Strawberry Guava originates from southeastern Brazil and northeastern Uruguay. It is labeled as the most problematic invasive species in Hawai’i, with over 350,000 acres occupied. Known as waiawī in Hawaiian, the fruits are prized for their taste and powerful antioxidants. The leaves are also rich in aromatic compounds, making this plant potent as an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial. There are 3 varieties of Strawberry Guava. Psidium cattleianum var. cattleianum has red round fruits, Psidium cattleianum var. pyriformis has yellow pear-shaped fruits, and Psidium cattleianum var. lucidum has yellow round fruits.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Strawberry Guava is a shrub or a small tree, growing from 5-30 feet (2-9m) tall. Overall, it appears green from so many leaves, but young leaves can have a red color. The smooth coppery red bark is a prominent feature, which usually has a mottled appearance to reveal patches of brown or grey or green. Leaves are simple, obovate to elliptic, glossy, and with a vein down the middle. The leaves come out of the stem on opposite sides, feel thick or leathery, and have a smooth leaf edge/margin that oftentimes comes to a pointed tip. The pyriformis variety typically has longer leaves.
All 3 varieties of Strawberry Guava have similarly sized flowers that are usually about 1 inch (2-3 cm), white, and found along the stem. The fruits are considered berries and are smooth and shiny, with both the cattleianum and lucidum varieties shaped like a small pomegranate. The pear-shaped pyriformis variety, as well as the other two, have seeds that resemble small lentils inside. Seeds are held in a clear to whitish juicy pulp.
There are few similar plants that might cause confusion, and many plants can look like Strawberry Guava to the beginner. Remember, you only need to know all of the details for correctly identifying Strawberry Guava and then all other plants that don’t fit those details are not Strawberry Guava and you should not eat them. Below are some common plants in Hawai’i that are mistaken for Strawberry Guava. Remember, looks aren’t everything, so use your sense of smell to verify if there is a resinous smell (key part of identification) to the leaves of Strawberry Guava when crushed.
WHERE IT GROWS
Prefers wet or moist forest habitat, but can be found in medic (dry) forests as well as jungle/rainforests. Although it dominates in forest ecosystems, you can find it in urban and disturbed areas as well. The red fruiting cattleianum variety can tolerate cooler temperatures at higher elevations, while the yellow fruiting lucidum are found in warmer temperatures at low elevations.
HOW TO PICK IT
Begin by asking permission. Only take what you will use. The pyriformis (pear-shaped yellow variety) gets quite tall, so look for harvesting locations on hillsides or slopes, and smaller trees with low-hanging fruit. The cattleianum and lucidum have flexible branches that can be bent over or pulled, and produce more fruits along forest edges. Squeeze fruits, they should be firm not mushy, then harvest by hand or using a fabric or mesh-lined picker. Do not spit out the seeds, either swallow them or carry out of the forest to throw into the trash, and do not plant them at home. Be mindful of any seeds stuck to shoes, bags or clothing, so that this invasive isn’t spread to other areas.
WHEN TO PICK IT
Strawberry Guava is evergreen, so leaves can be harvested throughout the year. Fruits can be found in greatest abundance from mid to late summer, but there are so many microclimates that they can be found nearly year-round. Don’t eat the fruits green, but you can harvest them when mature to further ripen at home.
Wash leaves, trying not to bend or crush them, and either use immediately or place into a container in the refrigerator for later use. Flower petals are very delicate, acting as a fun trailside nibble, or whole flowers can be used as a garnish once any insects are removed. Fruits are highly perishable, beginning to ferment within a day or two even in the refrigerator. After washing, they can be used in your favorite recipes fresh or cooked, dehydrated or fermented. To easily remove seeds place fruit into a pot and fill water to same line just over fruits. As soon as the water begins to boil, remove from heat and place into a fine-meshed strainer or fabric bag to hang and squeeze out juice and pulp. You can also freeze fresh fruits on a tray, then place into a freezer bag and store for later use. The wood can be cut, dried out for six months to a full year, and used to smoke foods.
TASTE AND SMELL
Leaves, when crushed in your hand, have a resinous smell and taste which infuses into drinking water. Flowers have a soft, subtle smell and taste. Fruits are sweet and tangy, with the red cattleianum variety having some spicy undertones and hints of strawberry. The fruits are a beautiful blend of sweet and acidic, with the lucidum variety typically having the sweetest flavor.
STRAWBERRY GUAVA RECIPES