It is a shrub or small tree growing to 6 m tall, with sharp, 3–6 cm long stem spines in the leaf axils. The leaves are alternately arranged, simple broad lanceolate, 5–10 cm long and 1–3 cm broad, with an entire or finely toothed margin.
The fruit is an edible dark purple globose berry 2–3 cm diameter, very juicy with an acidic flavour, and containing several small seeds. Kitembilla fruit, which taste similar to a gooseberry (they are sometimes called "Ceylon Gooseberry"), are often eaten fresh, or made into jam. Some cultivars have been selected for being thornless (making harvesting easier) and larger fruit.