Tropical America was probably the original home of this tree. From there it spread to Philippines, South East Asia, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and to some other areas too. It has so much of medicinal value and adds flavour to local cuisine.
In the small Indian State of Kerala where the little cucumber shaped fruit of this tree is often used in cooking it is known by several names - Ilimbi, Ilumbanpuli, Bilimbi, Chilimbi, Irumban puli, Chemmeen puli, Keerichakka. In my area it is called ‘chemmipuli’ possibly because it goes well in curried shrimps.
The botanical name of this tree is Averrhoa Bilimbi Linn. In English it is called bilimbi or cucumber tree. It grows to a height of 5m to 12m.
Some of the photographs of the tree I took at Kerala are given below.
You will note that the fruits grow on the trunk and branches that are old. The Vitamin C rich fruits are used mainly for curries and flavouring. Bilimbi chutney with coconut is excellent. Different types of pickles are made with this fruit. One of them is made after sun drying the fruit. The larger fruits are cut into small pieces for pickling. Even the pickles can be used for flavouring.
Till recently bilimbi did not have much commercial potential. But of late pickles and other products made from it are being exported to Western countries. Now even jams, squashes, toffees etc are also produced from this fruit. For some recipes see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/gulf-goans/message/3629
It is claimed that bilimbi has extensive medicinal properties which are used in different countries. The leaves are considered good for handling diabetes and cholesterol. A paste made from them is used in treating itches, mumps, rheumatism, and pimples. Direct consumption of the leaves, or concoctions made from them are said to be effective for managing syphilis and inflammation of the rectum.
Coughs and cold are treated with an infusion of the flowers. The fruit is an astringent and is good for removing stains on clothes. It stimulates gastric digestion and sharpens appetite. A syrup made from the fruit juice is taken as a tonic. It also brings down body heat and temperature and is considered effective against scurvy. The fruit can be used in treating piles, beriberi and liver/bile problems.
Ayurveda acknowledges that bilimbi is effective in anaemia, anorexia, vata, pitta, scurvy, haemorrhoids, internal haemorrhage, hypercholestremia, hepato-splenomegali, fever, poison, gingivitis, vomiting, ringworm and indigestion.
I now think of the bilimbi with respect. It is such a pity that some like me are ignorant of the importance of the flora around us.