The loquat (scientific name Eriobotrya japonica) is a sub-tropical fruit. This is a flowering plant species belonging to the family Rosaceae. In Japan, people have been growing this plant for more than 1,000 years. It is assumed that this species has its origin in the cooler hill areas in China, especially the area extending from south to central China.
The loquat is a big evergreen shrub or a tree that is mainly cultivated commercially for its yellow-hued fruits. Some people also grow this species in the form of an ornamental plant.
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Earlier, it was believed that the loquat had a close relation with the genus Mespilus. As a result, Eriobotrya japonica occasionally is also referred to as the Japanese medlar.
These large shrubs have a rounded crown, brief trunk and woolly twigs. In favourable conditions, Eriobotrya japonica shrubs or trees can grow up to a height of anything between 5 meters and 10 meters (16 feet and 33 feet). However, usually they are much smaller and grow up to a height of roughly 3 meters to 4 meters (10 feet to 13 feet).
The long, dark green leaves of the loquat shrubs are simple, alternate and measure about 10 cm to 25 cm (4 inches to 10 inches) in length. These leaves have a leather-like texture with hollowed out margin. On the underside, the leaves have thick velvety hairs along with dense yellowish-brown pubescence.
Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) are considered to be unusual among fruit bearing trees. This is because these trees are in bloom during the autumn or beginning of winter, while the fruits ripen any time between the beginnings of spring to early summer. The white flowers of loquats measure about 2 cm (roughly 1 inch) in diameter and each flower has five petals. The flowers are borne at the terminal of stiff panicles and each panicle bears anything between three and ten flowers. Loquat flowers have a sweet, exhilarating fragrance, which can be smelled from some distance.
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The fruits of loquats always grow in clusters. They are rounded, oval and almost pear-shaped. Each loquat fruit is about 3 cm to 5 cm (1 inch to 2 inches) in length, having a downy or smooth, yellowish or orange skin. Occasionally, the skin is also red-blushed. The succulent flesh of the fruit is white and tangy. Sometimes, the flesh may also have an orange or yellow hue and its flavour may vary from sweet to acidic, subject to the cultivar.
Each loquat fruit encloses anything between one and ten ovules. Usually, the number varies between three and five. Several of these ovules mature into large brown-hued seeds. While the skin of the fruit is somewhat thin, it can be peeled off easily when the fruit is ripe. Cultivators in Egypt often graft the sweeter loquat varieties having fewer seeds on specimens that are of inferior quality.
It is worth mentioning here that the loquat fruits taste sweetest when they are soft and their skin is orange-hued. The flavour of loquat fruits is somewhat like a combination of citrus, peach and mild mango. The loquat is native to China, where all these related species are seen growing in the same place in the wild. After this species was introduced into Japan, it quickly became acclimatized in that country. Over time, the species has also acclimatized itself in Australia, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chile, Iraq, Iran, India, Bermuda, New Zealand, Mexico, Central America, South Africa, Mexico, South America, Pakistan, Tonga, Réunion, the entire Mediterranean Basin, and several warmer regions of the United States.
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It is believed that Chinese immigrants carried the loquat to Hawaii. Then again, Japanese scholars are believed to have brought this fruit as well as its seeds from China when they returned home. This possibly happened during the Tang Dynasty when several Japanese scholars visited China and stayed there for their studies.
In Chinese Traditional Medicine, loquat syrup is employed for alleviating sore throat. In fact, it is a well accepted ingredient found in many cough syrups. In Japan, people dry the leaves of loquat and prepare a mild beverage from it. This beverage is locally known as biwa cha and is prepared by brewing the dry loquat leaves employing the customary Japanese method known as senjiru. Consumption of biwa cha helps to beautify the skin as well as cure all inflammatory conditions related to the skin, including eczema and psoriasis. This beverage is also said to be effective in curing chronic respiratory problems like bronchitis.
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Loquats are delectable fruits containing very few calories. On the other hand, these fruits contain high levels of an insoluble dietary fiber called pectin. Inside the colon, pectin helps to retain moisture, thereby serving as bulk laxatives. This property of pectin helps to protect the mucous membrane of the colon by lessening the time it is exposed to toxic substances. At the same time, pectin also attaches to carcinogenic chemicals inside the colon, thereby preventing them from causing any damage.
In addition, it has been found that pectin also reduces the levels of bad or "LDL" cholesterol in the blood stream by lessening its re-absorption inside the colon by binding it to bile acids. Eventually, the bad cholesterol is excreted from the body.
Loquat encloses several nutrients that are highly beneficial for our health. One such nutrient is the essential mineral potassium, which works as a vasodilator and helps to widen the cardiovascular system, thereby lessening the pressure and strain inside the blood vessels. This attribute of potassium helps to keep the blood pressure normal and, at the same time, protects the heart. Often, potassium is also considered to be a brain booster. This is because potassium promotes blood circulation to the brain, thereby improving the cognitive functioning.
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Often loquat tea is recommended to people for treating as well as preventing diabetes. This is because it has been found that regular ingestion of this tea helps to reduce the blood sugar levels significantly. Loquat tea contains exceptional organic compounds that can help in regulating the glucose and insulin levels. This, in turn, helps to protect us from developing diabetes. In addition, people suffering from diabetes also find loquat tea beneficial, as it helps to prevent abrupt spikes and drops in the blood sugar levels.
Loquat also contains several antioxidants, which are extremely beneficial for our health. These antioxidants work to counteract the free radicals which are by-products formed inside our body as a result of cellular metabolism. Basically, free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons and they are capable of mutating healthy cells, thereby resulting in various chronic diseases such as cancer. It has been found that drinking loquat tea on a regular basis may help to prevent development of oral and lung cancers.
Eriobotrya japonica or loquat also possesses expectorant properties and, hence, this herb plays a vital role in curing colds as well as other infections of the respiratory tract. Often, loquat tea is employed in the form of an expectorant. This tea may be drunk or also used to gargle. Drinking or gargling with loquat tea may result in coughing and removal of phlegm and mucus. Both mucus and phlegm are ideal places for bacteria to live and grow. Aside from causing respiratory infection, these bacteria may also worsen other symptoms. Hence, it is important to get rid of them from the respiratory tract at the earliest.
In addition to the above mentioned nutrients, loquat is also an excellent source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is essential for white blood cells (erythrocytes), which forms the first line of the body's defence system. At the same time, vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant, which puts off various chronic ailments. Moreover, vitamin C is necessary for collagen production. Collagen is important for our body as it promotes growth as well as repair of tissues all over the body following any injury or ailment.
Loquat is also rich in dietary fiber, especially pectin, content. Loquat fruits contain pectin, which has a reputation of promoting digestion. As we are all aware, dietary fiber helps to increase the stool and promote peristaltic motion in the intestines, which assists the normal movement of bowel. People who are suffering from diarrhea, constipation, bloating, cramping or any other stomach problems should include more foods containing fiber in their daily diet. This will help to alleviate inflammation and, at the same time, promote the gut's health.
While scientists are yet to comprehend the exact mechanism of loquat, various studies have directly associated this herb with lower levels of blood cholesterol in people who consume this fruit and the tea prepared from it on a regular basis. This is a very interesting health benefit of loquat. However, this property of the herb is still not proven on a large scale. A number of studies are ongoing to explore the various properties and health benefits of Eriobotrya japonica.
Many people lose the bone mineral density as they age. This is a major problem, especially for women who are in menopausal stage. However, we are fortunate that loquat has shown that it possesses the aptitude to prevent loss of bone density in several areas of the body. This property of loquat is attributed to the presence of a combination of different vitamins, chemical components that mimic hormones and other nutrients.
If one wants to avoid health problems like anemia and its ruthless symptoms, it is essential for him/ her to incorporate plenty of foods rich in iron content. It is established that loquat contains high concentrations of iron, which is beneficial for the red blood cells. Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygenated red blood cells to the different parts of our body. In this way, iron helps to improve blood circulation. Presence of adequate amounts of this essential mineral in the blood stream can help to accelerate the healing process, boost energy levels and also make sure that all organ systems in the body are functioning at their optimal levels.
The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) has a number of culinary uses. Before consuming this yellow fruit, it is essential to wash them thoroughly in cold water with a view to get rid of dirt or pesticide remaining on its surface.
While the flesh of the loquat just below its external skin is somewhat sweet, the pulp in the center of the fruit is tart. It is very easy to peel off the skin of loquats. You can eat the peeled loquats fresh. Alternatively, you may slice them and mix them with pieces of various other fruits such as mango, banana and orange in salads. Some people also use sliced loquats in desserts or in the form of pie filling. They can also be sliced and cooked in the form of a sauce. This fruit is also used to make jams, jellies and even simmered in sugary syrup along with cinnamon.
In places having temperate climatic conditions, loquats are grown in the form of ornamental plants. This is mainly because the fruits of the plants grown in such places rarely ripen to be edible. However, if you are growing loquats in temperate climates, you need to ensure that you provide the plants with adequate protection during the winter months.
Over the years, the loquats have become acclimatized in the highland regions of Central America. Consequently, this species is often seen growing in wild in this region, especially places that are disturbed and abandoned. The seeds of this plant are scattered by birds in these areas. When grown at altitudes below 1,000 meters above the sea level, the fruits of this plant seldom mature to become edible. In fact, the fruits of the shrubs growing at such altitudes are very acidic. However, the fruits of plants growing in wild above 1,000 meters are highly appreciated for their sweet as well as fruit-like flavour.
Loquats are often planted as living fence posts, because these trees have a long life span and are not very susceptible to diseases. In addition, the wood of loquat trees is hard as well as durable. Since good quality timber is in high demand among Central American furniture makers, they give much value to loquat timber for its solidity and durability.
Chemical analysis of the loquat fruit has revealed that it is a wonderful source of vitamin A. In addition, this fruit also contains a number of phenolic antioxidants like coumaric acids, epicatechin, neo-chlorogenic acid, chlorogenic acid, feruloylquinic acid, hydroxybenzoic acid, ferulic acid and protocatechuic acid. The concentration of chlorogenic acid is much higher in ripened loquat fruits.
In addition to the above mentioned phytochemicals, loquat fruits are also excellent source of various essential minerals like calcium, copper, iron, manganese as well as several other minerals. Our body uses manganese in the form of a co-factor for superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant enzyme. On the other hand, our body needs copper for producing red blood cells (erythrocytes). Iron is necessary for the body for use in the form of a co-factor in cellular oxidation. In addition, iron is also vital for the formation of red blood cells.
While loquat fruits are safe for consumption, the seeds of this fruit enclose several toxic alkaloids such as cyanogens-glycosides. Consuming this toxic alkaloid may result in life-threatening symptoms such as breathlessness, vomiting and even death. Hence, it is advisable that children should be prevented from chewing the seeds. In fact, children should eat loquats preferably under the supervision of adults.