Hotten-tot Fig (Carpobrotus edulis) Identification

Hotten-Tot Fig / Spring / Summer / Autumn / Winter / Edible

Common Names

Sour Fig/Ice Plant
(The name Hottentot Fig is also known, but foragers should be aware that this name has colonial and racist history in South Africa where the plant originated)


Latin Name

Carpobrotus edulis, Aizoaceae (Fig-Marigold family)


Harvest Season:

The leaves can be harvested throughout the year, but be aware of where the plant is putting its energy as the taste will change. Before the flowers have started to form is the best time to pick leaves. The flowers can be out in the early spring, with fruits arriving soon after.


Habitat:

Particularly abundant on the coast due to being well suited to high salinity, low water levels and extreme exposure to sunlight.


Range and Distributions:

While native to South Africa, it has made its home across the world, thriving very well in Mediterranean regions.


Conservation Considerations:

It has been considered an invasive species since 1999, after introduction as an ornamental and to control soil erosion and sand dune movement. Due to its ability to form dense mats that keep getting denser, it can change soil characteristics over time, threatening the survival of other plants. It is to be found forming dense mats over coastal surfaces like cliffs, as well as manmade walls and dykes, but is of particular concern in dune habitats which can be relatively fragile. Do not plant any in areas where it was previously unestablished.


Physical Characteristics:

This plant is typically found growing in dense mats

Auckland Museum, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Leaves

The leaves are succulent and triangular, usually growing vertically to a sharp (but not spiky) point. They are usually bright green, but can be tinged with red, especially later in the season.

Dawn Endico, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Flowers

The flowers appear daisy-like, and are bright pink with a yellow centre.

gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Could be Confused with:

Check that the leaf cross-section is truly triangular, check the habitat and observe whether the plant has a very dense mat structure, and there is little to confuse Sour Fig with.


Edible Uses:

The leaves are succulent and have a slightly tangy, bitter flavour which complements salads and stir-fries well.

They would also lend themselves to foraged sushi and other dishes as a substitute for cucumber, including lacto-fermented pickles.

The fruits are best harvested when they feel very ripe to the touch – and are the source of the name ‘Sour Fig’ – for jams, chutneys, syrups, and fruit drinks.

They can be dried for preservation.

Take care to strain the many seeds out of your final product. Ensure they are ripe; the flesh is very astringent if not properly ripened.

The ripe fruits make a nice forager’s snack if you suck out the inner flesh.


Medicinal and Traditional Uses:

The fruits and flowers have been used in South Africa for fungal and bacterial infections, particularly of the gut. Some chemicals with antimicrobial activity have been isolated from this plant, such as rutin and hyperoside.

Like Aloe, the leaf juice/gel can be used topically in creams, lotions or directly as a soothing emollient.


Extra Points, Tips and Fun Facts:

This plant can reproduce both with runners and seeds, making it a rather tenacious land-grabber. It has been cultivated on land that is vulnerable to forest fires due to its high water content.

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