Bilimbi is a small tropical tree native to Indonesia and Malaysia, reaching up to 15m in height. It is often multitrunked, quickly dividing into ramifications. Bilimbi leaves are alternate, pinnate, measuring approximately 30-60cm in length. Each leaf contains 11-37 leaflets; ovate to oblong, 2-10 cm long and 1-2cm wide and cluster at branch extremities. The leaves are quite similar to those of the Otaheite gooseberry. The tree is cauliflorous with 18–68 flowers in panicles that form on the trunk and other branches. The flowers are heterotristylous, borne in a pendulous panicle inflorescence. There flower is fragrant, corolla of 5 petals 10–30 mm long, yellowish green to reddish purple. The fruit is ellipsoidal, elongated, measuring about 4 - 10 cm and sometimes faintly 5-angled. The skin, smooth to slightly bumpy, thin and waxy turning from light green to yellowish-green when ripe. The flesh is crisp and the juice is sour and extremely acidic and therefore not typically consumed as fresh fruit by itself.
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Numerous pharmacological investigations including in vitro and in vivo (animal) studies have been carried out on the leaves and fruits of A. bilimbi. A wide range of pharmacological activities such as antidiabetic, antihypertensive, antithrombotic, hypolipidemic, hepatoprotective, cytotoxic, antimicrobial, wound healing, anthelminthic, and antioxidant have been reported by different researchers so far.
Bilimbi's Relationship with Humans
The fruit is occasionally eaten raw with salt or sliced thin and added to salads, though most people find it too acid and instead use it in curries, sauces etc. When ripe it is crunchy, juicy, acidic, and contains few, flattened, non-arillate seeds. It is used extensively as a souring agent for many native dishes. It may also be processed into candies or made into chutneys, relishes and pickles. The fruit is a good source of vitamin C.