Kumara, the Christmas berry

Greece is blessed with a warm Mediterranean climate, with mild and rainy winters, warm and dry summers with, generally, long sunshine duration almost all the year. Paros is no exception and whoever lives on the island all year round knows that there is something to collect from the garden every season.

After the bounty of pomegranates in November, the bush that dresses up in Christmas cheer in December is a modest evergreen the rest of the year called Kumaro or kumaria (κουμαρο, κουμαριά) (scientific name is Arbutus unedo and it’s called Strawberry tree in English). This pretty bush ripens its round berries from yellow to orange and eventually deep red in the middle of December. White bell-shaped flowers appear at the same time making it the most festive plant of the December garden.

The kumara berries are delicious to eat fresh, but one haσ to pick them at the right time, as when they pass their time they become mushy. The best is to collect when they are bright red and quite firm to touch. At the foot of the Olympus mountains, a traditional kumara spirit (tsipouro) is made from these berries, but koumara liqueurspoon sweets or amazing jam also can be prepared.

While in nature kumara grows in the mountains (Olympus or Crete) it is easy to grow them in Paros too. It’s a very hardy bush, ideal for the dry landscape garden as after 2-3 years of planting it requires no summer watering. The leaves stay green all year round and the bush does not require any pruning. While in the mountains it can become a tree of 5-6 m high on the windswept islands of the Cyclades it remains a bush, reaching 1,5 to 2 meters in height maybe a bit more if grown in a wind-sheltered position. Having said that, koumara withstands wind and can be planted in wind-exposed gardens.