The tree is erect, reaching 40 to 50 ft (12-15 m) in height, with a short, stout trunk to 3 ft (0.9 m) in diameter. The deciduous, alternate, aromatic leaves are lanceolate to ovate-lanceolate, 2 3/8 to 7 in (6-18 cm) long, dark-green and glossy above, pale beneath; thin, finely toothed. New leaves are often rosy. Flowers, borne in slender, pendent racemes with 1 or more leaves at the base, are about 3/4 in (2 cm) wide with white petals and a conspicuous tuft of yellow stamens. The aromatic fruit is round, 3/8 to 3/4 in (1-2 cm) wide, with red or nearly black, rarely white or yellowish, smooth, thin, tender skin and pale-green, juicy pulp of sweet or acid, agreeable, but slightly astringent flavor. There is a single stone with a bitter kernel.
Origin and Distribution
The capulin is native and common throughout the Valley of Mexico from Sonora to Chiapas and Veracruz, and possibly also indigenous to western Guatemala. It has been cultivated since early times in these areas and other parts of Central America and in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and is extensively and abundantly naturalized. The fruit is an important food, not only of the Indians, but of all the inhabitants, and it was at times a mainstay of the invading Spaniards. Great quantities appear in the native markets, especially of El Salvador, Guatemala and Ecuador. In Guatemala, seedlings of the capulin are utilized as rootstock on which commercial cultivars of the northern cherry are grafted. The capulin is little-known in eastern South America and elsewhere in the world. It was introduced into the cool medium elevations of the Philippines in 1924.
The tree requires a subtropical to subtemperate climate. It grows naturally at elevations between 4,000 and 11,000 ft (1,200-3,400 m).
In Mexico, the tree blooms from January to March and the fruits ripen in July and August. In Guatemala, flowers appear from January to May and fruits from May to September. The fruiting season in El Salvador extends from December through April.
The ripe fruits are eaten raw or stewed; also are preserved whole or made into jam. In Mexico they are used as filling for special tamales. With skin and seeds removed, they are mixed with milk and served with vanilla and cinnamon as dessert. Sometimes the fruits are fermented to make an alcoholic beverage.
|Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*|
|Ascorbic Acid||22.2 32.8 mg|
Seeds: The seeds contain 30-38% of a yellow, semidrying oil suitable for use in soap and paints.
Flowers: The flowers are much visited by honeybees.
Wood: The sapwood is yellow with touches of red. The heartwood is reddish-brown, fine-grained, very hard, strong, durable. It is used for furniture, interior paneling, cabinets, turnery and general carpentry. Old roots are valued for carving tobacco pipes, figurines, et cetera.
Medicinal Uses: A sirup made of the fruits is taken to alleviate respiratory troubles. The leaf decoction is given as a febrifuge and to halt diarrhea and dysentery; also applied in poultices to relieve inflammation. A leaf infusion is prescribed in Yucatan as a sedative in colic and neuralgia and as an antispasmodic. The pounded bark is employed in an eyewash.
The leaves contain essential oil, fat, resin, tannin, amygdalin, glucose, a brown pigment and mineral salts. The bark contains starch, brown pigment, amygdalin, gallic acid, fat, calcium, potassium and iron. All of these parts must be utilized cautiously because the bark, leaves or seeds in contact with water can release HCN.