Da Zao

Botanical name: Ziziphus jujuba
Common name: Jujube, Chinese date
Literal name translation: big date

Family: Rhamnacaea, buckthorn family
Part used in Chinese medicine:  fruit

Major Chinese medicine actions:
Tonifies Spleen, qi, tonifies blood, calms spirit,
moderates and harmonizes effect of other herbs

Da Zao

Da Zao

Da Zao

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Ziziphus jujuba; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Ziziphus jujuba; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 3: Ziziphus jujuba; 11/2004; author Julio Reis; permission under GFDL

Comments:
Jujube, or Chinese date, is native to East Asia and is known as one of the “five celebrated fruits of ancient China”, along with the plum, apricot, peach, and chestnut. Ziziphus spinosa is related to Ziziphus jujube and is a wild variety of Ziziphus. The seed of that plant is the source of the Chinese herb Suan Zao Ren.

Chinese date is used commonly in Chinese herbal medicine and also as a medicinal food in cooking. It is highly nutritive and health promoting, useful for helping to build strength in the weak and elderly, and for those rehabilitating after severe illness. A simple drink is prepared with a decoction of black jujube (10 pieces), American ginseng (2 inch piece), raw sugar (2 tablespoons) and water (4 cups). The mixture is simmered until 2 cups of liquid is left.

Bei jing mi zao, or Beijing honey date, is a famous sugar-preserved jujube. Prepared by inserting large needles into the ripe, freshly picked fruit, they are then soaked in a strong, sweet, raw sugar solution. The dates are partially dried, the process is repeated again, and finally fully dried and stored.

The dates have a wide variety of culinary and ceremonial uses. Because red is considered the most auspicious color, they were used as offerings at official ceremonies as far back as the Tang dynasty. At weddings the dried dates are mixed with peanuts, sorghum grain, sunflower seeds and walnuts to throw in the air at the end of the ceremony and on the wedding bed. Those fruits and seeds are used because the sound of their names have a similar sound to the words for “early”, “born”, “son”, and “perfect union”.

Growing and Propagation

Jujube is easily grown in a variety of conditions, being tolerant of cold and both wet and dry climates. The tree is remarkably free from pests and grows frequently on dry, neglected hillsides. Propagation is accomplished most easily by replanting root suckers. In the spring, young suckers that are growing within 2 feet of a tree are cut away, dug up, and replanted with the addition of some good fertilizer.

Cultivated Jujube trees have 2 types of branches, long woody branches and deciduous branches that grow from spurs on old branches. Only these deciduous branches can bear flowers and fruit. Immature fruits are green, hard and tasteless, and as they mature they turn a lighter cream-green color. When they begin to form a maroon ring on the end of the fruit, they are more mature, becoming slightly sweet and ready for harvest. However even at this stage, raw jujube is not very tasty and it is not until it is dried that it becomes sweeter and the whole fruit turns maroon in color.

Harvesting and Preparation

The fruits should be harvested when ripe, about mid-September. They are dried in the sun, or parboiled first until the surface skin of the fruit is soft and wrinkled, then dried.

Red jujube (Hong Zao or Da Zao) is harvested when ripe and dried directly in the sun. Good quality for medicinal use is thick, light red or maroon colored fruit with small seeds and a sweet taste. Black jujube (Hei Zao or Nan Zao) is harvested when ripe, then parboiled before drying in the sun. It should have a black, glossy, wrinkled surface and a sweet taste.