infant colic in minute doses, while larger doses can act as a narcotic and as a remedy for jaundice. At one time, the starfruit pulp has also been used by native Filipinos as a primitive type of metal polish to help beautify bronze and brass articles, as its acidic nature helps to remove tarnish or rust and to help protect the metal from further oxidation. [7]

Starfruit - Esoteric Uses

Some folklore suggests that the starfruit tree is the typical haunt of trickster spirits who enjoy playing with humans, although the usage of the plant for shamanic purposes is unknown.

Names of Starfruit, past and present

Chinese: yang tao
Hindi: kamrakh
Indonesian / Malayalam: belimbing / chaturappuli-vairappuli
Filipino: balimbing / garahan / daligan
Thai: ma fueang
Spanish: carambol / carambola / caramba
Creole: karanbol
English: starfruit / five finger / country gooseberry / carambola (adapted)
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Averrhoa carambola / Averrhoa pentandra








Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt.

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