t2

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Foraging Large Num Nums- Natal Plums, Carissa Macrocarpa- Wild Edible

 photo 100_7260_zpse61039fa.jpgI went to the beach today with my mom and kids. And even though we brought our own food along with us, we were very excited to discover that the num nums were in season and ready to eat.

Yes, there really is a food called num nums. Large num nums in particular. Sounds inappropriate, but its really just this yummy fruit, originating from South Africa, and now cultivated and used as shrubbery in warm climates throughout the world.

Its scientific name is carissa macrocarpa. It's also known as natal plums, even though it's not related whatsoever to plums- its most closely related to the very deadly oleander.

I first found out that this fruit was edible when I was visiting my mother in law's apartment while the gardener was trimming the shrubbery. I noticed the round red fruit and asked him if they were edible or poisonous- he popped one into his mouth, told me it's called carissa, and it's edible and tasty.
I then realized that most of the bushes all the way down her street were actually this plant, and they were covered in this delicious fruit.


So, what do large num nums taste like, how can you use them, and how do you identify them?

First off, I need to say that this plant is somewhat poisonous- the leaves, etc... are poisonous, but the ripe fruit are not. Only pick fruit that are no longer green.
When the fruit are pink, they're sweet and sour, but more sour than sweet, reminiscent of cranberries.
When the fruit are red, they taste like a cross between strawberries and raspberries, with a touch of tartness.
And when the fruit get so ripe that they're dark red/maroon/purplish, they end up tasting even more like overripe raspberries.

 photo 100_7264_zps925e4e3b.jpg

They're yummy enough that my kids and I couldn't stop gobbling them up today.

Here's how to identify them:

They are either a low lying shrub or hedges.

 photo 100_7259_zps9612bd89.jpg

Num num plants have shiny dark green leaves, each round and about the size of a quarter, growing in tight clusters along the stems. The leaves curve and seem to be growing overlapping each other.

 photo 100_7256_zpse2e796f0.jpg

There are large 5 petaled white star shaped flowers, which aren't usually on the plant the same time as the fruit. There are also double thorns- a distinctive feature.

 photo 100_7257_zps36b8a551.jpg

The fruit are usually ripe in the warmer months, and are around the size of a golf ball, but sometimes smaller or bigger. They're mostly rounded but sometimes with a bit of a pointy end, and ranging from pink to maroon.
When you pick the fruit, it exudes a milky, latex sap. I assume therefore that someone with a latex allergy should avoid eating num nums.
They contain brown oatmeal shaped/sized seeds- some say they're poisonous and you should remove them first, others say its fine to eat them as well. Your judgment call.

 photo 100_7263_zps3181915e.jpg

Nutritionally, num nums aren't bad at all- they're really high in vitamin C, contain iron, potassium, and copper and even contains some protein.

Eat them raw as I do, or cook them up into jams, sauces, pies, fruit soup, etc... They're yummy- even my picky eater niece loves them.
Be careful, though, because they do spoil quickly.

Have you ever seen num num plants growing anywhere? Ever heard of them before? Does this look like something you'd be interested in tasting/picking?

19 comments:

  1. i think i saw these somewhere i just can't remember when and where !

    ReplyDelete
  2. They grow them all over the place here in L.A. They remind me of rosehips, in that they grow when the flowers drop.

    The flowers are gorgeous, BTW, with a jasmine-like scent.

    I had no idea they were edible. I'm so excited!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yea, they are gorgeous flowers, and yes, edible and yummy!

      Delete
  3. How do you make sure that the plant is not sprayed?
    Thanks a lot, I love your foraging posts with pictures, quite a few wild greens ended up in my salad bowl because of them!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I try to get ones that are more overgrown if possible, showing that they were planted and then neglected. And if they're cultivated shrubbery near people's homes, I'd knock on the door and ask.

      Delete
  4. I have noticed these plants growing by our dumpsters, and admired them for several years - happy to hear that now I can try the fruit! Thanks Penny!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome! Let me know what you think of them!

      Delete
  5. I have to wonder: do you ever worry about toxo when you eat raw foraged greens? There are some tasty plants where I live, but there are also indoor-outdoor cats running rampant, and not everybody picks up after their dog, etc. We turn the blackberries in jam and the elderberries into syrup, and roast the chestnuts before eating them

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jules, if its from a place where you know animals are peeing, etc... its best to avoid. Like not picking exactly along a path, but further back, etc... But store bought fruits and veggies unfortunately aren't either so safe necessarily. In addition to pesticides, etc... animals can and also do urinate on fields of veggies... as do workers sometimes.. There have been many cases of contaminated fruit and veggies sold in the grocery store, etc...

      Delete
  6. Not about num nums, but I've been looking for mallow nearby, and it just occurred to me while I was plant-shopping that hollyhocks are from the same family- are the leaves also edible? If so, I might plant some in my herb garden. I've already found and transplanted some purslane.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hollyhocks are edible. I think I've written a recipe here for stuffed hollyhock leaves.

      Delete
  7. Penny, can you make a book for your readers? With pictures, recipies, relevant frugality articles, and foraging tips.. I live in your region and would love to have all of this info in an easily accessible "cookbook"... I don't have much Internet access and definitely can't print out all of the posts, but would be happy to purchase it in book form...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have two planned books- a cookbook, and a wild edibles book. The wild edibles book is first on my list, and that'll take a while... Unfortunately writing a book takes a LOT of time!

      Delete
  8. Penny, can you make a book for your readers? With pictures, recipies, relevant frugality articles, and foraging tips.. I live in your region and would love to have all of this info in an easily accessible "cookbook"... I don't have much Internet access and definitely can't print out all of the posts, but would be happy to purchase it in book form...

    ReplyDelete
  9. Num num, or vygies (little figs)as they are called in South Africa, yes I recognised them immediately. I lived in South Africa for 8 years and tried to plant as much edible and medicinal plants in my garden as possible. There were lots of them, much more as I had space for. But strangely enough, even if I've grown them, they don't feel familiar to me. Now we're back in cold, rainy Holland and I feel rooted with the plants and flowers here...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Num num, or vygies (little figs)as they are called in South Africa, yes I recognised them immediately. I lived in South Africa for 8 years and tried to plant as much edible and medicinal plants in my garden as possible. There were lots of them, much more as I had space for. But strangely enough, even if I've grown them, they don't feel familiar to me. Now we're back in cold, rainy Holland and I feel rooted with the plants and flowers here...

    ReplyDelete
  11. Yummy but keep in mind the ENTIRE rest of this plant is terribly poisonous, it's a cousin of Oleander. It's also called Dogbane since they can easily die from eating them.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Found as a landscaping plant in a parking lot on Maui, Hawaii!

    ReplyDelete

Share This