One of the oldest cultivated fruit trees, jujube (Ziziphus jujuba var. spinosa syn. Z. spinosa, Rhamnaceae) utilization can be traced historically to the Neolithic period, 7,000 years ago.1 Also known as Chinese or red date and Chinese jujube, the tree has a wide spread of around two million hectares with a production exceeding eight million tons of berries in China alone. Introduced to neighboring Asian countries, such as Korea and Japan over 2,000 years ago, jujube trees have spread around the world—India, Italy, Israel, Iran, the United States, and Australia, to name a few. Because of the tree’s adaptability to drought and ability to grow in arid and semi-arid lands, planting in areas affected by climate change may be a consideration.
The Book of Songs, the oldest collection of poems in China, contains the line “Jujube fruit picked in August and rice harvested in October” indicates that the tree may have been cultivated in a domestic capacity around 3,000 years ago. However, its history extends back to 80 million years ago when the tree diverged from the families of Moraceae and Cannabaceae. The trees appeared in Northern China 24 million years ago. The book Erya, written over 2,600 years ago, names 11 cultivars, and the book Qi Min Yao Shu, written over 1,500 years ago, details cultivation techniques including planting, girdling, flower thinning, as well as jujube paste processing.
Jujube has a long history in traditional Chinese medicine and was mentioned in the medical text, Huangdi Neijing (475–221 BCE) as being a valuable fruit.2 Shennong Bencao Jing (300 BCE–200 CE) an early Chinese medicinal text, states the importance of jujube for extending life expectancy by nourishing blood, aiding the digestive system, and enhancing sleep quality. Jujube fruit is “smooth and bright, like a large red pearl.” 1 The fruit’s taste has been likened to the crispness of an apple with the sweetness of honey. High in nutrients, constituents include vitamins C and B, potassium, iron, and zinc, as well as being a good source of polysaccharides, triterpenic acids, flavonoids, and polyphenols. In Chinese culture, jujube carries the meanings of fertility, harmony, a sweet life, and flourishing endeavors.
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1Liu M. Wang J, Wang L, et al. The historical and current research progress on jujube–a superfruit for the future. Hortic Res. August 2020;7:119. doi: 10.1038/s41438-020-00346-5. eCollection 2020.
2Chen J, Tsin KWK. A review of edible jujube, the Ziziphus jujuba fruit: A heath food supplement for anemia prevalence. Front Pharmacol. November 2020;11:593655. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2020.593655. eCollection 2020.