Sunday, March 24, 2013

The jujube, a small deciduous tree with fruit

Jujube fruit (Ziziphus jujuba)

The jujube is also known in English as the red date or chinese date. In Maltese it is known as żinżel. It is a small deciduous tree that grows between 5 and 10 metres high.It is grown primarily for its fruits and sometimes for the wood. 

It has been cultivated for centuries and its natural distribution is not known but it is believed to have originated in southern Asia between Lebanon and northern India, the Korean peninsula, and southern and central China. 

It is claimed that it also lived in southeastern Europe although its occurance there is most likely to be a result of human introduction.

In Malta it has been cultivated in a few areas including Mtaħleb where a few trees can still be found. These trees produce fruit in September and October. When immature the fruit is smooth-green, with the consistency and taste of an apple. It becomes dark red to purplish-black when mature and eventually it becomes wrinkled, looking like a small date. There is a single hard stone similar to an olive stone.

The jujube has been cultivated in the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years. It has several medicinal uses and the fruits have been used medicinally in both Chinese and Korean traditional medicine where it is believed to alleviate stress. 

Freshly harvested as well as candied dried fruits are often eaten as a snack.  

Jujube fruit is also made into tea and is even available in the form of teabags. In parts of Asia it is also possible to find jujube juice, jujube wine, jujube vinegar and jujube pickles.

The jujube’s sweet small is said to make teenagers fall in love, and as a result in the Himalayan region men take a stem of sweet-smelling jujube flowers with them or put it on their hats to attract women. In the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony, jijube and walnut were often placed in newlywed’s bedroom as a sign of fertility. The leaves are also used as a potpouri to help keep the houses smelling fresh, clean and insect free. 

This article was published in The Times on 14 October 2009.

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