Camu Camu

Camu camu is one of the most powerful sources of vitamin C. However the fruit's medicinal and culinary potential goes beyond this.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Camu camu, cacari, camo camo
  • Scientific nameMyrciaria dubia
  • Geographic distributionAmazon Rainforest
  • Plant typeTree
  • Native regionAmazon Rainforest
  • Main producer(s)Brazil, Peru
  • Main Economic UseCulinary, Beverage industry
Camu Camu

First used by the indigenous peoples of the Amazonian region, camu camu was a source of food and herbal medicine for hundreds of years prior to its wider appreciation. In the 1950s, Peruvian state officials conducted an analysis of the fruit, where they learned its amazing nutritional and medicinal value. The popularity of camu camu has been steadily growing since its high vitamin C content was discovered.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionImmune stimulant
  • Key constituentsvitamin C, caroteoinds, manganese, potassium
  • Ways to useCapsules, Food, Juiced, Powder, Dried
  • Medicinal rating(1) Very minor uses
  • Safety rankingSafe
Camu Camu

Health Benefits of Camu Camu

The impressive amount of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) contained in camu camu has noticeable effects on overall health and provides the following benefits:

  • Boosting immunity. Research shows that vitamin C effectively strengthens the immune system, thus preventing viral infections, such as colds, the flu, and gingivitis, as well as reducing their length and severity.

  • Improving the absorption of iron. Vitamin C improves the body's absorption of iron, a vital nutrient needed to produce healthy blood cells. For this reason, camu camu is often used to treat anemia.

Additionally, due to its high concentration of antioxidants, mainly vitamin C and manganese, camu camu supports bone health and can help improve vision. Furthermore, ongoing research on camu camu suggests that it may be useful for relieving the pain of rheumatoid arthritis as well as for preventing liver damage.

How It Works

The exceptional amount of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in camu camu stimulates the immune system by increasing the absorption of iron and scavenging free radicals. It also promotes the production of white blood cells, which are the first line of defense against pathogens. Additionally, the presence of potassium increases the availability of vitamin C.

Camu camu contains about 30 times more vitamin C than oranges.

Camu Camu Side Effects

There are no known side effects associated with camu camu; yet, there is also a lack of scientifically validated research for the plant. It should be noted that due to the acidic nature of the plant, over-consumption could lead to heartburn or indigestion.

Nutritional Facts of Camu Camu

Camu camu is the best known source of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), providing a whopping 96 mg per 4 g (a teaspoon), which slightly exceeds the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) (90 mg/day for adult men and 75 mg/day for adult women). It also surpasses the amount of ascorbic acid in oranges (2 mg/tsp) and kiwis (4 mg/tsp).

This extraordinary concentration of vitamin C contributes to boost the immune system, helps treating anemia, and brings relief to inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Additionally, camu camu contains fair amounts of carotenoids (particularly lutein, which supports eye health) and manganese (a mineral that is crucial for healthy bones), though not in quantities comparable to those of the vitamin C.

How to Consume Camu Camu

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsFruit
  • Edible usesFlavoring, Beverage
  • TasteTart

Outside of its native areas, camu camu fresh fruits, which have an intense, tart flavor, cannot be found in grocery stores. Whereas, this tropical superfood is widely available in the form of pure powder, which provides the ideal amount of nutrients per serving as a part of a healthy diet, and supplements, such as capsules and tablets, which come in convenient daily doses.  

Natural Forms

  • Pure powder. The dried and ground pulp of camu camu can be easily dissolved in juices and smoothies. A single teaspoon of camu camu powder (4 grams) fully provides the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C, while also aiding with iron's absorption and promoting liver health.

  • Pulp juice. The frozen pulp of camu camu is often diluted or mixed with other fruits, in order to reduce its tart flavor, due to its high amount of vitamin C. In this form, camu camu provides all its nutritional, immune stimulant, and antioxidant properties.

  • Dehydrated. As a healthy snack, although its vitamin C content is slightly reduced, dehydrated camu camu still offers a substantial source of essential nutrients, particularly manganese, which supports healthy bones and helps prevent osteoporosis.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

    • Capsules. This widely preferred camu camu supplement carries a high concentration of nutrients and can be taken in easy to swallow, fixed daily doses in order to prevent colds and flu, as well for treating anemia and protecting eye health.

    Herbal remedies of camu camu, such as syrup and tincture, while providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, are not good sources of vitamin C since the herb's essential nutrients become degraded when exposed to heat. 

    Buying

    Quick Facts (Buying)
    • Where to buySpecialized health stores, Online herb stores

    In the Amazon rainforests where it is cultivated (mainly in Peru and Brazil), camu camu can be found in local markets as a fresh fruit or in pulp form. However, outside of its native countries, camu camu is widely available as a pure powder, in supplemental forms, such as capsules or tablets, and dehydrated, as a healthy snack.

    Natural Form

    In order to make camu camu available in areas where the fresh fruit is not easily found, its pulp is either packed and frozen, or dehydrated and made into a pure powder that concentrates its nutritional benefits. Likewise, the camu camu fruit is also naturally dehydrated and exported to be consumed as a nutritious snack.

    Both camu camu's pure powder and pulp juice are readily available in some health food stores year-round, as well as via online retailers. Additionally, dehydrated camu camu fruits can be found in some organic markets.

    Herbal Remedies & Supplements

    Camu camu dietary supplements are becoming increasingly available as the general public is familiarized with the fruit's healthful benefits. Health food stores, as well as online retailers are good sources for camu camu powder and capsules, though wholesale retailers also have a large stock of camu camu products.

    Since the amount of vitamins and active compounds can vary depending on the brand, it is recommended to read the labels carefully and look for certified organic products, ideally processed and packaged in their places of origin.

    Growing

    Quick Facts (Growing)
    • Life cyclePerennial
    • Harvested partsFruit
    • Light requirementsFull sun
    • SoilFlooded
    • Growing habitatTropical rainforests, Amazon rainforest
    • Plant spacing average3 m (9.84 ft)
    • Growing timeThree years to bear fruit.

    Native to the tropical regions of Peru and Brazil, camu camu thrives in the riverbanks of the Amazon rainforest, but it can be adapted to hot subtropical climates.

    This tropical species prefers warm, humid environments, and it requires plenty of water as well as full exposure to sunlight.

    Useful camu camu growing guidelines can be found in the herb garden section.

    Additional Information

    Quick Facts (Additional Information)
    • Other usesCosmetics

    Plant Biology

    Camu camu (Myrciaria dubia) is a dicotyledonous bush that grows alongside rivers in the Amazon rainforest in Peru and Brazil. It can range in height from 6 - 25 feet (2 - 7 m) depending on environmental conditions, and its evergreen leaves render its small clusters of fruit much more noticeable. 

    The camu camu tree contains small, sweet-smelling flowers that are white and waxy in texture. The plant also has a bushy, feathery foliage. Its leaves are lanceolate to elliptic, with individual leaves reaching up to 1.2--7.9 inches (3-20 cm) in length and 0.39—0.79 inches (1-2 cm) in width.

    • Classification

      Camu camu is a member of the Myrtaceae family, which comprises about 140 genera and 3,000 species of trees and shrubs, widely distributed across tropical and subtropical regions. Well-known members of this family are allspice (Pimenta dioica), guava (Psidium guajava), and myrtle (Myrtus communis). 

      The genus Myrciaria comprises about 70 species of tropical American trees and shrubs, most of them native to the Amazon rainforest. Along with camu camu (M. dubia), notable members of this genus are jaboticaba (M. jaboticaba), blue grape (M. vexator), rumberry (M. floribunda), and cambui (M. tenella). 

    • Varieties and Subspecies of Camu Camu

      Since camu camu has been mostly grown in wilderness settings, agronomic and genetic studies have not yet been put in action, thus making it difficult to determine natural varieties. However, as long as the crop continues to gain importance economically, specific varieties and cultivars will likely start to appear.

      Restricted natural habitat and the over-harvesting of natural areas have made it difficult for the camu camu plant to thrive, and subspecies of the plant are virtually nonexistent. Nascent commercial value and widespread reforestation efforts are working toward cultivation of a resilient, sustainable strain, but the trial and error process is still currently underway.

    Historical Information

    Members of various Amazonian tribes have used camu camu for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. However, due to its sour, tart taste, it was rarely eaten in its raw form.

    In the 1950s the Peruvian Ministry of Public Health took an interest in analyzing the fruit for more extensive urban consumption. Experiments resulted in enormous global interest, but its remote growth conditions made large-scale crop cultivation impossible until the 1990s. The plant has since been the subject of media interest surrounding deforestation and restorative efforts in South America, even as its commercial success grows.

    Economic Data

    Harvesting techniques that allowed for commercial exportation of camu camu may not have come about until the latter part of the 20th century, but countries that benefit from its wild growth have made up, economically, for that lost time.

    Peru and Brazil are undoubtedly leading worldwide providers of the fruit, the former generating an estimated 71 tons in 2010; but such modest yields are more than made up for by the high price caused by its demand.

    The U.S., which accounts for roughly half of the camu camu importation market, paid almost USD 7,200 per ton for its supply in the same year. Its high concentration of vitamin C is what make the plant so valuable today, and the main reason it has also been cropping up in the multivitamin industries of Japan and the U.S.

    Other Uses of Camu Camu

    As a natural beauty product, camu camu also has the ability to repair the split ends of hair while restoring its shine and strength. To this end, traditional practice has created a hair tonic from its juice for many years.

    Bibliography

    • FAOSTAT, elected Species and Strategies to Enhance Income Generation from Amazonian Forests
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    • Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Antioxidant and Associated Capacities of Camu Camu (Myrciaria dubia): A Systematic Review, 2015
    • University of Hawaii, Myrtaceae
    • Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, Effects of diet supplementation with Camu-camu (Myrciaria dubia HBK McVaugh) fruit in a rat model of diet-induced obesity, 2013
    • Edible Medicinal and Non Medicinal Plants: Volume 3, Fruits, p. 633 – 634
    • American Macular Degeneration Foundation, Lutein for Preventing Macular Degeneration
    • Natural Bioactive Compounds from Fruits and Vegetables as Health Promoters - Part 1, p. 249
    • Bioactives in Fruit: Health Benefits and Functional Foods
    • Another Boom for Amazonia?, p. 233
    • Florida's Best Herbs and Spices: Native and Exotic Plants Grown for Scent and Flavor, p. 165
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    • University of Wisconsin, Myrciaria dubia, Camu Camu
    • Oregon State University, Micronutrient Information Center, Manganese
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    • Food Research International, Nutritional compositions and health promoting phytochemicals of camu-camu (Myrciaria dubia) fruit: A review, 2011
    • Forests, Trees, and Livelihoods, The Cultivation of Camu Camu (Myrciaria dubia): A Tree Planting Program in the Peruvian Amazon, 2006
    • Journal of Cardiology, Tropical fruit camu-camu (Myrciaria dubia) has anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties, 2008
    • Linus Pauling Institute, Vitamin C