Grewia-licious – Indigenous edible shrubs for your garden

by Life Green Group and BotSoc

These six Grewia species of South Africa are not only a must have for a bird garden, attracting numerous fruit-eating birds, the fruits they produce are also edible to humans. In traditional cultures the fruit of certain Grewia species are used to brew alcohol and eaten as a sweet treat.

All Grewia species are incredibly resilient and easy to grow and a must have for any South African garden with their attractive yellow or purple blooms. The genus Grewia was named after English physician Nehemiah Grew and forms part of the Malvaceae family.

Purple flowering Grewia species

Crossberry (Grewia occidentalis)

The Crossberry has a very wide distribution range and is found throughout South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It is the tallest species of Grewia, reaching six to ten metres in height under ideal conditions. In cultivation it requires pruning to stay neat and tree-like. This species is a rewarding shrub that produces beautiful purple blossoms for most of the year.

The fruits are consumed by Bulbuls, Barbets, Mousebirds and other fruit-loving birds. The fruit is also used to ferment beer and when dried and added to milk it makes for an excellent milk sweetener. In Zulu culture the wood of the Crossberry is used to make Assegai spears.

Read more about other indigenous purple flowering trees that make a great addition to your garden by clicking here.

Karoo Crossberry (Grewia robusta)
Grewia robusta

Like the Crossberry the Karoo Crossberry also has wonderful purple blossoms and flowers from August to December. Grewia robusta is frost resistant and adaptable to most soil types. It is however best to grow them in moist clay and loamy soils and partially shady areas.

Grewia robusta makes a good screen plant and makes a great addition to any bird-friendly garden. Its plum-like fruits have a slightly acidic flavour but are pleasant to eat, both cooked and raw.

Yellow flowering Grewia species

Brandybush (Grewia flava)
Grewia flava ©Bernard Dupont

The Brandybush gets its name because its fruit can be distilled into a type of brandy or beer. This is the smallest of the South African Grewia species. It does not have an aggressive root system making it a good garden specimen. In North West Province, Northern Cape and Limpopo wild animals rely on it for food. It has grey leaves that contrast with its bright yellow flowers and spreads readily.

White raisin (Grewia bicolor)

The White Raisin is a frost-hardy shrub that reaches nine metres in height. It can grow in most soils and is a water-wise choice. This species epithet ‘bicolor‘ refers to its bicolour leaves which are lighter on the bottom and darker on the top. The canary yellow flowers of the White Raisin are smaller than the rest of the Grewia species.  It flowers from October to March.

Sandpaper raisin (Grewia flavescens)

Grewia flavescens

The Sandpaper Raisin has sweetly perfumed, bumblebee yellow flowers.  It is tough and adaptable, relying on wild animals for germination.  It can handle all types of soil and like the Giant Raisin, prefers a more temperate environment. It is multi-stemmed and makes for a wonderful screening plant.

In Namibia the fruit is soaked in water to make a refreshing drink. It is also an essential bird garden plant for attracting frugivorous birds.  For more information on how to attract fruit-eating birds to the garden click here.

Giant raisin (Grewia hexamita

The Giant Raisin occurs on the Kwa-Natal coast and has the largest flowers of the Grewia family.  It grows to about five metres in height. This shrub is one of the most attractive Grewia species because of its large bright yellow flowers, rounded bushy crown and dark glossy leaves. Like all of the Grewia species the fruits can be fermented into moonshine. Birds and butterflies are attracted to its large scented flowers. It flowers all year round, especially in summer. The Giant Raisin grows best and is more suited to a tropical environment with good rainfall such as Kwa-Zulu Natal. It is not easy to predict germination of seeds for this particular species, but once the seeds germinate, the plants take around three years to produce their first fruit.

Why not go ahead and plant your own Grewia species to enhance your green space?

Happy Gardening to all out readers!



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The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) are an NGO conserving and educating about biodiversity for over 100 years.

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