Fruit of the Strawberry Tree

Strawberry Fruit TreeArbutus unedo, from the Latin Arbutus: struggle. Unedo: I eat only one.

Pliny the Elder (50 AD) said either:

“I struggle to eat only one,” or “if I eat more than one, I struggle.”

I wonder which it is…

Having sampled sparingly of its delicious ripe fruit from my garden yesterday, I believe there’s some truth to the folk wisdom that fortified wines made from the fruit of the Strawberry Tree may have hallucinogenic properties – although I’m told they do make wonderful preserves.  Certainly there’s a danger of toxicity when ingesting more than one or two of the bright red berries directly from the tree.

The answer to Pliny’s riddle may be: both.

Aristotle wisely advised moderation in all things.

My love’s an arbutus

My love’s an arbutus

By the borders of Lene,

So slender and shapely

In her girdle of green.

And I measure the pleasure

Of her eye’s sapphire sheen

By the blue skies that sparkle

Through the soft branching screen.

 

But though ruddy the berry

And snowy the flower

That brighten together

The arbutus bower,

Perfuming and blooming

Through sunshine and shower,

Give me her bright lips

And her laugh’s pearly dower.

 

Alas! fruit and blossom

Shall scatter the lea,

And Time’s jealous fingers

Dim your young charms, Machree.

But unranging, unchanging,

You’ll still cling to me,

Like the evergreen leaf

To the arbutus tree.

Alfred Perceval Graves (1846-1931), “My love’s an arbutus”

from Father O’Flynn and other Irish Lyrics, published 1880.

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