Lilly Pilly/Riberry

Riberries
Riberries on the bush. Photo by Alybaba

The fruit of the lilly pilly tree is called riberry, although some call it lilly pilly. There are about 60 lilly pillies in Australia, most in the genus syzygium, and most have edible fruit. Some fruit is overly astringent or bland. The one we will concentrate on is Syzygium luehmannii, small-leaved or clove lilly pilly, but I’ll also recommend S. paniculatum, magenta lilly pilly.

Description – Clove Lilly Pilly

The fruit of S. luehmannii (riberry, or clove lilly pilly) is small – up to 13 mm long, pear-shaped and dull red with one pip. The tree, with its tear-shaped leaves, can grow up to 30 metres in the wild, but in cultivation and as an ornamental street tree it is kept to between 5–10 m. It fruits from December to February.

S. luehmannii trees are generally found in the wild in northern New South Wales and are native to rainforests from Kempsey, NSW, to Cooktown in north-east Queensland. The species also has the potential to be grown in many other areas.

Description – Magenta Lilly Pilly

The magenta lilly pilly (S. paniculatum) is a small- to mediumsized rainforest tree that grows to 8 m. It produces white flower-clusters at the end of each branch between November and February. The deep magenta fruits, which may be spherical or egg-shaped, mature in May and are larger and sweeter than those of S. luehmannii, but without as much clove accent.

The magenta lilly pilly is found only in NSW, in a narrow, linear coastal strip from Upper Lansdowne, south-west of Port Macquarie, to Conjola National Park on the mid south coast. While the fruit from this tree is large and sweet, it is an intermittent fruiter.

Foraging

The riberry is the only item of native produce you are likely to find growing on street trees and, if you live in Sydney, keep your eyes open for them.

Nutrition

It is estimated that 100 g of riberries contain 50 percent of the recommended daily intake of folate. They’re high in antioxidants and magnesium and have useful levels of calcium, vitamin E and manganese. They are available to purchase fresh or dried.

Juicy
Juicy hand-picked riberries ready for eating. Photo by John Fung

Growing

Riberries can be grown from seed, but germination is not reliable. To be more successful, try placing the berries in a container of water and letting them ferment in the sun for a few weeks – it will be easier to remove the flesh from the berry. Riberry can also be grown from cuttings taken from new shoots growing in spring.

Plant seedlings in a frost-free, moist, well-draining soil during spring and water well for the first few months. In optimal conditions, riberry can be fast-growing and grow well enough to risk becoming invasive in the garden. Winter is the time to prune your riberry into shape and they can also be grown in pots.

Eating

The fruit is refreshingly tart, with a spicy sweet flavour, musky notes and a hint of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg often present. The fruit makes beautiful jams, relishes and sorbets and works in salads and desserts. It can be made into sauces to accompany poultry, pork, lamb and game meat, especially duck. It can even be used as you would a juniper berry (there is a riberry gin available).

When you are cooking with an astringent fruit like riberry, native foods chef and author, Vic Cherikoff, cautions to avoid pairing it with astringent fruits like cherry and apple; rather, to combine riberry with lemon and lime.

Riberry Salsa

Makes one jar. Serve this riberry salsa with any type of fish, beef, kangaroo or wallaby.

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup riberries, halved or quartered if large
  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • extra virgin olive oil or macadamia oil
  • half a bunch of native Australian or Vietnamese mint

Method

Place the riberries in a bowl. Chop Roma tomatoes into small chunks, discarding the pulp. Add to the riberries. Add onion. Drizzle over the extra virgin olive oil or macadamia oil, gently toss with the mint. It’s ready to serve. Store in sterilised glass jars in the fridge.

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