The Cashew is native to Brazil which is still a major grower, though
long overshadowed by India which has itself been eclipsed by Vietnam.
Looking at the photo at the top of the page you can see the true fruit,
shaped like a cashew nut, with a false fruit, the "cashew apple" above
Cashews are never shipped "in the shell" because the "shell" is laced
with blistering levels of the irritant urushiol. Cashews must be shelled
and prepared with great care to prevent toxicity.
While rare, there have been cases of mass rash breakouts from cans of nuts
contaminated with pieces of shell. The photo shows unroasted
and roasted nuts.
Details and Cooking.
The "cashew apple" is edible but used fresh only locally because it is
highly perishable, starting to ferment within 24 hours. It is used mainly
to make jams and fermented and distilled into alcoholic beverages. There
is also an Australian cashew, Semecarpus australiensis with a
similar structure and requiring similar care in handling.
[Laurel Sumac, Malosma laurina]
A large shrub common among the coastal chaparral of Southern and Baja
California. It got the name Laurel Sumac from having leaves similar
in shape to the unrelated California Laurel. It is currently used only as a
decorative but the Chumash Indians once used the fruits to make a kind of
flour and the bark to make a tea used to treat dysentery. Photo
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0.
[A. Mangifera indica | Mangifera sylvatica]
Native to India and Southeast Asia mangos have been cultivated since
prehistory. Over 1000 varieties are recognized and hundreds are cultivated
in India where the fruit is a national obsession. We see just a few varieties
here in California. Mangos ripen from June to November depending on variety
and where they are grown, earlier inland later on the coast.
India is by far the largest grower of mangos followed by Southeast Asia,
but most sold in the U.S. are grown in Mexico. Florida production was
largely wiped out by hurricane Andrew (1992) and has not been restored
due to doubts Florida could be price competitive (and fear of more
hurricanes). Significant production began around 2002 in Southern
California, but production can not yet meet demand (2013), even at a
While all mangoes sold in North America are M. indica, the
Pickling Mango M. sylvatica also figures in India and Southeast
Asia. All the other species are too toxic to be exploited. We now have
a separate page for Mangos, including
Mango Varieties - Details & Photos.
These trees are in no way related to the plants that give us black,
white, green, red or Sichuan peppercorns. They provide instead the
Pink Peppercorns that were so popular
with the fancy chef set some years back. There has been much talk of
pink peppercorns grown in Florida causing throat irritation, but in general
there is almost no irritant in dried berries.
Brazilian Pepper Tree -
[Florida Holly, Christmasberry, Schinus terebinthifolius]
Fruits of this tree are used in the Caribbean for both seasoning and
medicinal purposes. "Pink peppercorns" from trees growing in Florida were
reputed to cause an allergic reaction in some people (throat irritation)
so the chefs get their berries from the Caribbean island of Réunion.
Whether this is a real problem or just a move to protect a cash crop on
Réunion I do not know, but I've had no problem with the ones from
my trees here in California.
This low growing tree is extremely invasive in wet climates and almost
impossible to eradicate, particularly a problem in Hawaii and Florida.
It can be told from the California / Peruvian pepper tree by the rounded
tips of its leaves and it's low, dense, even sprawling growth habit. Note
in the photo new spring growth with the berries on the previous year's
growth. Details and Cooking.
California / Peruvian Pepper Tree
- [Peruvian Mastic tree, Schinus molle]
This tree is very common in Southern California and is easy to tell from
the Brazilian Pepper Tree. It grows as a large tree with drooping branches
bearing very long leaves with many narrow sharply pointed leaflets. The
Inca used the berries to make fermented beverages and flavoring syrups.
The tree is also used as a medicinal, but is toxic to some animals and
possibly small children. I get these leaves and berries from the Bank
of America parking lot down on the corner, but find the berries of my
Brazilian pepper trees to be much sweeter and milder. This tree is
drought resistant and is a serious invasive in South Africa and Australia.
Details and Cooking.
Pistachios used to come from Persia, Afghanistan and
Turkey. Today I see some Turkish in markets serving Mid Eastern
communities but Persia (Iran) is embargoed and Afghanistan seems to have
found opium more profitable.
California has taken up the slack. After testing 13 varieties Kerman
and Lassen were chosen for nut bearing female trees and Peters as a male
pollen producer. Kerman and Lassen produce particularly large crisp nuts.
The first harvest was in 1976 and California is now the second largest
producer in the world at 400 million pounds.
Some say Iranian nuts are better - I can't get any to compare, but
they do grow more varieties (C1). The Turkish I've
found are good but often over-roasted. The photo specimens are all
California. To the right are roasted nuts, in the center roasted kernels,
and to the left are fresh whole fruits and unroasted nuts (probably
not much available in North America outside California).
Other pistachio trees are also useful. Mastic (Pistacia
lentiscus) is the source of Mastic gum, used widely in Greece,
Turkey, the Levant and Egypt as a spice and as a chewing gum.
Terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus), native all around the
Mediterranean, was the original source of turpentine. Resins from these
trees were used to preserve wine more 7000 years ago, a usage still
reflected in Greek retsina wines, though they use pine resin.
- [Toxicodendron sp.]
These highly toxic plants were formerly in Ruhs, the Sumac
genus, but have been separated out. They contain significant amounts of
the strong contact irritant urushiol. We do not recommend attempting to
use any Toxicodendron species for food in any way. This
recommendation is self enforcing.
Poison Ivy | Poison Oak
- [Toxicodendron species]
Low growing plants with leaves in sets of three, but Poison Ivy can
also be a substantial tree climbing vine, easily recognizable by the
dense hairs holding it to the tree trunk. They are common in forested
areas of North America, and contain significant amounts of the strong
contact irritant urushiol. Poison Ivy photo by Esculapio
contributed to the public domain. Photo of Poison Oak by US Federal
Government = public domain.
- [Toxicodendron vemix]
Shrubs and small trees up to 30 feet tall, native to very wet or
swampy soils in eastern North America. Very little is west of the
Mississippi or north of the Canadian border. They contain very
significant amounts of the strong contact irritant urushiol, and are
considered by some botanists to be the most toxic plants native to
North America. Photo of Poison Oak by US
Department of Agriculture = public domain.
[genus Spondias, var species]
These are minor fruits even in their home ranges. In general they
are not cultivated but are picked wild. Listed here are the most
Tahitian Apple - [Golden Apple; Ambarella
(Sri Lanka, Dutch); Qua coc, Coc ot (Viet); Pomme cythere,
June plum, Manzana de oro (Caribbean), Juplon (Costa Rica);
Jobo indio (Venezuela), caja-manga, cajarana (Brazil);
Spondias dulcis alt S. cytherea]
Native to Southeast Asia, this tree has been planted in tropical
regions worldwide. Eaten raw with shrimp sauce, made into juice and
preserves and used as a flavoring in soups and stews, it is most
popular in Indonesia and Malaysia. The flesh is crunchy and slightly
sour. In West Java young leaves are also used as a flavoring.
The photo specimens, from Vietnam, were up to 2.5 inches by 1.95
inches, peeled and pickled "sweet and sour". The firm crisp flesh was
slashed in places to allow penetration of the pickle. They appeared
to have been picked while still green and were slightly sour with
an interesting slightly mango-like flavor. Ingred: Spondias dulcis
fruit, chili, sugar, salt, vinegar, water, potassium sorbate,
FD&C yellow #6.
Hog Plum - [Makok (Thai); Yellow Mombin,
Hog Plum (Caribbean); Spanish Plum, Gully Plum (Jamaica); Ashanti
Plum (Ghana); Golden Apple, Java Plum; Spondias mombin]
This tree is native to Southeast Asia, but now found in the tropics
worldwide. It seldom cultivated but picked wild. The fruit flesh is
eaten fresh or used for juice and jelly. In Thailand young leaves,
which have a slightly sour-bitter taste, are eaten raw with
nam phrik, a chili condiment variously made.
Photo by Marco Schmidt distributed under Creative Commons
Jocote - [Ciruela Roja, Ciruela Huesito
Red Mombin, Purple Mombin, Sineguela, Siriguela; Spondias purpurea]
This small to medium size tree is native to the tropical Americas, and
now cultivated in the tropics worldwide for its fruits. Cultivars are
being selected for fruit quality and yield to improve the crop. The
fruit is like a tiny, round mango, sweet when ripe, very tart when
not yet ripe. Unlike the mango, the skin is often eaten with the
While they are most commonly eaten ripe, either fresh or
simmered in a syrup, they are also eaten not quite ripe with salt
and lime juice. The photo specimens, previously frozen, were about
1.6 inches long and 1.4 inches diameter, the largest weighing about
1 ounce. They were purchased from a large multi-ethnic market in
Los Angeles, 2012 US $2.85 / pound, bagged in the freezer section.
Umbu - [Brazil plum; Imbu (Portuguese);
Native to Bahia state in northeastern Brazil, this is an important
fruit in dry regions because of its high yield and drought resistance.
The spherical fruit, which can range from 1 inch to 2 inches diameter,
may be light green to light yellow when ripe. The flesh is soft,
juicy and sweet, often mixed with other fruits and and used in fruit
juices, jams and sorbets. It has to be harvested by hand because it
is quite delicate.
Photo by Daniele Gidsicki distributed under Creative
Attribution v2.0 Generic.
[genus Rhus, var species]
There are many varieties of Sumac worldwide, some of which may contain
sufficient amounts of the irritant urushiol to be unpleasant, even more
unpleasant than poison ivy. The fruits of some are usable but reliable
local knowledge is recommended. The dangerously toxic species have now
been separated out as a separate genus,
Sumac Spice -
Fruits of this Near Eastern species are used to make a dry
purple-red souring agent used in place of lemon. It is widely used and
sold in the U.S. simply as "Sumac". You can easily find it in markets
serving Near Eastern communities.
The fruits of Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina (photo) are soaked strained
and sweetened to make a beverage similar to pink lemonade. The leaves were
mixed with tobacco and smoked by Native Americans and some still use it
that way. Photo U.S. Federal government - public domain.
Lemonade Berry -
This species grows only in dry costal regions of Southern and Baja
California. The name implies a drink similar to lemonade can be made
from mature berries but I'm not sure what precautions (if any) should be
taken. The seeds can be ground to extract an oil which solidifies at
room temperature and can be used to make candles. This plant really doesn't
look much like a sumac due to its solitary leaves. Photo distributed
Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v2.5.
Relatively minor genera - details to be filled in as they become
Dragon Plum -
[Chi Sau (Viet); Dracontomelon duperreanum, and several
Dracontomelons are very large trees, native to Vietnam, Cambodia,
parts of southern China, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and
the Pacific Islands. While D. duperreanum is the most eaten, I
haven't been able to find any comment on the taste of even that
one. Lots about the cultural importance of the trees, nothing
about the fruit. Well, they aren't available here in North America,
so I guess that's not going to hurt us much. Photo by
Nguyen Thanh Quang distributed under license Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.
Kaffir Plum -
Native to South Africa, this plant has been established in California
as a landscape accent. Small oval bright red fruit are tart and can be
used to make fruit jelly.
Photo by Rotational contributed to the public domain.
[Morula, Maroola, Jelly plum, cider tree;
Native to Southern Africa, West Africa and Madagascar, this plant has
been spread by the Bantu, to whom it has always been an important
food. It ripens to a light yellow, with white flesh that contains
8 times as much vitamin C as an orange. It is tart and juicy, with
a strong distinctive flavor. Each fruit contains a hard, roughly
cylindrical stone, which eventually opens and spills seeds that have
a delicate nutty flavor.
Photo by Rotational contributed to the public domain.
[Chirauli-nut, Chironji, Chiraunji; Buchanania lanzan |
B. lanza is native to India and Malaysia, while
B. latifolia has a wider range, extending into China and Laos.
Seeds of this shrub look much like pine nuts, and have a similar hard
shell. Once broken out of their shells they have about the same size
and consistency as pine nuts, but an almond flavor. They are generally
lightly toasted before use, which is often in sweets. They are also
ground for use as a spice, flavoring and thickener in savory sauces,
curries and kormas. Photo by
distributed under license Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported attribution required.
[Bush butter tree, Native pear; Dacryodes edulis]
This little known fruit tree, native through the wet parts of tropical
Africa, is considered to have great potential for nutrition. It
contains about 63% of oils, including palmitic, oleic, stearic,
linolenic and linoleic fatty acids. It is also high in amino acids,
triglycerides and vitamins. The flesh, which contains about 48% oil
(the rest is in the seeds) may be eaten raw or cooked. Cooked it
has a mouth feel similar to butter. The tree also produces excellent
wood and has medicinal uses. Some of these trees are now being grown
in Malaysia. Photo by uncertain, contributed to
the public domain.