The Acai berry also called acai palm is a species of palm tree (Arecaceae) cultivated for its fruit, hearts of palm (a vegetable), leaves, and trunk wood. Global demand for the fruit has expanded rapidly in the 21st century, and the tree is cultivated for that purpose primarily.
The species is native to Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, , Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, mainly in swamps and floodplains. Acai palms are tall, slender trees growing to more than 25 m (82 ft) tall, with pinnate leaves up to 3 m (9.8 ft) long. The fruit is small, round, and black-purple in color. The fruit became a staple food in floodplain areas around the 18th century, but its consumption in urban areas and promotion as a health food only began in the mid 1990s along with the popularization of other Amazonian fruits outside the region.
Acai is a tall, slim, multi-stemmed evergreen palm tree with an attractive crown of drooping leaves. It can grow up to 30 metres tall, though is more likely to be within the range 3 - 20 metres. The unbranched stems are 7 - 18cm in diameter with the roots visible at the base and a smooth, green crownshaft at the top.
Assai is a highly prized food crop, especially in Brazil, where it provides edible fruits and apical buds. It is commonly gathered from the wild and is also often cultivated. The fruit is particularly rich in antioxidants and is becoming more widely known as a healthy addition to other fruits in juices etc. The tree is also sometimes grown as an ornamental.
A cold water infusion of the wood in the stem is used as an external wash for a contraceptive.
The sap is styptic. It is used to treat haemorrhages, scorpion bites, and is used in the treatment of wounds and cuts. A decoction of the leaves is used in the treatment of fevers. An infusion of whole seedlings is used to treat shot wounds from hunting. The central bud, or heart, is roasted and applied topically to soothe the pain of scorpion stings;. The juice from the roasted bud should be drunk at the same time. Overeating of the heart or pith causes diarrhoea.
The heart is dried, pulverised and then used in a plaster to cicatrize open cuts. The liquid extracted from the warm heart is patted on an open wound.
The oil from the fruit is used in the treatment of diarrhoea. A tea made from the roots is used to treat jaundice and to strengthen the blood. A tea made from the seeds is used to treat fevers