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Veldkos finds - the Num Num


Blog by Loubie Rusch of Making KOS and Deni Archer, photos by Loubie Rusch (edited by Deni Archer)

Natal Plum, Amatungulu, Num Num

Carissa Macrocarpa, (Apocynaceae)

If, until this minute, you believed that this ruby red fruit - fairly common in gardens and hedges throughout South Africa - was deadly poisonous, you wouldn’t be alone. The Natal Plum, or ‘num num’, has this unfortunate reputation for a reason. It’s a member of the Apocynaceae family, greek for ‘keep away from the dog’, and named for, well, poisoning many dogs. It’s relatives are deadly (like the oleander), and in fact, so is most of the num num bush. EXCEPT for it’s beautiful, sweet, fleshy fruit. Lucky us. To get you more familiar with this foraging / veldkos find, here are some brief facts:

In the garden: ornamental tough waterwise shrub; excellent  garden subject;  glossy green leaves, starry white sweetly scented flowers, red berries; effective thorny security hedge, can be kept clipped low or high; good for topiary; will grow to 3m high; several other varieties available, low growing, smaller fruiting.

As a food: fruit can be eaten fresh or cooked; good for jam, jelly, marmalade or cordial for drinking or use in dressings, sauces or stir-fries; delicious cooked in deserts combined with other fruit like quince or pear where they add beautiful ruby red colour; excellent added to chutney, or baked into brownies or muffins

For your health: It is rich in Vitamin C (much higher than citrus), calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Where to find it: currently not commercially grown for food, available in retail nurseries for ornamental use, can be foraged on our city pavements if you keep your eyes open.

When cooking with it:  the fruit exudes a white sticky latex on slicing, and is high in pectin. This makes it good to add to low pectin fruit like strawberries when making jam, to help it set. The seeds are soft, and don’t need removing.

Cooking ideas:

  • Cook as a dessert with pears, add red wine and water, sweetening and whole spices and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pears and reduce the liquid to a thicker syrup before serving with yogurt or cream.

  • To bake with the fruit, slice and cook it first, then allow it to dry out a little before incorporating into recipes.

  • Use the bright pink juice left from cooking to make jelly, cordial or juice reduction for use in dressings, sauces, or to deglaze a pan after cooking pork or game.

  • As it is fairly tart in flavour, it makes a good addition to chutneys or savoury onion marmalade.

  • It also works well to flavour and colour alcohol in making liqueur.

Important notes on responsible foraging!
  1. Be absolutely sure that you have identified the right plant before picking or eating it. Refer to books as well plant identification sites on the web, but be weary of using Facebook groups - where non-experts often comment - to definitively ID edibles. This is not advised. Triple check if necessary - if in doubt, don't.
  2. Always taste new foods with caution and in small amounts at first, bearing in mind that individuals manifest food intolerance differently.
  3. As there are currently no permits required for foraging plant material, please do take care to harvest indigenous plants sustainably - always leave enough behind for the plant to be able to continue to grow or reproduce abundantly, be careful to not over-harvest seeds, leave roots in place, and take care not to trample plants whilst foraging.
  4. Exotic weeds may be picked in great quantity, knowing that you are performing a service to the environment.
  5. Get permission if you are harvesting on private land, whether foraging exotics or indigenous plants.
  6. Never remove or eat plants from a nature reserve.
  7. Always wash your haul very thoroughly, and make sure you are picking from an unpolluted site.
  8. Bear in mind that some edible plants can be toxic if eaten in large quantity, or if not prepared correctly.
  9. Always be informed about what you are doing and be prepared to take responsibility for your actions, both during harvesting and eating.
For more, follow Loubie on her Facebook page, Making KOS

Found in many gardens, and public spaces as hedges, the num num is a thorny, low-growing bush with star-like, white, sweetly scented flowers, and red fleshy berries.


Shown here in various stages of preparation, the berry is seen to produce a sticky, white latex when cut. It's high is pectin, which is good for making preserves.


It makes a great cordial (left), and even an exotic liqueur (right).


With such a versatile fruit, your options are almost endless. You could try num num brownies (below) or preserves (bottom).


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