Aratilis: Muntingia, the Strawberry Tree
Strawberry tree? Yup, and they grow easily--almost anywhere.
As a kid I first encountered the aratilis tree when we first came to where we now live in deep Asia. The area is called Bahay Toro in Project 8. Much of the place was still forested, and most of the trees were bamboos, caimito, santol, guava, and aratilis or Muntingia. Sometimes it grew as a low spreading tree, sometimes as a tall one. The first one I encountered was a tall one.
The aratilis fruit sometimes is pinkish but usually dark red, especially when ripe. It's very sweet, like a mix of ripe strawberry, canned peach, apple, and papaya. Pretty much like the herbal drink Goji. No wonder they call it strawberry tree. it's a berry on a tree. The juice that oozes out of the fruit is syrupy with some soft pulps. When I first tasted it straight from the tree I grabbed for more. The sweetness that stays on your tongue makes you crave for more.
Poor Kid's Fruit
Later I learned that it was a poor kid's fruit, and eating aratilis or Muntingia made you look cheap. So we all tried to stay away from it as much as possible--though alone I secretly looked for more aratilis trees for more of the fruit.
Then I realized that it grew almost everywhere. I was delighted to discover we had one right in our backyard. Soon, when the fruits were ripe (the strawberry tree just kept producing fruits that easily ripened) busy bees appeared sucking the aratilis flower nectars. It shows how sweet it is.
I also found out that cemeteries had lots of strawberry trees growing right beside tombs. Birds and bats would help scatter Muntingia everywhere--especially in cemeteries where these birds find sanctuary--and the aratilis would grow healthily beside tombs and graves where human remains served as fertilizer. Thus, the more it became notorious for being a poor kid's fruit.
But where it's found growing in clean environment, I always eat the ripe fruit. It's best when kept in the fridge to cool and then eaten with milk.
There's not much data on the nutritional value of the aratilis fruit. However, I'm sure it's got lots of Vitamins and minerals. For one, I can imagine it loaded with Vitamins A and C and antioxidants--as any fruit (especially berry) is.
In fact, I'm sure that it's among reasons why some poor children in deep Asia, no matter how exposed they are to germ and bacteria, seldom (or never) get sick. Poor kids in this part of the world are fond of eating aratilis wherever the fruit is available. And wherever there is open soil, there is probably a Muntingia tree thriving there somewhere.
Nutritionists should do a deeper research on the nutritional value of this berry and if found to be powerfully nutritious, governments should encourage its propagation and consumption. By the way, many use strawberry tree as a reforestation specimen because of its rapid proliferation. It also improves soil quality so that other trees planted in its environ can better adapt.
The Aratilis fruit starts as a flower. This flower, brewed as tea, has antiseptic properties. It's good for treating abdominal cramps. The fruit itself can be mixed with some honey or sugar syrup and made into a jam good for dessert.
The tree itself can be good lumber for carpentry and other wood works, or else a source of firewood. The tree bark is sometimes made into ropes.
Toys for Boys
As kids we used to play with the unripe Muntingia fruit. We made wooden guns with rubber slings tied at the end of the "barrel" of the gun. Then there was a clip at the mid section of the gun serving as "cock." The unripe aratilis fruit was clipped into the cock and the rubber sling pulled and attached around the fruit. When the cock is released the rubber sling pulls the fruit and shoots it out at a target with amazing speed and accuracy.