Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Strawberry Tree
Arbutus unedo
Ericaceae

Tannin is obtained from the leaves, bark and fruit[46, 61]. The bark contains 45% tannin[46].

Wood – used for turning, Greek flutes etc[89, 148]. It makes a good charcoal[4, 89, 148].

  • Medicinal Use

    The strawberry tree is little used in herbalism, though it does deserve modern investigation[268]. All parts of the plant contain ethyl gallate, a substance that possesses strong antibiotic activity against the Mycobacterium bacteria[268].

    The leaves, bark and root are astringent and diuretic[7, 46, 268]. They are also a renal antiseptic[7] and so are of use in the treatment of affections of the urinary system such as cystitis and urethritis[254]. 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[254]. The leaves are gathered in the summer and dried for later use[7].

    The flowers are weakly diaphoretic[268].

  • Edible Use

    Fruit – raw or cooked. Sweet but insipid[2, 3, 5]. The Latin name ‘unedo’ means ‘I eat one (only)’ and suggests that the fruit is not very palatable[K], though another report says that the fruit is so delicious that a person only needs to eat one[245]. It does have a somewhat gritty skin, but the fruit itself has the texture of a lush tropical fruit and has a delicate pleasant flavour. For those people with sensitive taste buds, this is a fruit that can be enjoyed when eaten in moderate quantities[K]. The fruit contains about 20% sugars and can be used to make delicious and nourishing jams and preserves[7]. It is ripe in November/December and is about 15mm in diameter. When fully ripe it falls from the tree and so it is advisable to grow the plant in short grass in order to cushion the fall of the fruit[K].

  • Cautionary Notes

    None known

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best surface sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Stored seed should be soaked for 5 – 6 days in warm water and then surface sown in a shady position in a greenhouse[78]. Do not allow the compost to become dry. 6 weeks cold stratification helps[134]. The seed usually germinates well in 2 – 3 months at 20¡c[134]. Seedlings are prone to damp off[184], they are best transplanted to individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and should be kept well ventilated. Grow them on in a greenhouse for their first winter and then plant out in late spring after the last expected frosts[K]. Basal cuttings in late winter[200]. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season’s growth, November/December in a frame. Poor percentage[78]. Layering of young wood – can take 2 years[1, 200].
Requires a nutrient-rich well-drained moisture-retentive soil in sun or semi-shade and shelter from cold drying winds, especially when young[11, 200]. Grows well in heavy clay soils and in dry soils. Most species in this genus require a lime-free soil but this species is fairly lime tolerant[11, 200]. Succeeds in fairly exposed maritime positions[166, 200]. A tree in a very exposed position at Rosewarne in N. Cornwall was looking rather tattered in April 1987 but it was 4.5 metres tall and carrying a very good crop of immature fruit[K]. Tolerates industrial pollution[200]. Plants have withstood temperatures down to -16¡c without injury at Kew[11]. They grow very well in S.W. England, fruiting well in Cornwall[49, 59]. Plants resent root disturbance and are best placed in their final positions whilst young[11, 134]. Give them some protection in their first winter. The strawberry tree flowers in November and December, the fruit takes 12 months to ripen and so the tree carries both mature fruit and flowers at the same time and is incredibly beautiful at this time[K]. The flowers have a soft honey scent[245]. There are a number of named varieties[183] developed for their ornamental value. ‘Elfin King’, ‘Croomei’ and ‘Rubra’ are all small forms that fruit well when small[182]. The variety ‘Rubra’ was 1.2 metres tall at Kew in late 1990 and was laden down with fruits and flowers[K]. ‘Elfin King’ only reaches a height of 1 metre, comes into bearing when young and fruits well[183]. It is ideal for container culture[183]. ‘Croomei’ is said to be a more reliable fruiting form[49].
S. Europe and S.W. Ireland.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.