Last month marked the culmination of my year and a half of study with Kathi Keville. Although I studied herbalism on my own for quite awhile when I met her, she was the first person to really take me under her wing and give me the hands-on experience that I so needed. The last series of classes I took with her was also taught by Christopher Hobbs, incorporating clinical Western herbalism with Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was truly a privilege to learn from both of them!
To celebrate the end of our classes, I went wildcrafting with Christopher and fellow herbal adventurer Diane. We found a motherlode of jujube dates and harvested all of the ones that rained down when he shook the branches, eventually bringing home at least 10 pounds of these fruits. Jujubes are ready to harvest when they turn from green to red, although the overripe shriveled ones are still perfect for these purposes. Here in Sacramento, that usually happens around October. The tiniest bit of moisture will spoil the whole bunch though, so do be sure to dry them or put them up as soon as possible!
So what are jujube dates?
If you have never tasted a jujube, they are similar in texture to apples but with a sweeter, brown-sugar-like flavor. In Chinese medicine, they are known as Da zao or Hong zao and are used as Spleen and Stomach Qi tonics to strengthen the digestion. They also are indicated to calm the spirit and tonify the Blood. A related species, Zizyphus spinosae or Suan zao ren, is the seed of the fruit used more specifically to calm the spirit. But today, we are only referring to Zizyphus jujuba. I leave the peels and pits in all of these concoctions to ensure that I get as many medicinal qualities as I can!
In general, the sweet flavor in moderation tonifies the Spleen. Here, “sweet” refers to whole grains, meats, vegetables, and fruits – the basic nourishment that our bodies require. Too much sweetness in the form of refined sugar harms the Spleen. Now I’m not referring to the anatomical organ itself, but rather to the Chinese concept of the Spleen, which governs digestion among other things. So essentially, these sweet fruits are excellent digestive tonics.
Here are the top 10 things I’d try with jujubes:
- Cook them down into a naturally sweet jujube butter.
- Use leftover cooking water from the jujube butter (which is actually a decoction) to make a syrup.
- Turn syrup into gummies.
- Craft a delicious digestive cordial.
- Ferment them with sweet potatoes and spices.
- Make a caramelized-onion jujube chutney.
- Add dried jujubes to stuffings, salads, & baked goods.
- Toss into bone broth with other sweet tonic herbs.
- Substitute puree for sugar in sweet recipes.
- Eat them raw!
Have you tried jujube dates? How do you like to use them?