Akebia quinata, native to Japan, China and Korea, tend to be grown as ornamentals but do produce incredible fruit that look like a sort of cross between a fig and an aubergine. The problem with growing them in the UK is that they flower in early spring when late frosts can damage the pollen and there are few pollinating insects about anyway, and so they rarely fruit in this country. I have two of these in my garden, and both did flower last year, so I’m going to have a go at hand pollination next year. I’ve been told the fruit’s pulp has a mild custard-like flavour.
The plant is commonly known as “Chocolate Vine”, because of its sweetly-scented chocolatey purple flowers that will appear if the climate is not too harsh. They are a beautiful plant regardless, climbing vigorously, and although they are deciduous their leaves are often retained in mild winters, turning various shades of bronze.
Akebias are widely used in Chinese medicine; a decoction of the plant’s woody stem is used as a diuretic, as it contains high levels of potassium salts, and is also administered to breastfeeding mothers to increase lactation.