Monday, October 17, 2011

Fubu - or blueberry guava or downy rose myrtle or whatever

We were introduced to the berries at a local farmer's market. "Try some blueberry guava," we were told. Blueberry guava? Of course - it was a small, deep purple-blue berry with the characteristic guava-propeller at one end. Months later, the name immediately resurfaced in my mind when I found them growing wild on our land. We have blueberry guava!

blueberry guava
Then the darnedest thing happened. Google had never heard of blueberry guava. After hours of searching, I was convinced that the bush I had picked berries from did not exist and would just *poof* disappear. I became obsessed to find out what it was, and - too many hours later - found a match. Rhodomyrtus tomentosa is not a guava, but it is a myrtle. It goes by a lot of names: Ceylon hill cherry, Ceylon gooseberry, downy myrtle, downy rose myrtle, hill guava, and other many acrobatic combinations of the aforementioned. According to the Internet, it is not known as "blueberry guava," and I hope here to correct that oversight. On the Big Island of Hawai'i, at least some folks refer to this plant at blueberry guava. Hopefully the next person searching for information when they randomly come across these on their property will not waste many, many hours in a wild gooseberry-chase. (If this is you, you have my permission to spend those hours in a hammock nursing a liliko'i margarita.)

You will notice that many of the common names are inaccurate - it's not a cherry or a gooseberry or a guava. The one that does pass would be downy rose myrtle, which honestly is not something that makes me think of yummy jam and that's what I wanted to do with these berries. So, my sweetie came up with the name "fubu" for fuzzy blueberry, and I quite like it.

The fubu plant comes from southern and southeastern Asia and is an invasive here, although not as common as waiawi strawberry guava. Despite being a pest, the plant has some nice qualities. The flowers are pretty and frequented by carpenter bees. Fruit flies seem to leave the berries alone. The specimens we've seen are more bush than tree, overshadowed by the waiawi.

fubu flowers, buds, and immature berries
Even when you know the right names to call these plants, the internet is not brimming with detailed information on them. I couldn't find nutritional information. Although I did note that some parts of the plant many be medicinal, including the leaves, which have some antibacterial properties.The leaves and stem also contain

Picking the berries is easy, since the plant has no stickers, and bugs don't seem to like them. Still, it took me a month to collect enough berries to make a batch of fubu jam.

fubu jam

First I sliced the berries and discarded the flower end. In this batch of jam are about 20 oz of slices. In the photo bellow, some of the berries are still a bit unripe. I found it was best to wait until they turn a deep purple color and become a little soft. They will ripen in a bowl on the table after you pick them, if they are already reddish.

fubu slices
I covered the slices with water and boiled about 20 minutes. (The smell pleasant, but quite unusual. I don't think I've smelled anything like it before.)

boiling fubu berries in water to extract juice
I then strained the berry water through a mesh strainer. I wanted some fruit fiber, not just the juice, so I forced that through with a spoon. The seeds were too big to fit through the strainer, and the skins were also left behind.

using the spoon, I mashed the boiled fubu through the mesh strainer
I collected this puree-like-substance for the jam. I had a little less than 4 cups. I added the juice of one large lemon and 4 tsp of the calcium solution you make for the Pomona pectin recipes. 

In a separate bowl, I mixed 1.5 cups of organic cane sugar with 2.5 tsp Pomona pectin. After the fubu juice reached a vigorous boil, I added the sugar/pectin and stirred until it reached a heavy boil again. At this point, I tasted the mixture to make sure it was worth putting into jars. (I had never had fubu jam, so I knew there was a chance it would be icky.) It was good! So into jars it went.

This recipe yielded seven 4oz jars. I then steam-canned them for 15 minutes.

fubu jam in the steam canner
The jam is a seductive color but honestly its taste is a little bland. I asked my sweetie to describe its flavor: "Like grape." Like grape but with a guava texture. I spent all that time to make grape jam? I think it is a bit more subtle than grape, though. And I do love the idea of eating invasive species, so I will probably make more. Next time I will probably use less sugar and could use less pectin, too.

That it tastes like grape has me thinking... fubu wine? Wikipedia says they make these into wine in Vietnam. I may have to try. That would take a lot of fubu berries.


  1. Hi! I've been looking for this plant for quite sometime - would it be all right to ask you for some seeds? I've also brought some seed from an eBay seller way back then - but the seeds came in a plain brown envelope and sad to say, it was already dried out and an overnight soak or the paper towel method didn't even help germinate even one seed. I'm willing to send money thru PayPal if necessary? Thank you so much!

  2. I am also interested in getting some seeds if you are interested in sending. I operate an edible landscaping business in Arizona and have been trying to get this plant for some time. I can also send money through paypal.