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In Homer's Odyssey we find at a certain point the mythical "lotus tree" and it is precisely its fruits that we want to talk about today to find out what properties they have, beyond this honorable quote. And the Ziziphus, name that derives from zizfum or zizafun, a term of the Persian language indicating lo Z. lotus, a plant native to southern China and central Asia but which we now find very easily also in the Mediterranean area where it has been naturalized for quite some time. Perhaps we have already met him but in our country he is called Jujube.
Let's focus immediately on the fruits of this plant that have interesting properties and can become part of our diet. These are small fruits. They can be eaten both fresh and dried and in both cases they prove to be interesting, above all for their emollient, laxative and diuretic effect. This makes the fruits of Ziziphus very useful as a natural remedy for diseases that affect breathing, for inflammation of the throat, bronchitis and hoarseness. In traditional Chinese medicine we find then i seeds used to combat insomnia, with curious results. Studies have also been carried out on this to understand the reasons for the sedative effect that this fruit exhibits. It seems to be due to the presence of some alkaloids, triterpene saponins such as jujuboside A and B, and triterpenes such as ziziberanalic acid, oleanolic acid, ursolic acid.
To better investigate this sedative and partly hypnotic effect, in 2007 a study was carried out by the College of Food, South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, China, on flavonoids, saponins and polysaccharides extracted from the seeds of Ziziphus jujuba Miller. When administered to mice, they affected their motor functions with effects very similar to those given by declared sedative substances. The mice showed a drastic reduction in walking times andcoordination skills movements but at the same time an increase in the hours of sleep, following the administration of saponins and flavonoids.
Among all the compounds are the saponins contained in the seeds of Ziziphus jujuba Miller seem to be the most powerful in this sense and the effect they give is muscle relaxant. It is also important to remember that in Giuggiolo there are saponins, used by plants to defend themselves from the attack of bacteria and fungi. These substances are a group of vegetable glycosides capable of lowering surface tension and behaving like soaps. Another study on the properties of Ziziphus, conducted on animals, revealed that it can have a positive effect on the cardiovascular level.
The drupes, as this type of fruit is called, del Jujube, they are very attractive also for the little birds that also eat the seed and then disperse it on the territory. We, on the other hand, do not have to eat the seed but we can reap the fruit, highly energetic and with lots of sugars, to eat it fresh or to make jams, candies, compotes.
In traditional Chinese medicine it Suan zao ren seems to nourish the Yin of the heart, increase the blood to the liver and calm the spirit. It is used to treat irritability, insomnia and heart palpitations.
The plant that produces these fruits belongs to the family of Rhamnaceae and it can remain a bush or become a small tree, in any case it has several thorns. It grows mainly in warm-temperate and subtropical regions around the world. In Italy it is normally not cultivated even if we can meet some specimens, varieties that have deciduous leaves and are able to adapt to the Mediterranean climate. They are deciduous and very sensitive to humidity.
The leaves of Ziziphu are maximum 7 centimeters long, grow alternately and have three main veins. In some species they are deciduous, in others evergreen. The flowers are yellow-gray and very small while the fruits of which we have discovered the properties are colored yellow-brown, red or black, globular and oblong. The size is really small, they can measure from 1 to 5 cm, have a very sugary taste and can be compared to dates in both consistency and aroma.
Ziziphu: where it is
This plant, with its sweet fruits, grows where temperate or tropical climates reign, where the average annual temperature ranges from 12 to 35 ° C and that winter minimum it does not drop below -2 ° C. It prefers deep, fresh, soft, siliceous-calcareous or calcareous-clayey or siliceous-clayey soils, but it is not good when there are excessively sandy or clayey soils because stagnation can occur. Some species of Ziziphus, which live in the Mediterranean area, are deciduous and lose all their leaves at times of the year as a function of variations in humidity.
The best known species are the jujube (Ziziphus jujuba), Ziziphus spina-christi (so called because legend has it that the crown placed on the head of Christ in his passion was formed of its thorns), from south-west Asia, Ziziphus lotus, from the Mediterranean regions. Ziziphus joazeiro grows in the Brazilian caatinga. Ziziphus celata is considered an endangered species in the United States of America.