Don’t expect a cricket ball-sized tropical guava from this rather lovely shrub – you’ll get handfuls of cranberry-sized, deep red berries instead. And you won’t be disappointed – the flavour lives up to the promise of its scent: kiwi, strawberry and something a little spicier, slightly sherbety, almost like bubblegum. It’s entirely unique and very addictive.
Chilean guava (Myrtus ugni) grows as a small evergreen shrub, a metre across and, unpruned, can reach a similar height. As with its cousin Myrtle, the leaves are small, waxy and deep green with occasional seasonal flushes of red-purple.
With sun on your side, you’ll have pale pink and white bell-shaped flowers hanging in profusion from late spring. Slowly through the summer the flowers turn to fruit that ripen into dark berries in autumn and into winter.
As its name suggests, Chilean guava is native to Chile and neighbouring countries. In South America it is found wild in mountainous, temperate forest clearings, is cultivated commercially, as well as being grown ornamentally and even as an edible hedge in urban areas. I don’t know about you, but it sounds infinitely preferable to privet to me.
Chilean guava is not widely grown in Europe. Queen Victoria tried her best to promote it in the 19th century – she had her favourite fruit sent by train to London from the mild climate of Cornwall where it was grown for her table. I can understand why she thought it was worth the trouble – it really is fabulous eaten either raw or cooked.
Chilean guava is, however, beginning to find new homes away from its natural habitat. In Australia and New Zealand it is grown and sold as Tazziberry and is becoming popular as a speciality fruit.
Chilean guava is almost always sold as a generic variety – although there is a variegated form, “Flambeau”, which is equally delicious and slightly hardier than the unvariegated type.
Depending on your location, Chilean guava can be a bit of a gamble. It is hardy down to -10°C or thereabouts and will need a sunny, sheltered spot to induce the plant to fruit but the most trouble it’ll give you is in digging a small hole in which to plant it. It really is low-maintenance.
To stack the odds in your favour, plant your Chilean guava in a moist, well drained soil in full sun, sheltered from cold drying winds. It will tolerate a little drought once established, but any water you can give it in dry periods will benefit it. It also grows very happily in pots.
Chilean guava is self-fertile so can be grown individually, or planted in number to form a low hedge. No pruning is needed, although it is as happy to be shaped as it is left untamed.
Late frost may knock new growth back a little, but the plant will usually recover very well. If you live in a colder region, I’d be tempted to keep your plants undercover, at least through the colder months.
Chilean guava blossom. Photograph: Mark Diacono
Chilean guava can be grown from seed, but as with most slow-growing evergreens it’ll be a long time until you get to enjoy their fruit, so I’d suggest starting off with plants. If you know anyone with a plant or you want to expand numbers of your own, they do grow very easily from cuttings or by layering.
As their scent is intoxicating it’s worth finding a home for your Chilean guava somewhere that you spend plenty of time – by the backdoor or a seat in the garden, perhaps.
Chilean guavas start to fruit at quite a small size, just a few berries at first, but in profusion as they develop. The berries are a real late season treat – ripening slowly, usually early in winter. As the deepening of colour is slightly ahead of the development of full flavour inside the berries, the trick is in leaving them attached just that little longer than you feel comfortable with. Try a few before you pick the rest to be sure they are ready.
Chilean guava berries are, like mulberries, the fruit equivalent of fresh peas – it’s hard to get beyond just popping them in as sweets, and for the first year or two when the harvest is modest there’s simply nothing better to eat fresh in the garden in winter.
As the bushes grow and the harvest increases, so do the uses to which you can put your expanding harvest. Chilean guava make a fabulous alternative to cranberries and blueberries, bringing their own perfume and flavour to any recipe that uses them. And do try the Autumn Olive Gin recipe with Chilean guava – it’s sweeter but equally wonderful.
The berries are also particularly fine in preserves. Try making a delicious and colourful jam, as well as the jelly that was Queen Victoria’s favourite, but my favourite way of eating them is by making murta con membrillo, a very popular Chilean pudding made by simmering together quince and the little berries.
To make your own, begin by pouring about 1.4 litres of water into a pan with 150g caster sugar, 75g clear honey and 3 tbsp lemon juice. Bring to a simmer as you prepare the fruit. Quarter, peel and core about 4 quinces, tipping them into the water as each one is ready to stop them from browning. Simmer for at least an hour until the quince start to feel tender when pierced with a knife (this may take up to 2 hours, depending on the quince). Add a couple of handfuls of Chilean guava and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Try it with Greek yoghurt or spooned over ice cream or a slab of Madeira cake.
Chilean guava muffins
Chilean guava muffins. Photograph: Laura Hynd
This is an excellent, basic muffin recipe which you can adapt as you like. The muffins are great made with edible honeysuckle, mignonette strawberries or wineberries instead of Chilean guava, and are also good with a small handful of chopped pecans thrown into the mix too.
If you don’t have any buttermilk, you can get the same effect by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice or cider vinegar to 100ml whole milk about 15 minutes before you whisk it together with the rest of the ingredients.
Makes 12 muffins
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
Good pinch of salt
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
115g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
115g golden caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
100ml buttermilk (shake the carton before measuring)
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
130g Chilean guava
Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5.
Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.
Sieve the flour, baking powder, salt and bicarbonate of soda together into a bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, eggs, buttermilk, lemon zest and juice. Lightly fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients with a spatula, then fold in the Chilean guava; be careful not to overmix.
Divide the mixture between the cases and bake for 16–18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the muffins comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
• This extract is taken from A Taste of the Unexpected by Mark Diacono (Quadrille, £20)
Ugni molinae(Chilean Guava) Herb Plant
Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae) Herb in 1L Pot
Chilean Guava or strawberry myrtle grows as a small evergreen shrub or tree and is native of Chile. It is very similar to myrtle and has small waxy leaves. It’s pale pink flowers in the summer turn to fruit that ripens into aromatic dark berries 1cm across in the autumn and are edible. The fruit was a firm favourite of Queen Victoria who had them shipped up to London from the milder climes of Cornwall.
May be grown outdoors in mild areas where it will tolerate a few degrees of frost if sheltered from cold drying winds. If you are in a really cold area and are tempted to grow this lovely fruit then why not grow in a cool greenhouse or conservatory.
The fruit of the Chilean Guava are edible they smell of Strawberries and should be left to ripen into mid-autumn, perhaps a little later. In Australia and New Zealand it is grown and sold as Tazziberry. Chilean guava make a fabulous alternative to cranberries and blueberries, bringing their own perfume and flavour to any recipe that uses them.
Buy Chilean Guava Online
Our potted Chilean Guava herb plants are generally available to buy online between March and September.
Psidium littorale or strawberry guava
“Write about fruit hedges.” That was a request that had me thinking but good options are not that easy.
You can plant anything in a row and call it a hedge. If you live in the country and it gets tall, it is then called a shelter belt. If it is a double row it becomes an avenue. A grid-planted orchard with social pretensions is a phalanx. If the hedge is comprised of all the same plants and clipped at least once a year, it is a formal hedge. If it is comprised of different fruiting plants it becomes (drum roll), a contemporary food forest. All the rage in some circles, are food forests.
As the enquiry came from a gardener on a very small town section, I think it likely that she wanted the formality of a smaller hedge combined with the function of an edible crop. There aren’t many candidates for that. The problem is that if you clip hard, you will frequently be trimming off next year’s fruiting stems. Added to that, most fruiting plants thrive best with maximum sun, plenty of air movement and away from root competition. That is pretty much the antithesis of a hedging situation.
The other issue is to consider how many of a particular plant you want. It has to be delicious to warrant having a whole hedge line in one fruit though it is more likely that most people chose on criteria of being edible and tolerant of conditions, rather than hugely delectable.
Ugni molinae or NZ cranberry
If you live way down south, you could probably hedge gooseberries (a bit prickly) or currants but these are not happy or rewarding crops in the more temperate north. Some swear by Ugni molinae (also known as Myrtus ugni, the NZ cranberry or the Chilean guava). I love the sweet little fruit and think every family garden needs a plant. A plant, singular. But as a hedging option, you would have to keep working hard to have it looking good. It is a bit sparse and twiggy and is prone to infestation from thrips.
The other guava (Psidium littorale, also known as the Chilean guava or the strawberry guava) is probably the single best evergreen, fruiting option we can think of for hedging. It is a lot more forgiving when it comes to clipping and pruning and could be kept to a tidy hedge below 200cm. The problem with it is that you want to grow one (or maybe two – a red one and a yellow one) to feed browsing children, attract kereru which love the fruit, and to make the odd jar of jelly. But few of us would think they are sufficiently delicious to want a whole row of them.
The ubiquitous feijoa
Feijoas, I hear some of you saying. Yes, feijoas make an excellent hedge but if you keep them well clipped you will be cutting off next year’s fruiting stems. These are plants which are best grown with plenty of space, just given the occasional light thinning or pruning and left to their own devices. That is not hedging. When our children were small, we owned a property with a row of four mature feijoas. They ripened in succession so we had fruit for months and the children would head outside with a teaspoon each in their little hands and sit beneath, scooping out the pulp to eat. They also occupied a space that probably measured close to 10 metres by 4 metres. As a productive road boundary planting, they were great. But a hedge, they were not.
If you follow English garden trends, you may have seen step-over espaliers. They appear to be a hot ticket addition. Generally apples or pears, these are beaten into submission by training along wires at knee height. Being deciduous trees, there will be no winter foliage but apparently you can get a worthwhile crop if you manage it right and you can ring your productive garden with these step-overs which therefore function as a type of hedge.
Do we think this is a good idea? Not really. For starters, the fruit is going to be at just the right height for the dog to cock its leg and pee on it. Or the neighbour’s dog, if you don’t have one. It is also a dry climate technique. With the relatively heavy rains most of us experience in the mid north, soil splash is a problem and will spread disease. Good air circulation, full sun and being above the splash zone will reduce problems. We are certainly not rushing into trying step-over espaliers.
In the end, fruit trees are probably most productive and healthy when grown as individual specimens. Fruiting hedges? Not such a practical option, in the greater scheme of things.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.
The Chilean Guava is a slow growing evergreen shrub that will withstand temperatures down to -10°C (14°F). It will grow to a height of 1.5-3m (5-10ft). The plant is tolerant of most soils provided it is moist and well drained and will benefit from the addition of well-rotted garden compost. It is tolerant of partial shade although it will produce the heaviest crops when planted in full sun and sheltered from cold drying winds. Late frosts may knock the young growth but the plants usually recover well. Fragrant self-fertile, pink-white flowers are produced in spring followed by red fruits from mid summer. No pruning is required other than the removing any misplaced shoots in late winter or early spring.
In colder parts of the country grow the plants in pots which should be overwintered in a greenhouse or conservatory. During the growing season keep the plants well watered and feed them regularly with a balanced liquid fertilizer. During the winter months keep the compost just moist.
The berries are ready for harvesting when they are just soft to the touch and a deep rich red colour.