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Fruits As Food as Medicine: Part Two

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food as Herbs, Health, and Medicine

Fall Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(3) page(s): 15 and 16


Part One in the previous issue discusses five fruits: The fig, gooseberry, hawthorn, loquat, and the Chinese date. This part continues with five others: The longan, Chinese olive, papaya, pomegranate, and wolfberry. These fruits, as those in Part One, are investigated in terms of botanical and common names, parts used for healing purposes, their yin/yang use, and their value in terms of their qi; also some reported health properties they have, known health hazards--if any, and a few medicinal recipes. The information is intended only to educate about food use in Chinese culture. Usage for medicinal purposes requires advice from medical professionals. Therefore, do not use any of these fruits as herbals to cure, prevent, or even treat any condition or disease without first consulting trained Chinese and Western medical personnel.

Longon is known in Chinese as long yan gou. This fruit has three botanical names: Euphoria longan, Longan aril, and Arillus longan. All of them refer to dragon eye fruit, another common name for this fruit that grows on trees reaching heights of thirty-five feet or more. The longon tree is an evergreen, the fruit abundant, and it is light brown when ripe. Longans grow in bunches, as many as a dozen hanging down from a small central twig. They ripen in summer and they provide moderately juicy translucent flesh. And, there is one pit, dark brown in color, in each longan fruit.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), these fruits are considered warm, sweet and astringent. Many parts of the plant are used medicinally including the fruit itself, which when dried, relieves anxiety. The leaves are said to cool the system, the flowers an aid the kidneys, as are the seeds. The roots are used to treat diabetics and to treat gonorrhea. Also the fruit, with the exterior shell left on, is used in a tea known as san po tai made with rock sugar and tea leaves added.

The fruit, as a traditional Chinese medicine, is used for cardiac palpitations and books recommend an ounce of it steamed with a teaspoon of pickled Chinese dates be consumed once a day. For weakness, and for those with lack of strength during pregnancy, the same amount of fruit is recommended but mixed with two ounces of crystallized brown sugar, one ounce of red dates, and a teaspoon of fresh ginger; these are to be steamed together and this amount eaten once a day.

The longan has other roles in Chinese medicine. One touted, is for those with premature gray hair. They should drink an ounce of longan wine, a blood tonic, every morning and every evening. Longan wine blood tonic also enriches the blood. Should you want to make some, medicinal books say to take equal amounts of the fruit, knotweed (Polygonum multiflorum), and leatherleaf (Caulis reticulate), and three times that amount of rice wine. They advise to soak these together for ten days. There is a non-alcoholic longan tonic that simmers the same amount of fruit with an equal amount of sugar until very thick. It is taken twice daily, as well.

Dried longan fruit that was soaked in hot water rather than sun-dried, is used for loss of appetite, ulcers that do not heal, wounds and bleeding, ringworm or other scalp itches, even for relief of armpit and body odor. For that last item, the recipe calls for half an ounce of the pit ground then mixed with two teaspoons of black pepper to make an poultice. This is put directly on the odoriferous body part, amount of time it needs to stay there not mentioned.

Chinese olive is, in Chinese, called gai lan. When yellow, it is called huang lan, if blue-green called qing guo, and when white, the Chinese refer to it as bai lan. An English name of this fruit is kenari fruit. What physically distinguishes this particular olive from olives common in western countries are the very points at each end of the pit or stone of their fruit. Therefore, it is not the same species as olives grown in the middle East and elsewhere. Canarium album or Fructus canarii are the botanical names for this Chinese fruit.

No source indicated if this is either yin or yang, but the taste, known to be astringent, has a sweet aftertaste. The fruit, fresh or dried, is used medicinally as are the pits; but eating a lot of olives is not recommended. As a matter of fact, some TCM literature specifically says not to eat much more than half an ounce in a day. What is less clear is if they mean the pit or the fruit, fresh or dried.

The most common way to dry this fruit is to put it out in the sun. When dry, TCM doctors recommend using it for a swollen throat and suggest taking only one at a time but to take one several times a day. One source said that fresh olives are good for swollen glands. Chinese herbalists and TCM doctors recommend them for fever or extreme thirst, and they suggest three to five fruits crushed, covered with water, steamed, and consumed as a tea.

The Chinese olive is also used salted, dried in the sun for two days, put in crock covered with salt, and set aside at least for two weeks before use. Fresh or dried, this olive is used to treat dysentery when adding sugar and ginger. For gastric bleeding, the Chinese use it with pork, lotus root, and salt. For a chronic cough, they recommend it prepared with sugar. And, for a hangover, crush ten olives and eat them. These recipes did not indicate fresh or dried, but the assumption is that they mean fresh olives. For the hangover, should you have one a big one, they suggest adding the fruit to two ounces of sugar and a like amount of water, and to consume it quickly.

The olive, high in vitamin C, is used as an oil for cooking and the fruit used for candies as is the li plum. As a candy, it is called crack seed. Preserved, these fruits are used by Chinese herbalists, the oil, as well. To learn more about crack seed, see the article in Flavor and Fortune in Volume 2(2) on pages 5 and 16.

Papaya or fan mu gua, in Chinese, is also used by this population for herbal medicinal purposes. Botanically, it is in the paw paw family and known as Carica papaya. It is also called a 'tree melon' and sometimes referred to as a 'Chinese pumpkin,' which it is not. The papaya, as a round or an elongated fruit and the plant itself were discussed in the last issue of Flavor and Fortune Volume 7(2) on pages 17, 18, and 28. Do check that out.

The Chinese use the fruit green or ripe, consider it neither hot nor cold, and in TCM they use the seed and over-ripe fruits, too. Though no health hazards are known, Chinese doctors say not to eat but a part of one fruit and they recommend sharing one when doing so.

TCM doctors suggest papaya for indigestion recommending an ounce of unripe fruit mixed with two ounces of ripe fruit, this mixture eaten twice a day. For lactating women, the recipe is more complicated as they use a pound of unripe fruit cooked for several hours with two pig trotters, the bones then discarded, and the remaining materials mashed. One-third of this mixture is to be taken on each of three days.

Papaya is also given to those feeling rotten, we would say weak, and given to anyone with a persistent cough. For both of these conditions, the recommendation is a half pound of ripe fruit steamed until pulpy and eaten all at once. There is another use for this fruit should someone have impetigo. For this condition, one unripe fruit is mixed with two ounces of vinegar and a like amount of salt. After these are mashed together, rub the paste on the affected area.

When needing ripe fruit for an application or condition, the Chinese recommend burying the fruit in rice husks or unhusked rice where it will ripen in but a few days. To make soured fruit, should that be needed or wanted, the suggestion is to remove skin and seeds, slice the fruit, and put it in vinegar for some hours or days.

Pomegranate, which is shi liu in Chinese, is known as Punica granatum to the biologist, and peace pomegranate or pearl pomegranate to the Chinese people. This summer and autumn fruit is said to be cool, its dried skin having lots of tannins. It is bitter and astringent, its leaves useful to relieve itch, and its flowers used to treat burns.

The Chinese are very concerned about large overdoses of this fruit. They report problems from an excess include vomiting, dizziness, chills, temporary or permanent vision problems, respiratory failure, even death. However, nowhere has what they mean by 'large' been reported. Certainly eating large amounts of the skin are known to be poisonous. Knowing this, Chinese herbalist nonetheless recommends the rind as an anti-diarrhetic and uses it for dysentery. They need to do so carefully because the skin can cause serious gastric irritation, even in small amounts.

Externally, the Chinese herbal practitioners use skin or rind to treat wounds and eczema. For the latter, they recommend a third of a pound of skin mixed with water and simmered until thick. This, they use as a poultice. They even use the leaves somewhat akin to a wash cloth for a psychological condition; that is they use them to wash away bad luck.

Internally, for a sore throat the seeds are crushed, water added and the mixture simmered, strained, cooled, and consumed. Should you have a persistent cough, Chinese medicinal doctors would suggest the seeds, that is the fruit of one almost ripe pomegranate before bedtime. For diarrhea, the recommendation is to take those seeds and the skin of the fruit, crush them together, add salt, and cover them with water, then steam them. When done, no time indicated, they say to drink the decoction three time a day. For other information, most non-medicinal, including recipes about this fruit, see Flavor and Fortune’s Volume 6(4) on pages 23, 24 and 30.

Wolfberry is known as guo qi zi in Chinese. Botanically, this 'goji' fruit has several names including: Fructus lycii, Lycium barbarum, Lycium chinense, and Cortex lycii. It also has several common names including: wolfberry, barbary fruit, boxthorn, and most recently been called the goji berry. The leafy part of the plant is called matrimony vine. It is a popular and beloved vegetable. The fruit or berries are neither warm nor cool, but the root and leaves are thought to be cool.

The root of the wolfberry plant, di gu pi, is called earth bone skin. It is often recommended for impotence as is just the exterior or so-called bark of the root. The fruit itself is recommended for backache and for those with rheumatism. It is also suggested for diabetics. They need to take two ounces of leaves and mix them with an egg, but one from a chicken, add salt and oil and consume this once a day. For a toothache, TCM doctors say to simmer two ounces of the root with water, hold this in the mouth as long as possible, then expectorate the solution. One source did not so advise, but did imply not to swallow it.

For night blindness, the Chinese recommendation is two ounces of the leaves mixed with a like amount of ground pork, and boil this as a soup with salt. For those suffering from anxiety, or folks with tinnitus or aching knees, simmer the root in water and drink the liquid as a tea. Traditional Chinese medical doctors say not to consume dairy products when consuming wolfberries. No reason has been found for this dictum nor for the recommendation not to use them when fevered, when you have a cold, suffer from spleen weakness, or are suffering with diarrhea.

The wolfberry is also believed to relieve aching kidneys, help weak eyes, cool the blood, and as an old Chinese saying goes, increase sexual desire. The reason for that last item is because elder men are told not take these berries when away from home. When at home, they and women are advised to use them in soups and stews, and in teas, and to cook them with Chinese yams, chrysanthemum flowers, and rhemenia root.

There are TCM recommendations for many other fruits; one book discusses more than a hundred and fifty fruits and seeds and their medicinal uses. Others have more or less than that. Use the wordwideweb, libraries, and Chinese herbalists to learn more about those discussed, and about many others.

The next issue of Flavor and Fortune will look at five Chinese vegetables and their medicinal uses.

                                                                                                                                                       
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