Grewia occidentalis is commonly known as kruisbessie or cross-berry tree. It is a fast growing small tree or large shrub, hardy, has fibrous roots and grows in a variety of soil conditions. It can be planted in full sun or shade, and makes a great wind break. Once mature, it likes to be pruned. They can grow up to 5 meters, wind dependent.
It has very strong wood that does not splinter and was used traditionally by the bushmen to make bows and by the Xhosa and Zulu to make bows and handles for axes and assegaai’s. It also has a host of magical and medicinal properties including using the bark as a shampoo to combat grey hair and making a tea out of the leaves and twigs to ease childbirth or for impotency and bareness.
It attracts butterflies, is loved by birds for its tasty berries and carpenter bees often find a home in its wood and relish the pollen from pretty ten petaled mauve star-shaped flowers. Livestock enjoy the bark and leaves.
It forms a four lobed fruit, green at first and then ripening to a golden reddish brown waxy fruit. These fruits are sweet and chewy with a tough skin and a big pip. They were used by bushmen as snacks particularly for long journeys as they kept well as dried fruit. Other culinary uses include flavouring porridge, the fruit crushed for juice and either taken fresh or fermented for beer, boiled with milk or used in a goats milk yoghurt.
We have a big Grewia tree outside our house, filled with life – at the moment the berries are just beginning to ripen, and the garden is filled with the sounds of the birds and bees, butterflies and insects busy in the branches, flitting from flower to flower. I too, was in the tree. Dangling precariously from the treehouse planks, tiptoeing on the little branches, looking for some ripe fruit for my recipe. Crazed by the idea in my head, I even forgot about my fear of heights. Not dangerous at all. Especially when we spotted a massive snake in the tree a few hours later.
Hot crossberry drink.
1 handful of ripe Grewia o. berries
1 cup of milk ( I used goats milk)
A few half opened Grewia o. flowers.
Put the berries and milk into a saucepan and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 mins. Pour through a strainer and sieve, squashing all the flavoured milk through with the back of a spoon. Pour into a cup, serve warm. Pop a few semi opened flowers on top of the drink and watch as they open up completely with the heat of the drink. Smile as everyone claps.
This drink is deliciously malty and sweet with a hint of fruit, creamy in texture and a dreamy caramel colour.
Cheers to Indigenous food revival.
Indigenous Healing Plants – Margaret Roberts
Food from the Veld – F.W.Fox and M. E. Norwood Young
Tom Gray from Good Hope Gardens Landscaping