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Ziziphus

 

Ziziphus

Ziziphus, commonly called jujube, red date, or Chinese date, is a species of Ziziphus in the buckthorn family Rhamnaceae, used primarily for its fruits. Common names in Arabic are nabq, dum, tsal, sadr, zufzuuf (in Morocco) and sidr, the last of which also means Ziziphus lotus. In Persian it is called anab or annab, a name also used in Lebanon.

Distribution

Its precise natural distribution is uncertain due to extensive cultivation, but is thought to be in southern Asia, between Lebanon, Pakistan, northern India, the Korean peninsula, and southern and central China, and also southeastern Europe though more likely introduced there

Growth

It is a small deciduous tree or shrub reaching a height of 5–10 m, usually with thorny branches. The leaves are shiny-green, ovate-acute, 2–7-cm wide and 1–3-cm broad, with three conspicuous veins at the base, and a finely toothed margin. The flowers are small, 5-mm wide, with five inconspicuous yellowish-green petals. The fruit is an edible oval drupe 1.5–3-cm deep; when immature it is smooth-green, with the consistency and taste of an apple, maturing brown to purplish-black and eventually wrinkled, looking like a small date. There is a single hard stone similar to an olive stone.

Nomenclature

The species has a curious nomenclatural history, due to a combination of botanical naming regulations, and variations in spelling. It was first described scientifically by Carolus Linnaeus as Rhamnus zizyphus, in Species Plantarum in 1753. Later, in 1768, Philip Miller concluded it was sufficiently distinct from Rhamnus to merit separation into a new genus, in which he named it Ziziphus jujube, using Linnaeus’ species name for the genus but with a probably accidental single letter spelling difference, ‘i’ for ‘y’; for the species name he used a different name, as tautonyms (repetition of exactly the same name in the genus and species) are not permitted in botanical naming.

However, because of Miller’s slightly different spelling, the combination correctly using the earliest species name (from Linnaeus) with the new genus, Ziziphus zizyphus, is not a tautonym, and therefore permitted as a botanical name; this combination was made by Hermann Karsten in 1882.

Cultivation and uses

Jujube was domesticated in the Indian subcontinent by 9000 BCE. Over 400 cultivars have been selected.

The tree tolerates a wide range of temperatures and rainfall, though it requires hot summers and sufficient water for acceptable fruiting. Unlike most of the other species in the genus, it tolerates fairly cold winters, surviving temperatures down to about 15°C. This enables the jujube to grow in desert habitats, provided there is access to underground water through the summer. Virtually no temperature seems to be too high in summertime.

Medicinal use

The fruits are used in Chinese and Korean traditional medicine, where they are believed to alleviate stress. The jujube-based Australian drink 1-bil avoids making specific stress-related claims, but does suggest drinking 1-bil “when you feel yourself becoming distressed”.

Ziziphin, a compound in the leaves of the jujube, suppresses the ability to perceive sweet taste in humans. The fruit, being mucilaginous, is very soothing to the throat and decoctions of jujube have often been used in pharmacy to treat sore throats.

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