Muntingia Calabura plant grows abundantly in all parts of the Philippines. It also grows in the Caribbean and Jamaica, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, China, Cuba, Mexico and other places where there is tropical climate. In the Philippines it is called aratelis in Luzon and mansanitas in Visayas and Mindanao. Kerson fruit is also known as Panama berry, Jamaica cherry, Singapore cherry and other names.
Mansanitas tree or muntingia reminds me of my childhood days when neighborhood kids used to play by climbing into the tree and picking up its tiny fruits which were eaten just for the sake of having fun. Although Kerson fruit tastes sweet, adults completely ignore it, and unlike other fruits it never finds its way on the table as part of a meal.
Muntingia is a small sized tree with small serrated leaves. It is a fast growing tree that fruits in two to three years. The small flower is white, and the fruit that is developed turned to red when ripe. Inside the soft skin is the juicy flesh with plenty of edible, soft tiny seeds all over it. Although the wood is not soft, it is not hard enough for use in furniture. Because of it, the woods are mainly use for fuel.
A fruit bearing tree becomes magnet to birds, bats and insects. In a tree one can see the plants reproductive cycle at work. Bees and butterfly visit the flowers to start the pollination process. By day, birds feast on the ripe berries. And at night it is the turn of the fruit bats to have their fill. Birds and bats scatter the seeds to farther areas that result to growths of new seedlings. Even the element such as rain is also an agent in the tree’s reproduction process. Flood water can wash away fallen berries to distant areas that may cause the propagation of young plants.
Muntingia grows rapidly in any kind of soil. With just little sunlight and water, It can survive in poor soil that has acidic and alkaline conditions. The negative side of it is that muntingia is an invasive tree. If left unchecked, the trees can multiply rapidly in an area in just a short period. Its seedlings can emerge almost anywhere so that at times they become nuisance in one’s yard or garden. Unwanted seedlings have to be uprooted so that it would not compete for space or outgrow preferred plants. Since the tree is small, it can be grown at the house for decorative purpose or as shade against harsh sunlight because of its wide spreading branches and lush leaves.
The fruit contains vitamin b, vitamin c, fiber, water, carbohydrate, protein, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Fruits and leaves are packed with anti-oxidants and have more than 24 flavanoid and phenolic substances that are also found in green tea.
Muntingia has virtually no economic value because in most places its fruits have no consumer demand in the market. However, the fruits and the leaves can be used most specially in herbal medicine. Aside from their anti-oxidants, they also contain substances that have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The fruits can be used to treat gout. Eating 9 to 12 berries for three times a day can ease pain in the affected areas of the body. The leaves are dried and crushed for consumption as tea. They contain nitric oxide which can lower blood pressure and improve blood flow. They can also treat diabetes by reducing blood sugar level in the body. The antioxidant substance of the leaves can prevent a type of inflammation that can cause heart disease. The leaves can also relieve pain by blocking the ability of the pain receptor cells in the body to receive pain stimuli. Researches that are made have shown that the leaves can reduce cancerous tumor growth. However, further researches need to be done to validate such claim. The flowers too have their use. A decoction of them is a remedy for abdominal cramps.