The strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, is an ornamental tree or shrub that produces edible fruit and is also a medicinal. It likes well-drained soil, full sun, and is hardy in USDA hardiness zones 7-10. It is native to western Europe and grows up to 30’ tall.
The leaves are obovate, 4” long, dark green and are evergreen in zone 7 and higher. I have mine planted in zone 6 and it dies back to the ground each year and then grows from the ground up. Needless to say, mine has not fruited.
The strawberry tree flowers in the winter with little white candelabra shaped flowers. The plant is self-fertile, so you only need to plant one.
The strawberry tree fruit is a candy apple red drupe ¾ inch in diameter fruit. Seeds are in the flesh, rather than on the outside. The fruit takes almost a year to ripen and you usually have last year’s fruit still on the tree while it is flowering in the current year. The fruit usually ripens in the fall and falls from the tree when fully ripened.
The Latin name ‘unedo’ means ‘I eat one (only)’ implying that the taste is not that great. I have seen some folks say it taste like figs and others say they taste like plums or hawthorns. I have not had the pleasure of eating one yet.
The Strawberry Tree can be propagated by hardwood cuttings, seeds, and layering. The hardwood cuttings usually have a low percentage of success. The seeds should be surface sown in the winter or given six weeks of cold stratification.
Because the fruit takes a year to ripen and is still ripening while the blooms for the next year are starting, there is no really good time to prune the strawberry tree.
The fruit of the strawberry tree can be used to make syrup, glaze, jams, jellies, added to pies and converted into wine and spirits. It is also used to make ice creams, gelatos, granitas, and sorbets. It can also be eaten right out of hand.
The strawberry tree is little used in herbalism, though it does deserve modern investigation. All parts of the plant contain ethyl gallate, a substance that possesses strong antibiotic activity against the Mycobacterium bacteria. The leaves, bark and root are astringent and diuretic. They are also a renal antiseptic and so are of use in the treatment of affections of the urinary system such as cystitis and urethritis. Their astringent action makes them of use in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery and, like many other astringent plants, a gargle can be made for treating sore and irritated throats. The leaves are gathered in the summer and dried for later use. The flowers are weakly diaphoretic. *
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Strawberry Tree Jam
Two pounds of strawberry tree fruit
A pound of sugar
Four ounces orange liquor
Slowly boil the fruit with a little water until soft. Press through a mill then reheat with the sugar and liqueur. Simmer until a drop mounds on a chilled dish.
Option: Add some cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla for added flavor.
Photo1: By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE (Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo2: Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons