A long, long time ago, ancient human cultures had a different type of relationship with their food than they do in modernity. For instance, cacao beans—which make chocolate—were used as a currency throughout Mesoamerica until the late 1800s. And throughout Asia, a tiny, tart apple-like fruit called the loquat has been revered as a multipurpose food and medicine, and fodder for poems and literature of the ages.
All around Southern California right now, loquats can be spotted growing just about everywhere. These small, orange-ish fruits look similar to an apricot and are a distant cousin to the apple. They have high levels of vitamins A, B6, potassium, manganese and fiber. Tart and sweet in taste, the fruits can be eaten fresh off the tree. Loquats also make incredible jams, jellies, chutneys, syrups, and of course, delicious pies and tarts, too. They can even be made into wine.
But there are some other reasons for eating loquats besides their unique and tasty flavor. The Chinese have long regarded the loquat as a useful expectorant, capable of moving congestion out of the lungs. Properties in the fruit dissolve phlegm and alleviate the symptoms of coughs and vomiting.
The leaf of the loquat tree may have its own benefits as well. Some herbalists have prescribed a tea made with loquat leaf for use in treating cancer. Though no clinical studies exist, the loquat does have hydrocyanic glycosides found in both the leaf and the seed, which are also found in apricot and peach seeds and are known from the works of Dr. Ernst Krebs as a cancer preventive, and even a cure.
Loquat leaves have also been used historically to treat diabetes in some parts of China. A sesquiterpene glycoside isolated from the dried loquat leaf performed remarkable anti-hyperglycemic effects in a study published in the International Journal of Phytotherapy in 2008.
Unlike many of the fruits we see at stores today, bred to be sweeter and bigger, the loquat is truest to its ancient cultivars. The trees grow easily in subtropical and mild climates, and make a perfect addition to a yard or garden, and the fruits are certainly a healthy addition to diets!
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