Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
The açaí berry, fruit of the açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea syn. E. badiocarpa, E. edulis) hit the news a few years back and has been popular ever since as a superfood. Other common names for the açaí palm include assai palm, cabbage palm, jussara and pina palm.
The açaí palm is an attractive, tall, slender palm with 4-8 stems, reaching a height of 15-25m (50-90′). As it is a native of the Amazon, it is not suitable for most other areas (unless you live in a rainforest), but may survive in a pot if you give it the conditions it likes. Producing fruit in these circumstances is extremely unlikely, so you should regard it as a novelty, rather than a source of food.
The açaí is adapted to survive flooding several times a year, and in order to germinate the seeds, the soil must be kept wet and at a temperature of at least 70ºF (21ºC) day and night. To ensure the soil doesn’t dry out while the seed is germinating, put the whole pot inside a sealed plastic bag, only removing it when the seedling appears. Alternatively, you could use capillary matting and a reservoir. Keep it in an area out of direct sunlight (filtered light is what it is used to in its native habitat), watering regularly to keep the soil moist. Pot on as required, but be prepared to dispose of it if it starts touching the ceiling.If you live in an area where temperatures don’t often fall below 45ºF (7ºC), you can transplant the tree when it’s growing strongly, choosing a location with enough space for it to reach its full height. It needs a pH of 6-6.5 and plenty of organic matter. It will also need daily watering – an automated solution would be ideal provided it can deliver sufficient water for the tree’s needs. Provide protection (fleece, etc) if the weather forecast predicts temperatures below 45ºF (7ºC).
My advice to anyone growing crops of any type is to grow them organically, so that you don’t end up eating chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.
The fruit grows in huge bunches of up to 1,000 fruits that look a lot like bunches of black grapes, though the fruit is smaller – about the size of a blueberry. There is also a green or white variety, but in tests these were found to contain little or no antioxidants, so if you’re growing for fruit, go for the purple ones. As both male and female flowers are produced on the same plant, you can probably get away with a single specimen, as just one bunch can weigh up to 120 pounds! Someone, somewhere is making a fortune out of these things, and I kinda doubt it’s the local population.
Unless you are in the right area, you will probably need to buy your açaí berries. These are in season from July to March, and the fresher they are, the better, as the nutritional value deteriorates fairly quickly. (Alternatively, freeze dried berries probably retain more nutrition than fresh berries which have been transported over long distances.) Another product of the açaí palm is “heart of palm” (actually immature leaf shoots), a popular ingredient in salads.
There are many false claims made about açaí, which range from reversing diabetes and other chronic disorders, to increasing penis size, virility and attractiveness to women, to promoting weight loss and suchlike. No scientific studies have been made to support any of these claims and it is extremely doubtful that they have any validity at all.
Having said that, there may be some minor benefit for the overweight in consuming small quantities of açaí berries, according to an uncontrolled pilot study by Jay K Udani, Betsy B Singh and Vijay J Singh of Medicus Research, Northridge and Marilyn L Barrett of Pharmacognosy Consulting, Mill Valley. An uncontrolled study is one where there is no control group (eg. a group of people who didn’t eat açaí) for comparison. The study found that eating açai fruit pulp (from an Açai Smoothie Pack manufactured by Sambazon) “reduced levels of selected markers of metabolic disease risk in overweight adults”. There’s a big difference between removing “markers” of risk and removing the risk itself, obviously. It would require a much longer controlled study to test for this.
Açaí berries are quite high in calories (according to Wikipedia, 100g of freeze dried açaí fruit contains 533.9 calories, 52.2g carbohydrates, 8.1g protein, and 32.5g total fat), so dieters should definitely keep intake low.
Nutrients found in açaí (per 100g freeze dried açaí) include 260 mg calcium, 4.4 mg iron, and 1002 IU vitamin A.I offer a range of acai products in my online shop.