History of the Chinese Jujube- 'Zizyphus jujube-' Tree

Chinese poets spoke about the wonderful jujube in 600 BC. The fruit of the jujube has been used in ancient Chinese medicine for many nutritional remedies for 2500 years. Jujubes were used by Gerard in Europe as a medicinal herb in the 1600’s to treat ailments of the kidneys, lungs, and liver.

The Chinese Jujube, 'Zizyphus jujube,' Tree was brought to America by Oriental immigrants who built railroads in Arizona in the early 1900’s. Hundreds of grafted jujube cultivars are available in China, and a large number of these trees were imported by the USDA in 1908 and planted at the Experiment Station at Tifton, Georgia, for testing, according to Otis Woodard.

Lowell F. Locke of the USDA in 1924 introduced the improved jujube (Chinese Date) to the western U.S., where it was described as “They have a delicious fruit with a smooth brown skin and ivory fruit. You eat them skin and all. It was not firm as a peach, more like an apple. I made jams and jellies from them and also candied them.” Locke described the jujube as being cold hardy, late flowering, and virtually frost proof. The trees are well adapted to dry and sandy soils and will grow easily without requiring any special attention.

The Chinese jujube is native to China, Japan, and much of Southeast Asia. The deciduous tree grows to 25 feet tall, loaded with sharp spines, until it ages and the spines fall off as the bark is formed. The yellow fragrant flowers are small and they mature into reddish brown oval fruits a little larger than an olive. New cultivars of improved jujubes can grow as large as a plum and can be as a round or oval shaped, ripening to a reddish-brown color. The jujube fruit can be eaten fresh off the tree, even when there is much green color on the fruit with faint reddish marks just developing. In dry locations the fruit will ripen and dry up on the tree, but in the Southeastern United States, where the humidity is high, the fruit must be harvested when the color change happens and dried in a cool room.

Some gardeners describe jujube as tasting like dates flavored with apples and chocolate. The pulp of the jujube fruit is centered around a core that contains two seeds. The pulp is sweet, soft, and yellow in color, with some cultivars being white when ripe.

After being cured-out and dried, the jujube shrivels up into a wrinkled delicacy. The fruit is commonly treated similar to raisin production to preserve for consumption at a later time.

The jujube tree is prized for it’s delicious tasting fruit, the bright-green waxy leaves, and the fascinating silhouette of the tree. The leaves turn bright yellow before they shed after fall frosts.

Jujube trees thrive in sandy, poor grade soils such as those found in the Southeast, and the trees easily flourish in dry conditions; however, a little well-placed fertilizer produces amazing results in a short time. There are many species of jujube that have found use all over the world, including the continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Arab nutritionists use the leaves of the jujube tree to kill worms and other parasites that attack the intestinal tract and cause diarrhea. A jujube tree that is native to Spain, France, Italy, Syria, and Asia Minor is similar to the Asian jujube and has been used medicinally as a food item in Europe, Asia Minor, and Africa. Jujubes were grown in Algeria and eaten mostly by Algerian Jews in the third century to celebrate New Years Eve.

The Chinese believed that eating the fruit from the jujube tree would improve a person’s stamina and strength, as well as an improvement in the function of the liver and the immune system. They believed that consumption of the jujube would mildly tranquilize a person, act to fight allergies, and cause a person to gain weight.

Nutritionists have found that the fruit of the jujube tree contains beneficial concentrations of Vitamins A, B2, and C. The jujube also contains minerals necessary for health, such as phosphorus, calcium, and iron.

In China the fruit is marketed mainly like dried dates and can be found at any food store. The fruit is prized as a health food as well as a tasty treat. Can a market for jujubes be developed for this easy to grow delicacy? Very few fruit trees can be grown that have as many desirable qualities, such as no natural pests, good taste, heavy production, unfailing yearly crops, no fertilizer requires, thrives in poor soil, 4000 years of growing history in China, and no climatic limitations.

By Pat Rick