RIBERRY: A DELICIOUS BUSH FOOD

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Published in Nimbin Good Times February 2006

 David McMinn


Riberry (Syzygium leuhmannii) is a beautiful productive tree, yielding an abundant crop of delicious, small fruits. Of all the native Lilly Pilly species, it has the greatest commercial potential for the development of a local bush food industry. As an ornamental plant, Riberry is a popular native rainforest species, as it grows well in a range of situations - gardens, street trees, parks and rainforest regeneration plots. At least twice a year, Riberry produces flushes of bright pinkish new growth that will last for several weeks. It grows best with plenty of water, fertile well drained soils and full sun or partial shade. Riberry can be easily distinguished from other Lilly Pillies by its small leaves, a feature which gave rise to one of its common names Small-leaved Water Gum. Riberry is native to rainforests from Kempsey in NSW to Cooktown in north eastern Queensland. In the rainforest, the trees will reach 30m, but under cultivation and in full sun they will only reach height of 5m to 10m. In such open sunny areas, the tree will retain its branches to ground level. 

Climatically, Riberry is very adaptable growing well as far south as Melbourne and in all areas that are not too dry or too cold. Mature trees will take moderate frosts, although young trees should be given some protection from extreme cold to do well. It is valued for its dense shade in warm areas and also its hardiness. The trees are moderately fast growing and will tolerate full sun from an early age. Being native to the Northern Rivers, they will never become a weed, unlike many exotic species. It may be propagated either by seed or cuttings. 

A Delicious Harvest

A very good reason to grow Riberry is to harvest its delectable, spicy fruit. Strangely, many people consider this to be more of an inconvenience rather than an asset, with the fruit being left for the birds or to rot on the ground. The small pear shaped fruit ranges in colour from bright pink to magentas and purples. It is rich in various aromatic compounds such as myrcene (nutmeg), pinene (many herbs) and limonene (bay leaves). The fruit's spicy flavour accounts for another of Riberry's common names - Clove Lilly Pilly. It may be harvested in the months December through to March depending on the area. Mature trees can yield prolific quantities of fruit - up to 80kg - more than most people could ever use in one short season. Fortunately, the fruit may be frozen with no special preparation, just place in airtight freezer bags and then put it in the freezer. This way you can extend the Riberry harvest for many months. Before using in the kitchen or freezing, it will be necessary to go over the fruit, discarding any stems or bruised fruit.

Pick the fruit as soon as the fruit ripens on the tree, to get in early before the birds. Only small trees may be efficiently harvested, so it may be worth your while to prune your trees so they do not grow too tall. Apparently, cultivars are now available which have been selected for their fruit bearing  properties. When they will become widey available remains unknown.

In The Kitchen

Because of its rich spicy flavours, Ribery is particularly suited in sauces and chutneys for game meats (eg: kangaroo and venison), as well as for the more traditional poultry, lamb or pork. Evidently it does not compliment beef or fish very well. Riberry is also delicious in salads, vegetable dishes and desserts.

Seedless varieties are best used for cooking, as it is not necessary to remove the seed prior to use. As with most bush foods, the flavour of Riberry is quite strong, Thus, it will be necessary to balance this intense flavour with other ingredients and to use less of the fruit rather than more. I have made a delicious Riberry chutney and it was not even necessary to add any spices, as all the flavour was provided by the fruit alone. I am looking forward to next season's crop to try some jams and sauces. Needless to say I was so impressed by the chutney, that I  purchased several trees to plant in our orchard so I will have my own Riberry supply.

Riberry is an excellent choice as a specimen tree, providing dense shade in summer as well as beautiful foliage and flowers. Then there is the added bonus of yummy fruit. It really does not get much better than that when you are selecting a tree for your garden or orchard.