Common Medlar

Mespilus germanica

Herbs gallery - Common Medlar

Common names

  • Common Medlar
  • Medlar
  • Medlar Tree

The medlar is a plant with flowers, part of the Rosaceae family. It has a very long history of cultivation and it was planted by humans around the Caspian Sea in Northern Iran for at least 3000 years. It is believed to be native to an area to the South East of Europe and South West of Asia that comprises the Caucasus Mountains, North eastern Iran and Northern Turkey. It can be considered to be either a small tree or a large shrub and it has a limited life span, of maximum 50 years. It is useful for its edible fruit, which can only be eaten a few weeks after it becomes ripe.

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Besides its native range, the plant can rarely be found in some of the states in the South of Europe. It is also grown in gardens in Southern England and even occurs as a wild plant in some forests.

Medlars are deciduous and can reach a maximum height of 8 meters, if the conditions are right. Even if it is sometimes classified as a tree, the medlar looks more like an oversized shrub. The bark is grey or brown in color and develops massive vertical crack lines, which eventually form square parts that fall off. The leaves have a length of 8 to 15 cm and a width between 3 and 5 cm and have an ecliptic shape, with a dark green color. The underside of leaves is covered with thick hair. Before falling off in the autumn, the leaves become red.

Every flower has a width of about 6 centimetres and consists of five large petals, with a white color and ovate shape. The flowers are hermaphrodites and can fertilize themselves but are also pollinated by bees. The bloom period is usually at the end of spring. The fruit is small, with a diameter of no more than 3 cm, and has a central hole that makes it appear hollow. Despite looking completely different, it is actually closely related to the pear.

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The small fruits are similar to apples in shape but have a strange look because of the central open calyx that exposes the five seed clusters. The taste is quite similar to a pear but the medlar can't be eaten immediately when ripe. It needs some time to increase the content of sugar and become softer, which can be triggered by frost or by depositing the fruit for several weeks after harvesting it.

With a long history of cultivation, the fruit was introduced in Europe in ancient times. It first reached Greece in about 700 BC and 500 years later it was already present in Rome. It was widely grown in the Roman Empire and remained important in medieval times. However, it was later replaced by other fruit trees and can rarely be found in Europe today. It has one big advantage in gardens since it is one of the rare fruits that can be harvested in winter, allowing a supply of fruits during all seasons.

Parts used

Fruits, bark, leaves.

Uses

The medlar fruit is a very rich source of iron, an essential mineral for the human body. Iron is the main building block of red blood cells and hemoglobin, the compound that gives blood its distinctive color. Its role is to ferry the oxygen required by all body cells for energy. Since we can lose blood through injuries and decay, a constant supply of iron is vital in order to replenish it. A lack of iron causes anemia, which is especially common for women, who lose a large quantity of blood during their monthly menstruation.

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However, iron has many other uses. It is very important for the muscles since it transports the oxygen required for their contractions but it is also a key part of the structure of muscular tissues. This is why one of the main symptoms of anemia is feeble muscles, which lack strength and flexibility.

Since iron is critical in the transport of oxygen, it has a great impact on the functions of the brain. The brain consumes about 20% of the total oxygen in the body and is unable to grow and operate well without it. A well-oxygenated brain has increased neural activity and performs better. Boosting brain activity with the help of iron can stop degenerative diseases like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. Without enough iron, the brain will not get the oxygen it needs.

Modern studies have also revealed that the so-called restless leg syndrome is also started by an insufficient intake of iron. This disease is caused by muscular spasms that are triggered by a lack of this essential mineral. It all begins with low levels of iron in the blood, which can be raised by eating foods rich in this element or by taking dedicated supplements.

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One of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency today is severe fatigue. This can affect not only women, but men as well. It is caused by a lack of iron, which leads to insufficient hemoglobin in the blood. Diets rich in iron are known to fight chronic fatigue and increase energy levels.

Like many other fruits, the medlar is an important source of vitamin C. This is a powerful antioxidant that boosts the activity of the immune system, allowing the body to kill bacteria and viruses.

Green medlar fruits have medical properties and a concentrated decoction prepared from them can stop diarrhea. It also has a soothing effect on inflamed and painful areas and it can be used as a gargle and mouthwash to calm down sores. Dried medlar fruits are an ingredient in a cure for stomach pain. To treat it, prepare a poultice using the dry fruits with red rose juice and small quantities of nutmeg and clove. A powder grounded from the dried leaves can speed up the healing of wounds, when applied on top of them.

In the old herbalist medicine, the pulp was considered a good laxative. Traditional practitioners believed that medlar leaves were astringent, while the seeds were lithontripic. To this day, various parts of the plant are used in Iran to treat a variety of diseases. Leaves extracts are applied to counter infections of the mouth or throat, while the fruit is considered a powerful remedy against hypertension and irregular heartbeat.

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Eating medlar fruit can cure diarrhea and other stomach problems because of their purgative and relaxing effects. It can also destroy stones formed inside the kidneys or bladder and treat constipation by stimulating excretion. It has antiseptic properties and can cure a variety of diseases: fever, internal bleeding, skin problems, throat infections and abscesses inside the mouth, swollen stomach, nervous breakdowns and several intestinal issues.

Medlar tea can be prepared from its leaves and it is believed to eliminate kidney stones. Even more parts of the plant, like the bark and the flowers, are used by Iranians against fever, infections and diarrhea. The bark of the tree can reduce inflammation.

Culinary uses

The medlar can't be eaten straight away when ripe because it has a very hard flesh, with a high acidity. It becomes softer and sweeter if affected by frost or after a few weeks in storage, a process known as bletting. People who are not used to eating medlars might find the process confusing, since the fruit looks like it is spoiled. When it becomes ready to eat, the medlar's skin turns brown and develops wrinkles, while the pulp gets soft, which is a bad sign in other fruits.

At this point, the fruit becomes sweet enough to be consumed raw. Medlar jelly is a popular dessert dish often prepared from it. Another famous recipe is the so-called medlar cheese, which consists of a mix of fruit with butter and eggs and resembles lemon curd.

There is also a wine that can be made from the medlar fruit. It is a popular choice for jelly because of its very high content of pectin, which makes it very suitable for this purpose. The medlar tea is not actually made from this plant, but from goji, also known as the red medlar.

The medlar fruit can be stored for a long time if treated with a solution with a high content of salt, which prevents the development of fungus. After that, the fruits can be placed in a dry and cool location and will become edible after a few weeks. The fermentation process starts and can last for months, changing the aspect and consistency of the fruit. It remains edible during the entire period and it turns soft and dark brown. The flesh can simply be sucked from the skin, while the seeds remain inside it. The flesh has a special flavour but remains quite coarse even when soft.

Habitat and cultivation

The plant can adapt to almost any type of ground but likes the ones with good drainage and moisture and will grow best if the soil is fertile and there is plenty of sun. It is easily propagated from its own seeds, which should be planted just as they ripe, in late autumn.

Seeds are protected by a very strong shell that is not affected by water. For this reason, it will only germinate after a long time, usually two years. To speed up the process, the coats are weakened with sulphuric acid, which enables water to penetrate the seeds and germinate faster. However, this is not easy to accomplish and is only done on a commercial scale usually.

An alternative solution for a gardener or farmer is to replicate the winter conditions that naturally break up the hard shell. The seed should be placed in warm water for one day, then stored for up to three months at temperatures between 1 and 5 degrees C and eventually sowed. Sometimes, a green seed can be used, by collecting it as soon as it is fully developed but before the outside layer is hardened. If picked at the right time and planted in a cold frame, the green seed might germinate much faster than a normal one. The new shoots should be transferred to separate pots as soon as they are big enough and placed in a cold frame to survive their first winter. After the winter they can be moved to their final location, at the end of spring or start of summer, after the danger of frost has passed.

Medlars can also be propagated using cuttings from the wood. These should be planted in a cold frame during November but the chance of success is low. Another option is layering, which requires about one year and a half and should be done at the start of spring or in the autumn.

Constituents

Medlar fruits are especially good for the health of the heart, due to the perfect combination of essential nutrients. The fruit is rich in the compounds needed for a healthy heart, such as the vitamins A, B1, B2 and C. Consuming this fruit also boosts immunity since it is a great source of minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Medlar fruits are a good choice for a healthy diet and also provide important medical benefits, being low in carbohydrates and rich in proteins, pectin, natural organic acids and tannins. Consuming this fruit daily has an overall detoxifying effect and is especially helpful for people who suffer from diseases of the liver or kidneys.

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