Sunday, April 23, 2017

Karmai or Iba - The "Acid" Fruit

Karmai or Iba - The "Acid" Fruit  
Cicca  Latin acida (Linn.) Merr. Family • Euphorbiaceae
Dr Abe V Rotor
A bountiful harvest of Karmai (Karamay Ilk), Sn Vicente, Ilocos Sur  

You don't have to climb the tree, just shake a branch - or the small tree -  and pronto, you have a shirt- or skirtful of this  fruit curiously known by its scientific name - Cicca acida, which means in Latin, acidic seed membrane. It got a stone hard core surrounded with thick cartilaginous flesh that is very sour. In botany they call this kind of fruit, drupe. And would you think you can have your fill even with the ripest pick? 

Kids we were in our time, would simply relish the fruit, fresh or pickled. Our folks would join cautioning us not to eat too much especially with empty stomach. But in the process, they compete for the choice sizes leaving the small and immature ones. You see, when you harvest, ripe and young fruits fall at the same time to a waiting inverted umbrella, or a stretched blanket, unless you handpick only the ripe ones - which is tedious. When pickled with sukang Iloko (native Ilocos vinegar) and salt, all sizes, mature and immature, become grossly inviting.  

What do you get from karmai?  It may be poor in food value but it contains appreciable amounts of minerals and vitamins the body may need.  Per 100 g of edible portion examined, 92 percent is water.  It is low in protein (0.155 g), fat (0,52 g), fiber (0.8 g).  It got some calcium (5.4 mg), phosphorus (17.9 mg). iron (3.25 mg), ascorbic acid (4.6 mg), and traces of carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin. 

Other than pickled, karmai is made into sweets, either sweetened and dried, or as jelly or jam sans the seeds. Preparation is not easy though because of the high acid content which is first neutralized with salted water for a day or two, before it is drained and dried, then candied or jellied. 

But have you tasted sinigang with karmai instead of kamias (Averrhoa)  or tamarind (sampalok)?  Try it with the unripe fruits and savor the pleasant sourness and mild acrid taste. Then after meal have a dessert of pickled karmai to remove the aftertaste of fish or meat. And for a change, try the young leaves cooked as green, like malunggay and kangkong.  

Karmai may not be popular in times of plenty, when imported fruits - apples, oranges, grapes - dominate the fruit stand, when in our life of haste we would rather pick from the shelf packed fruit juices, when schools and communities seldom promote the "lesser" fruits native to our country.   

The revival of ethnobotany - the study of plants and man on a historical and evolutionary perspective - has started in schools and research institutions. It can be a significant approach in providing indigenous food, medicine, and curbing environmental degradation, including global warming in a broad sense. Karmai grows best in Ilocos and other regions on uplands and hillsides, favored by a long dry season. It blooms in the peak of summer, and may have more fruits than leaves to our delight in childhood days.    

Remembering the author of Alternative Medicine,responsible in its passing into law, Senator Juan Flavier, I did a little research on the medicinal properties of karmai.  Here is a short list among many potentials which pose a challenge to the scientific mind. These may be folkloric and therefore tested in certain societies.           

- Decoction of leaves is used externally for urticaria, the fruit given at the same time to eat.
- Decoction of the bark used for bronchial catarrh.
- Some believe the roots to be poisonous, but the Malays boil it for steam inhalation in use for coughs.
- In Java, root infusion used for asthma.
- In Borneo, used with pepper
- Poultice of leaves for lumbago and sciatica.
- Root used for psoriasis.
- Used in chronic liver diseases.
- Decoction of leaves is diaphoretic.
- Leaves used for gonorrhea.
- In Burma, fruits are eaten to promote appetite; sap swallowed to induce vomiting and relieve constipation.
- In Indonesia, leaves are used as counter irritant in sciatica and lumbago. 
- In Malaysia, vapors from boiling of roots inhaled for coughs and headache.
- In Bangladesh used for skin diseases - eczema, abscesses, acne, etc.
- In India, fruits are taken as liver tonic. Leaves, with pepper, are poulticed for sciatica, lumbago or rheumatism. Leaves taken as demulcent for gonorrhea.
- In Maharashtra, India, decoction of seeds used twice daily for asthma and bronchitis.
- In Malaya, root infusion, in small doses, taken for asthma. The root is used for foot psoriasis.
 NOTE: For more details about the medicinal uses of karmai, medical advice is recommended.   

Next time you see a karmai tree, take time to study and appreciate it.  It is not really a handsome tree. In the first place it is small and may not provide a good shade. But truly karmai deserves a place in the orchard and in the wildlife.   

Reference and acknowledgement: Internet, Living with Nature AVR

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