Synsepalum dulcificum gets its common name of miracle fruit because it does something that seems miraculous when you experience it. If you can find a miracle fruit, try the miracle for yourself by cutting open a lime or lemon and tasting it. Sour, right? Now, eat the miracle fruit. It is a small fruit with a single, large seed in the center. It tastes sweet but there is not much to it. Now, go back to the lime or lemon. That same sour fruit will now taste very sweet. The effect works for sour and bitter foods and lasts for a half-hour or more, so plan accordingly. The miracle fruit also reduces the metallic taste that is experienced by chemotherapy patients, helping them enjoy eating their food.
Miracle fruit has been used traditionally in its native Africa as a sweetener. Miracle fruits may help diabetics by providing a sugar-free sweetener. Another effect of miracle fruit is that it relieves the sensation of hunger for a while. When I had a plant available and I ate breakfast at 5 a.m., one of those little red fruits was just enough to get me through the mid-morning hunger pangs to noon. At this time, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved this product for use as a food additive. Also, the protein that causes these effects is destroyed by common food preparation processes. However, fresh, freeze-dried and dehydrated fruits may be purchased from on-line suppliers. Studies are reported that showed no harm to lab rats even when they have been fed “massive” amounts of the berries.
The plant itself is an evergreen shrub from West Africa. It is reported to grow to a maximum of eighteen feet tall but that must be with great age. It grows slowly enough to be manageable in a container for many years. It grows best in an acidic soil in part shade. Give it a reasonably well-drained soil and water regularly. A healthy plant can flower several times during the growing season and produce fruits for several months. Pick and eat the fruits when they are bright red. The seeds are easy to germinate. It is reported to tolerate a light frost but it is healthiest when protected from frosts and freezes.
One plant is growing at the Arboretum on the north side of the lake near the tea garden. For Jacksonville gardeners, miracle fruit should be grown in a container so it can be carried indoors for those occasional freezing winter nights.
by Chuck Hubbuch