Acerola

Synonyms: Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry
Scientific Name: Malpighia punicifolia L.
Family: Malpighiaceae (Barbados cherry family)

Habitat

The Yucatan peninsula in Mexico

Constituents

Fruit: Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Provitamin A, Calcium, Magnesium, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin.

Description

Although its fruits are described as cherries, acerola is not related to what we think of as a cherry, which is a member of the rose family. The red, very sour acerola fruits are one to three centimeters in diameter and at first sight do indeed resemble extremely red cherries. However, this cherry has paler tints running through it and the star-shaped, dried remains of the flower can be seen at the base of the fruit. In this, it resembles the apple. Inside the fruit are numerous stone-like seeds. The evergreen acerola plant belongs to the Barbados cherry family. It is native to the tropics and grows either as a bushy shrub, close to the ground and prostrate, or in the form of a small tree which can reach a height of one to three meters. Young branches bear split hairs and green bark. On older branches the bark is smooth and may be covered in cork pores. The leathery leaves are of an elongated oval shape. From June to July, the acerola tree bears somewhat exotic-looking flowers which can be up to two centimeters in diameter. Five pink petals radiate like the sails of a windmill from the middle of the flower, at the center of which the pollen-yellow stamens stand tall and upright. The flowers do not produce nectar. Instead, the petals bear oil glands called elaiophores, whose oily secretions attract pollinating bees.

Uses

Acerola cherries are extremely rich in vitamin C; indeed, their vitamin C content is many times higher than that of citrus fruits. The ripe flesh of the fruit is so soft and its skin so thin that acerola cherries are exported by growers almost exclusively in processed form. Acerola are used in the food industry as a vitamin C-rich ingredient for juices and supplement powders, as well for boiled sweets. People who are allergic to citrus fruits often use acerola as a substitute.

Interesting Facts

The Swedish taxonomist Carl von Linné (1707-1778) created the scientific name Malpighia in honor of Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694). This Italian physician, anatomist and physiologist was a professor of medicine in Bologna and the personal physician to Pope Innocent XII (1615-1700). He became famous for his microscopic investigations into the anatomy and physiology of plants. The specific epithet punicifolia comes from the Latin puniceus, meaning red-purple, and folius, meaning leaved.

The flowers of the acerola tree bear oil glands. The interaction between the flowers and the pollinating bees is remarkable. These bees usually belong to the genera Centris and Epicharis, and are solitary by nature (i.e. do not form colonies), and only visit oil-producing flowers. They are likely attracted to the acerola flower due to this special feature. The acerola flower's five petals appear perfectly symmetrical at first sight, but on closer inspection, one of the petals protrudes slightly upward, feels somewhat firmer and is the first to lose its color on wilting. The bee lands on this petal and uses it as a platform to look for the oil glands with its front legs. In doing so, it pollinates the flower with pollen that has adhered to its underbelly from the flower it has most recently visited. The acerola's oil glands secrete a fatty oil, consisting of mono and diglycerides plus a few free

fatty acids that collect as a thin-skinned bubble on the surface of the gland. The bee scrapes off the oil with special combs located on its front legs, then stores the oil along with pollen for transportation in flat, blunt bristles on its back legs which he takes to the nest to feed its larvae.

The Plant at Dr. Hauschka Skin Care

The acerola used in Dr. Hauschka Skin Care products comes from organically certified crops grown in Brazil. Extracts of acerola have antioxidant and skin-protecting and fortifying properties which enhance the formulas of Cleansing Cream, Regenerating Eye Cream, Regenerating Neck and Décolleté Cream, Regenerating Day Cream and Regenerating Body Cream.

♦♦♦♦