Description and Characteristics
Cujete (pronounced as /koo-JEE-tee/) is internationally known as “miracle fruit/tree” or sometimes “calabash tree”. It is a small or medium-sized flowering tree growing up to 10 meters and develops many arching branches. Each branch develops close-set clusters of leaves that are usually arranged alternately. The green leaves are blunt at the tip and narrowed at the base, growing up to 17 centimeters long, and has a glossy upper surface. It also develops flowers from the buds that are directly attached to the main trunk. Flowers are stalked (about six centimeters long), yellowish and sometimes veined with purple, and are occurring singly or in pairs at the leaf axils. Moreover, flowers of cujete have a slightly unpleasant smell that attracts bats and usually opens only in the evening. Cujete tree also bears fruits that are attached to its branches by a short stem. The fruit is either rounded, oval, or oblong, measures 20 centimeters in diameter or more, and mostly green or sometimes purplish when young then turns brown as it matures. It has seeds inside that are surrounded by light-colored fruit flesh. The main feature of the fruit is its hard shell which can develop into many sizes and several distinct shapes, and its poisonous pulp. The seeds are said to be poisonous as well if consumed raw.
Location and Sources
Cujete tree prefers well-drained soil and is also suitable for sandy, loamy, and clay soils. It can tolerate drought and strong winds but not maritime exposure. It has minimal to zero tolerance in the shade that’s why it is mostly found in areas where there is direct sunlight and enough soil moisture. With those conditions, it is growing abundantly anywhere in Mindanao, and some parts of the Bicol region and in the Visayas. In fact, cujete is considered the miracle tree of General Santos City in the Mindanao region. Cujete usually are propagated through its seeds and cuttings which are already made available for purchase in many local stores and online shops such as lunti.ph.
Application and Product Output
In the Philippines, especially in the Mindanao region, cujete tree is mainly valued because of its folkloric healing. The fruit of cujete is known to have many medicinal properties that were long-established to treat many illnesses. Studies have suggested antibacterial, antidiabetic, snake venom neutralizing, anti-angiogenic, CNS depressant, antimicrobacterial, anti-inflammatory, cytotoxic, wound healing, anti-platelet aggregation, and anthelmintic properties. Thus, cujete fruit is referred to as the “miracle fruit”. Its bark is also used for mucoid diarrhea and to clean wounds. Moreover, the fruit decoction is used to treat diarrhea, stomachaches, cold, bronchitis, cough, asthma, and urethritis. As a result, many local stores are manufacturing export quality products such as tea and fruit juice that offers the medicinal benefits of cujete.
Apart from its medicinal benefits, some parts of cujete are also used in crafts and household wares. Even years ago, local settlers of the country already used the dried shell of the fruit to make bowls for drinking water, wine, tea, fruits, and food. It is also made into simple spoons, ladles, and water dippers.
However, currently, other countries utilized more of the handicraft potential of cujete compared to the Philippines. In some countries especially in the Caribbean, shells are used in craft which are decorated with paintings or carvings, and with the rise of eco-friendly fashion items and accessories, the shells are also made into bags, earrings, bracelets, and other similar products. The shells are even made into musical instruments such as Berimbau, a single-string percussion instrument wherein the calabash shell acts as the resonator, and Maracas or musical rattle, a dried fruit filled with pebbles or beads. The shells are also transformed into different lamps, containers, dinner wares, and home decors beautified by paintings and carvings. The tree is also occasionally cultivated for ornamental purposes.
Production and Sustainable Consumption
In the field of the handicraft industry, cujete offers a promising and wide application that the country is yet to explore. Currently, the medicinal benefits of Cujete is the main reason for its cultivation and consumption in the country. This species is proven to propagate in the Philippines, and with the evident realization of other countries when it comes to the various applications of the shell, it is with no doubt that this material can also be utilized successfully in the country given enough knowledge and training for its production. The cujete tree flowers all year round and so does the development of its fruits. Moreover, it is propagated using its seeds and cuttings, and with a favorable environment, farming of this species is possible and can be sustained. In fact, its cultivation is promoted and encouraged in different communities in Mindanao such as the Venida Farms of Iligan City. At the present, modern product output of cujete in the country is not yet well-established and only a few were able to utilize and produce craftwork from it. However, drawing inspiration from other countries and with the proven skills of Philippine artisans, cujete shell is a promising eco-friendly material that the country can utilize and could later on offer opportunities for the people.
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