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Morton, J. 1987. Bilimbi. p. 128–129 In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.

Bilimbi
Averrhoa bilimbi

 Description
 Origin and Distribution
 Varieties
 Climate
 Soil
 Propagation
 Season, Harvesting and Keeping Quality
 Pests and Diseases
 Food Uses
 Other Uses

The bilimbi, Averrhoa bilimbi, L., (Oxalidaceae), is closely allied to the carambola but quite
different in appearance, manner of fruiting, flavor and uses. The only strictly English names are
"cucumber tree" and "tree sorrel", bestowed by the British in colonial times. "Bilimbi" is the
common name in India and has become widely used. In Malaya, it is called belimbing asam,
belimbing buloh, b'ling, or billing-billing. In Indonesia, it is belimbing besu, balimbing,
blimbing, or blimbing wuluh; in Thailand, it is taling pling, or kaling pring.

In Haiti, it is called blimblin; in Jamaica, bimbling plum; in Cuba, it is grosella china; in El


Salvador and Nicaragua, mimbro; in Costa Rica, mimbro or tiriguro; in Venezuela, vinagrillo; in
Surinam and Guyana, birambi; in Argentina, pepino de Indias. To the French it is carambolier
bilimbi, or cornichon des Indes. Filipinos generally call it kamias but there are about a dozen
other native names.
Description

The tree is attractive, long-lived, reaches 16 to


33 ft (5-10 m) in height; has a short trunk soon
dividing into a number of upright branches. The
leaves, very similar to those of the Otaheite
gooseberry and mainly clustered at the branch
tips, are alternate, imparipirmate; 12 to 24 in
(30-60 cm) long, with 11 to 37 alternate or
subopposite leaflets, ovate or oblong, with
rounded base and pointed tip; downy; medium-
green on the upper surface, pale on the
underside; 3/4 to 4 in (2-10 cm) long, 1/2 to 1
1/8 in (1.2-1.25 cm) wide.

Small, fragrant, 5-petalled flowers, yellowish-


green or purplish marked with dark-purple, are
borne in small, hairy panicles emerging directly Plate XVII: BILIMBI, Averrhoa bilimbi
from the trunk and oldest, thickest branches and
some twigs, as do the clusters of curious fruits. The bilimbi is ellipsoid, obovoid or nearly
cylindrical, faintly 5-sided, 1 1/2 to 4 in (4-10 cm) long; capped by a thin, star-shaped calyx at
the stem-end and tipped with 5 hair-like floral remnants at the apex. The fruit is crisp when
unripe, turns from bright-green to yellowish-green, ivory or nearly white when ripe and falls to
the ground. The outer skin is glossy, very thin, soft and tender, and the flesh green, jelly-like,
juicy and extremely acid. There may be a few (perhaps 6 or 7) flattened, disc-like seeds about
1/4 in (6 mm) wide, smooth and brown.

Origin and Distribution

Perhaps a native of the Moluccas, the bilimbi is cultivated throughout Indonesia; is cultivated
and semi-wild everywhere in the Philippines; is much grown in Ceylon and Burma. It is very
common in Thailand, Malaya and Singapore; frequent in gardens across the plains of India, and
has run wild in all the warmest areas of that country. It is much planted in Zanzibar. Introduced
into Queensland about 1896, it was readily adopted and commercially distributed to growers.

In 1793, the bilimbi was carried from the island of Timor to Jamaica and, after some years, was
planted in Cuba and Puerto Rico, Trinidad, the lowlands of Central America, Venezuela,
Colombia, Ecuador, Surinam, Guyana and Brazil, and even in northern Argentina, and it is very
popular among the Asiatic residents of those countries as it must be in Hawaii. Still it is grown
only as an occasional curiosity in southern Florida.

Varieties

Bilimbis are all much the same wherever they are grown, but P.J. Wester reported that a form
with sweet fruits had been discovered in the Philippines.
Climate

The bilimbi is a tropical species, more sensitive to cold than the carambola, especially when very
young. In Florida, it needs protection from cold and wind. Ideally, rainfall should be rather
evenly distributed throughout most of the year but there should be a 2- to 3-month dry season.
The bilimbi is not found in the wettest zones of Malaya. The tree makes slow growth in shady or
semi-shady situations. It should be in full sun.

Soil

While the bilimbi does best in rich, moist, but well-drained soil, it grows and fruits quite well on
sand or limestone.

Propagation

Most efforts at grafting and budding have not been rewarding, though Wester had success in
shield-budding, utilizing non-petioled, ripe, brown budwood cut 1 1/2 to 2 in (3.8-5 cm) long.
Air-layering has been practiced in Indonesia for many years. However, the tree is more widely
grown from seed.

Bilimbi trees are vigorous and receive no special horticultural attention. It has been suggested
that they would respond well to whatever cultural treatment gives good results with the
carambola.

Season, Harvesting and Keeping Quality

In India as in Florida, the tree begins to flower about February and then blooms and fruits more
or less continuously until December. The fruits are picked by hand, singly or in clusters. They
need gentle handling because of the thin skin. They cannot be kept on hand for more than a few
days.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases have been reported specifically for the bilimbi.

Food Uses

The bilimbi is generally regarded as too acid for eating raw, but in Costa Rica, the green,
uncooked fruits are prepared as a relish which is served with rice and beans. Sometimes it is an
accompaniment for fish and meat. Ripe fruits are frequently added to curries in the Far East.
They yield 44.2% juice having a pH of 4.47, and the juice is popular for making cooling
beverages on the order of lemonade.

Mainly, the bilimbi is used in place of mango to make chutney, and it is much preserved. To
reduce acidity, it may be first pricked and soaked in water overnight, or soaked in salted water
for a shorter time; then it is boiled with much sugar to make a jam or an acid jelly. The latter, in
Malaya, is added to stewed fruits that are oversweet. Half-ripe fruits are salted, set out in the sun,
and pickled in brine and can be thus kept for 3 months. A quicker pickle is made by putting the
fruits and salt into boiling water. This product can be kept only 4 to 5 days.

The flowers are sometimes preserved with sugar.

Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*

Moisture 94.2-94.7 g
Protein 0.61 g
Fiber 0.6g
Ash 0.31-0.40 g
Calcium 3.4 mg
Phosphorus 11.1 mg
Iron 1.01 mg
Carotene 0.035 mg
Thiamine 0.010 mg
Riboflavin 0.026 mg
Niacin 0.302 mg
Ascorbic Acid 15.5 mg

*According to analyses of fruits studied in Nicaragua and the Philippines.

Other Uses

Fruit: Very acid bilimbis are employed to clean the blade of a kris (dagger), and they serve as
mordants in the preparation of an orange dye for silk fabrics. Bilimbi juice, because of its oxalic
acid content, is useful for bleaching stains from the hands and rust from white cloth, and also
tarnish from brass.

Wood: The wood is white, soft but tough, even-grained, and weighs 35 lbs/cu ft. It is seldom
available for carpentry.

Medicinal Uses: In the Philippines, the leaves are applied as a paste or poulticed on itches,
swellings of mumps and rheumatism, and on skin eruptions. Elsewhere, they are applied on bites
of poisonous creatures. Malayans take the leaves fresh or fermented as a treatment for venereal
disease. A leaf infusion is a remedy for coughs and is taken after childbirth as a tonic. A leaf
decoction is taken to relieve rectal inflammation. A flower infusion is said to be effective against
coughs and thrush.

In Java, the fruits combined with pepper are eaten to cause sweating when people are feeling
"under the weather". A paste of pickled bilimbis is smeared all over the body to hasten recovery
after a fever. The fruit conserve is administered as a treatment for coughs, beri-beri and
biliousness. A sirup prepared from the fruit is taken as a cure for fever and inflammation and to
stop rectal bleeding and alleviate internal hemorrhoids.