Cyprus Mail

Plant well known to the ancients put to many uses in Hellenic world

Name: Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo)

Otherwise known as: Manzanita

Habitat: An evergreen tree member of the Ericaceae family growing to about 8m in deep, loamy soil in southern Europe. It has a thin, red bark, shiny, dark, serated leaves with clusters of honey-scented, creamy, bell-shaped flowers that transform into a scarlet to orange, strawberry-shaped fruit that is toxic to mammals.

What does it do: Everything about this tree is abundant: masses of leaves, flowers and fruits. While not in the forefront of medicinal plants, it was well known to the ancients. The fruit is somewhat bland and supposedly narcotic. The Sicilians make a liqueur from the fruit which is certainly hallucinogenic. Horace and Ovid praised the tree for its beauty and Virgil recommended it for animal fodder.

Gerard and Culpeper, used the leaves to treat diarrheoa, and made infusions from the fruit to combat liver disorders. In Chinese herbal medicine the leaves, bark and fruit are used to treat hypertension (high blood pressure), arteriosclerosis (hardening of arterial walls) and liver ailments.

The tree was very popular in the Hellenic world, in Greece the bark was employed in the tanning industry; the stems were made into fish and lobster traps; the wood was processed into charcoal and used to make looms. The Spanish make a liqueur from the fruit and the Algerians grow it for stock hedges.

The tree is naturalised in Cyprus and is found in rocky areas in the mountainous regions, yet is not very popular in Cypriot gardens, which is surprising because it is very easy to grow, lime tolerant and a great source of shade and evening perfume.

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