Huito is a tree that grows in the tropics, usually with a modest size. Huito normally reaches a height between 8 and 20 m, although 30 m trees have been reported in exceptional cases. It is covered in thick bark and has a trunk diameter of 30 to 80 cm. The crown is dense and the lower branches grow almost horizontally and end with leaves between 10 and 35 cm long. Leaves grow in opposite pairs and are deciduous, with an oblong or lanceolate shape and short petioles. The foliage is concentrated near the end of branches. Huito leaves are dark green, with a glossy look and a high-relied middle rib, sometimes with toothed edges. The bloom is from May to September in the Amazon Basin, with tubular flowers that can be white, yellow or red. Flowers are found in terminal clusters and have a diameter of 4 centimetres. They consist of five petals each and turn into fruits between the months of September and April.
Most huito flowers are pollinated by bees. Fruits mature very slowly and need up to one year to become ripe. The berries are round and large in size, with a length between 9 and 15 cm and a width of 7 to 9 cm. The skin is thin, with a leathery look, and the layer of soft yellow or brown pulp has a thickness of no more than 1-2 cm. A number of up to 300 seeds protected by membranes are located in the middle. The fruit turns edible when it is overripe and becomes soft, with an acid flavour similar to the one of apples.
Fruits, bark, seeds, root, leaves.
Huito fruits are used as bait in fishing in Guyana. Both wild and domestic animals feed on the fallen huito fruits. The juice of the unripe huito fruits has a number of traditional uses. It is initially colorless but becomes brown and eventually black after air contact. It has been used for a long time by tribesmen of South America as face and body paint, as well as a dye for clothes, hammocks and baskets. Huito is also a powerful insect repellent, which is very useful in the jungles of the area. The color lasts between 15 and 20 days on the skin. It was cultivated for this purpose all across the South American continent. An alternative use for the fruit juice is to treat rheumatism. The huito fruit was used by the Indians to treat respiratory system inflammations and asthma, after preparing syrup from the juice or just using the residual water after boiling the entire huito fruit. They cured itching with the scraped green fruit and used the pulp as a primitive dental anesthetic.
The huito fruit has various medical uses across its range. It is consumed as a jaundice treatment in El Salvador. The juice is an effective diuretic and eating a large amount of fruits is said to kill intestinal worms. A common remedy for cold is prepared in Puerto Rico by cutting the fruits and allowing them to ferment in water, then drinking the infusion after adding flavoring. Venereal sores and pharyngitis can be treated by applying a bark decoction or crushed green fruits. It is also possible to prepare a root decoction with strong purgative effects. Crushed seeds mixed with water are used in Brazil as an emetic. Cutting the bark releases a sweet gum with a white color that can be used in diluted form to clean the eyes and treat corneal opacities. In parts of Central America, fevers are treated with juice extracted by pressing the leaves. Flower decoctions also have febrifuge effects and act as a general tonic. Plant extracts have many benefits; they can protect the skin from sunburn, as well as treat respiratory problems, asthma, colds, sore throats and chest infections.
Most parts of the huito tree have medical uses. Root decoctions have strong purgative effects, while seed powder is known to be emetic and caustic. The plant extract is diuretic and also kills bacteria, viruses and fungi. Sap extracted from the bark can be used to treat several eye problems. Tea brewed from the huito fruits can heal respiratory problems such as bronchitis. Other parts of the huito have uses in medicine, especially against breathing problems, as a treatment for sunburn and to speed up the healing rate of sores.
The juice of immature huito fruits is a persistent dye that can be used for tribal tattoos, as well as a powerful insect repellent. The wood is easy to work and very strong at the same time, it is used in carpentry and construction, as well as the production of tools.
A popular summer drink similar to lemonade is prepared in Puerto Rico by slicing the huito fruit and mixing it with water and sugar. A short fermentation can give the drink some alcohol content. It is widely available on the street, combined with shaved ice. The huito fruits are also used to prepare drinks in the Philippines, as well as sweet products like ice cream, jelly and sherbet. The flesh is rich in pectin and can be used in order to help jellify the juice of fruits with lower pectin content. Brazilians prepare a strong liqueur from the fruits and also turn them into syrup, wine, soft drinks and preserves.
The huito tree has a widespread range in tropical and some subtropical parts of South America. It can be found from Mexico to Argentina and the Caribbean, in some countries it was native while in other it was introduced by humans. It usually inhabits zones with low elevation. It is found in large numbers in the Amazon and might originate from that area. It grows in particular in parts of the Amazon forests that are next to rivers and are flooded for several months per year, which are locally named "varzeas". The huito tree also inhabits open forests and the zones of transition to savannas. The tree is well adapted to disturbed areas and commonly found in secondary forests on abandoned agricultural land.
The huito enjoys fertile soil of alluvial origin, with high loam content. It boosts soil fertility due to the leaves that fall and decompose on the ground, which is an important benefit in some areas. The huito tree enjoys low elevations, below 3300 feet.
Seeds are viable and germinate after about one month. After 3 or 4 months, the fresh seedlings grow around 12 cm long. They need between 6 months and one year to reach a height of 20 centimetres, when they can be transplanted. They require little maintenance afterwards and can tolerate harsh conditions. They survive on flooded grounds and have a very fast rate of growth even when submerged.
The correct spacing depends on the purpose of cultivation. They are spaced between 1.5 meters and 3 meters apart for reforestation but 10 or even 15 meters between them should be provided for fruit production.
The huito fruit consists of a mix of carbohydrates, sugar, malic acid and proteins. A serving of 100 grams provides 33 mg of vitamin C as well as 40 mg of calcium and 58 mg of phosphorus. Seeds are rich in caffeine, with a content of 22,500 ppm. Many other bioactive chemicals have been detected in its composition: glycerides, hydantoin, mannitol, methyl-ethers, genipic-acid, genipin, genipin-gentiobioside, genipinic-acid, geniposide, geniposidic-acid, tannins, tannic acid, caterine, gardenoside and genamesides A-D. Geniposide is a particularly interesting chemical that could be useful in the treatment of asthma due to its anti-inflammatory effect.
Harvesting is usually done by hand between the months of September and April. Depending on the taste, huito fruits can be picked at almost any time during the next year. The season depends on the area and the local climate, for example the season in Brazil is in the months of February and March.