The jocote (scientific name Spondias purpurea) is a flowering plant part of the Anacardiaceae family, which also includes the cashew. Jocote originates from warm tropical areas of the American continent and its name comes from the word xocotl, which means fruit in Nahuatl.
The size of the species depends on the location. In low areas it looks like a shrub or a small tree, while in higher areas it is a medium sized tree with a size of 7.5 to15 m and a thick trunk. The spreading branches tend to be brittle. Jocote is a deciduous plant with alternate compound leaves that have a length of 12 to 25 cm at maturity. Young leaves have strange colors, wither purple or dark red. They consist of a number between 5 and 19 sessile leaflets, with an oblong-elliptic, obovate or lanceolate shape.
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The small jocote flowers can be male, female or bisexual. They actually appear on hairy panicles on branches before the first leaves. Flowers are red or purple and consist of 4 to 5 petals. The fruits resemble plums in shape and can have a variety of colors: yellow, red and yellow, purple, orange or various shades of red. They grow single or in groups of 2 to 3.
Jocote fruits have various shapes and can be oval, obovoid, oblong or even similar to a pear or a plum. They are between 2.5 and 5 cm long and sometimes have a knob near the apex or small indentations on their surface. Under the glossy skin there is a layer of yellow flesh, which is fibrous but very juicy at the same time. It has an acid taste resembling the one of a plum, with a trifle turpentine in some cases. There are 5 small seeds inside the fibrous hard stone in the middle.
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The species is native to the Americas and its range extends from Mexico to Peru and Brazil, where is grows both cultivated and in the wild. It has commercial importance and some plantations have recently been established in Venezuela and Mexico. It also grows in the Caribbean and is popular in the Bahamas. In all of these countries the fruits are commonly sold on the street and in local markets. It has been introduced to the Philippines by Spanish explorers and has adapted very well. Jocote also grows in Nigeria, where it can be found in cultivation as well. A small number of trees have been cultivated as an exotic species in Southern Florida.
Fruits, bark, leaves.
Jocote fruits are consumed in Mexico for their antispasmodic and diuretic effects. Wounds and mouth sores can be treated with a decoction prepared from the jocote fruits. The jocote fruits can also be turned into a syrup that stops outbreaks of chronic diarrhea. Bark decoctions are astringent and can treat dysentery, infant bloating, mange or ulcers. Sap extracted from the bark is used in the Philippines as a treatment for infant stomatitis.
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Fresh leaves can be pressed to extract juice, which is useful against thrush. High fever can be reduced using a decoction prepared from either the bark or the leaves. Sores, burns and open wounds are washed in Nigeria with a shredded leaves infusion. The antiseptic effect of the leaves has been investigated by modern scientists, who have validated it and discovered that alcoholic extracts are even more powerful. Jaundice can be treated by mixing the tree resin with pineapple or soursop juice. Some of the healing benefits of the plant can be explained by the high concentration of tannins in its composition.
Like most fruits, jocotes are very rich in vitamin C. This compound is a strong general purpose antioxidant that boosts the reaction of our immune system. The fruit also supplies a mix of other antioxidants active at skin level. The massive amount of vitamin C reduces the risk of infection and prevents a number of common conditions such as cold, cough or fever.
Since it has a low content of saturated fats and calories, the jocote is a great choice for a healthy diet. It is very rich in dietary fibers and provides a good amount of potassium, iron, vitamins A, C and other essential nutrients.
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The jocote was nicknamed the food of the gods but it is rarely available in supermarkets today. However, it is widely found in local stores in the Philippines.
When ripe, the jocote fruits can be consumed raw. They are not considered to be high quality fruits but remain popular to natives who got used to their taste since childhood. People usually eat them as snacks between the main meals. A popular home-made dessert is prepared by stewing the fruits with sugar. Boiling or drying are the two main ways to preserve them for later consumption. Straining the juice of cooked fruits is useful to produce wine and vinegar and also a high quality jelly. The jocote juice can be drunk on its own or combined with the one of other fruits.
Immature jocote fruits are used in cooking in Mexico. They are either pickled and eaten with chili pepper and salt, or turned into a green sauce. Young shoots and fresh leaves of jocote are edible as well and can be added raw in salads or cooked similar to green vegetables.
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The jocote fruits can be eaten both ripe and unripe. Immature ones are usually combined with salt and an acidic agent, such as lime juice or vinegar. The skin of ripe fruits is edible but it is sometimes removed. The jocote fruit is very popular in Haiti, where it is widespread in the mountain areas of the country and known under the name "siwel". It is also an ingredient of the cuisine of El Salvador, as syrup that combines the juice of jocote, panela and mango. Most of the fruit actually consists of the large seed in the middle, which must be discarded because it is not edible.
It is a tropical species that needs a lot of heat and tolerates both dry and moist climates. It grows from sea level up to 760 m in Jamaica and to elevations up to 1800 m in Mexico. It is cultivated in Florida but doesn't tolerate cold patches, as well as Israel where it never produces fruits.
In its extended wild range in Latin America, the jocote tree tolerates many types of soil. It can be found on limestone-based ones, as well as ground rich in gravel, sand or loam.
Jocote can be propagated from seeds, but it needs a long time to grow. It is easier to multiply jocote using large cuttings, placed in the soil in an upright position. Jocote is commonly used to create living fences in gardens.
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