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Secrets Of The Ceylon Olive: A Dip Into The World Of The Veralu Reveals Many Surprises

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Ceylon Olive 10 seeds ('Veralu')

Crop Group   Fruits
Scientific Name   Elaeocarpus serratus
Family  Name   Elaeocarpaceae
Name in English   Ceylon olive
Name in Sinhala   Veralu
Name in Tamil     வெரலு

Ceylon olives or veralu look very much like their Mediterranean namesake, but are from a different family

If life was a fruit, the veralu would be its kernel. The veralu, Ceylon or wild olive looks unassuming, but delve a little deeper and you will find the unexpected. This is no simple olive. The veralu is enjoyed in half a dozen delicious ways locally, it is medicinal and it is also associated with myth and lore.

As children, we knew the veralu as a snack. We loved the veralu amma, the portly woman behind a basin piled high with spicy boiled olives just outside the school gates at the end of the school day. Her veralu achcharu was a pull. We shoved our way to the front of her cart to secure a portion for ourselves before tumbling into waiting cars. The little cups of achcharu would soon be emptied by eager hands on the way home. We would screw up our faces savouring each sour, chilli-hot fruit, before spitting out the hard pit.

That street-level introduction to veralu spilled into more refined settings later on. In fine dining, we came to know and love another olive, delighting at its presence on pizza, pickled in a jar, churned into butter, or as a delicious herbal oil drizzled on salad or served as a dip for crusty bread. These olives were possibly the first global fruit, spreading from the Middle East to the rest of the Western world. They thrive on six continents today, with about 700 different olive varieties worldwide.

In Running in the Family, author Michael Oondatje credits an ancestor, Dr William Charles Ondaatje, for having introduced the olive to Sri Lanka. How he brought it here and from where, we do not know, but it would have been in the mid-1800s. We also do not know whether the fruit he referred to was the veralu, the wild olive that is native to Sri Lanka and India; the elaeocarpus serratus of the Elaeocarpaceae family is botanically unrelated to the Meditteranean olive, the olea europaea of the family Oleaceae.  But the Meditteranean and the Ceylon olive share a common name, and looks can deceive; the Ceylon olive is an astonishing doppleganger of its Meditteranean namesake.

A first love is always one's favourite, and while we became attracted to the big green Spanish olives and the Kalamata olives of Greece, the yearning for the Ceylon olive lingered, launching an occasional veralu hunt in speciality Sri Lankan grocery stores in foreign lands, decades later. There is a lot one can do with the smooth green veralu. In addition to making achcharu, it makes a super mustard pickle combined with diced shallots and mustard paste, vinegar, sugar and salt, or it can be eaten raw when ripe, as its hard acidic flesh softens into a pasty consistency that is delicious with jaggery. More recently, some have curried veralu; the dish is called veralu maaluwa. Another intriguing combo, veralu stuffed with dates! Verulu can be enjoyed in many ways.

No one knows why veralu never rose to distinction as a fruit in Sri Lanka. Perhaps its many luscious competitors like avocados, mangoes and bananas kept it in the shade. Nevertheless, the tree is hardy and grows just about anywhere, although more commonly in the dry zone. While the veralu fruit resembles the olive, the rest of the plant differs. Its leaves are large and the tree grows to medium height, with a pleasing appearance that makes it an ornamental favourite. A veralu tree in full bloom fills the air with a heady fragrance, and has delicate white blossoms like snowflakes crowding its branches and the ground beneath.

If the veralu failed to make the grade in cuisine, it excelled in ayurveda. The fruit has high nutritional value - it is packed with minerals, vitamins, fibre and valuable anti-oxidents. Veralu leaves are a folk beauty treatment. Ground leaves are applied on the scalp before bathing to prevent dandruff, banish lice, and moisten and condition the scalp to promote healthy, silky hair. You can buy veralu shampoos and conditioners at local supermarkets. Other parts of the tree are used for various ailments, for example as antibiotics, antidepressants and even antidotes for poison. It is also used to ease rheumatism. The bark is used to treat haemorrhages and gastric disorders. The fruits are used to treat digestive ailments, arthritis and eczema.

The veralu is not alone - it has many relatives. The rathu or nil veralu, rudraksha in Sanskrit, elaecarpus garnitrus, is considered a giant among sacred medicinal plants, and its seed is treasured as prayer beads in Hindu and Buddhist malas (necklaces). Both the ayurveda and unani medicine systems regard the tree with awe, associating it with gods and attributing a long list of cures to its various parts. The seed is described as the tears of God Siva. Rudraksha seeds are said to have diamagnetic qualities, promoting circulatory and heart health. Another relative, the gal veralu, elaeocarpus subvillosus, has the distinction of being part of the diet of Belilena man, prehistoric cave dwellers who inhabited the Balangoda area.

A foray into the world of the Ceylon olive can bring unexpected surprises. If you spot veralu vendors on a Colombo street, get yourself a packet of veralu achcharu. If you run out of luck, treat yourself to a homemade dish like I do. It's easy: just boil unripe or slightly ripe veralu in salted water until they split open. Drain and place in a bowl. Add pepper, chilli flakes, a dash of sugar and a little vinegar to taste. Crush lightly with a pestle, and mix thoroughly. Delicious! The veralu amma would approve.

IMPORTANT: Some goods will not allow to import to some countries or some states in U.S.A. If the customs do random check and find some prohibit items they may be destroy or return items. For example if they find some seeds they will destroy and send only blank envelop to the customer. In this case the clients are unable to claim refund because we've already sent the goods. So please check your custom details before ordering otherwise we will not take any responsible.