Yangmei

Myrica rubra

Herbs gallery - Yangmei

Common names

  • Chinese Bayberry
  • Japanese Bayberry
  • Yangmei
  • Yumberry

Yangmei is the name of the fruit of a tree with the scientific name Myrica rubra. The yangmei tree grows in subtropical areas of China and other countries in the area and produces fruits known for their vivid color. Yangmei has been known and consumed in China for a very long time. However, it is rarely found elsewhere since it has a short shelf life that makes it difficult to transport.

In temperate areas, the yangmei tree can reach a maximum height of up to 10 m. It is an evergreen species, otherwise quite undistinguished, with thin green leaves and a silver-colored bark. It has the ability to fix nitrogen in the ground, so it is often planted to improve poor soils. The yangmei tree is one of the best choices for damaged terrains, since it will restore the amount of nitrogen in the soil and produce useful fruits at the same time. The yangmei fruits become ripe in the summer but can only be harvested and consumed in a limited period of only a few weeks.

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The yangmei fruit's taste is hard to describe, since it is sweet and tart at the same time. Its flavour has been compared to a mix between a cranberry, a strawberry and a pomegranate. The pit is similar to the one of a cherry, while the pulp texture resembles an orange. The yangmei fruit doesn't usually need any pesticides, since it has a strong natural resistance against various pests. However, the fruit has a very short shelf life. It is only harvested and consumed for just a few weeks in the summer, which makes it more rare and valuable.

The harvest window is very short and any unpicked fruits will fall to the ground. As a result, the yangmei trees can cause problems on public streets. The fruits fall to the ground and create a red pulp that people step on. This is quite common in temperate countries and few people realize that the fruits are edible, since it is mostly planted as an ornamental tree. The fruits are very perishable and expensive, since they can only be transported if refrigerated.

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The yangmei fruit is famous for its fragility. Because it is so perishable, it is commonly prepared as a juice in China, which allows for longer storage. It is possible to buy fresh fruits during the summer season; these should be stored in the refrigerator, well wrapped and separated from other fruits. Even so, the yangmei fruit will not last more than a week. When you buy them, be careful to avoid the ones with visible bruises, moist areas or an uneven color. When eating yangmei fruits, throw away the pits and just consume the delicious creamy flesh.

Parts used

Berries, leaves.

Uses

A special compound found in the yangmei fruit is cyanidin-3-O-glucoside, which is a flavonoid that scientists believe might be able to prevent cancer or even treat the disease. One experiment extracted this compound from the yangmei fruits and tested its action on gastric cells. According to the results, the growth of tumours was inhibited. The study found that higher amounts of cyanidin-3-O-glucoside can block one of the enzymes related to cancer, matrix metalloproteinase 2.

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The yangmei tree has been known in China for a very long time, both for the taste of its fruit and its medicinal uses. It has been domesticated for the first time thousands of years ago. The yangmei berries have an unusually high content of antioxidants, such as vitamin C. It is believed to kill the E. Coli bacteria and is a traditional digestive aid in Chinese medicine. It can serve as a tasty treatment for various heart diseases, since it decreases both high blood pressure and the levels of LDL cholesterol in the body.

Another beneficial compound found in both the leaves and the yangmei fruit is myricetin. Chinese scientists claim this flavonoid has very strong anti-inflammatory effects. According to clinical tests, it can reduce painful swelling as well as many other types of inflammation, both acute and chronic. Further tests are required but this compound could be a viable alternative in the treatment of numerous conditions of an inflammatory nature.

Depending on the variety and color of the yangmei fruits, they can have different concentrations of antioxidants. Chinese researchers have tested the antioxidant action of four types of fruit. They discovered that Biji and Hunan varieties, which are black in color, have the highest concentration. Fenhong and Shuijing varieties, with yellow or pink berries, don't offer the same amount of antioxidants. The varieties with a dark color supply a much higher dose of phenolics, anthocyanins and flavonoids.

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Antioxidants are natural compounds that are able to neutralize the free radicals that are an unwanted product of our metabolism. They protect tissues from their destructive action and increase the effectiveness of the immune system. Yangmei fruits provide a significant amount of antioxidants, besides vitamins and minerals.

The yangmei fruits were used for a long time in Chinese medicine, mainly as a digestive aid but also to improve complexion and vision. Recently, the medicinal benefits of the fruit have become known all around the world. Just like other fruits with high vitamin content, such as the pomegranate, the blueberry or the acai berry, the yangmei fruit is now exported to Europe and the USA. It is usually available as a bottled juice.

Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) are plant flavonols found in unusually high amounts in the yangmei fruit. These are very powerful antioxidants that provide a wide range of health benefits. These compounds are especially active at skin level, where they can shield the cells against the effects of harmful UV radiation and prevent the onset of skin cancer. According to several studies, these flavonols boost the protection offered by the melanocytes in our skin. They interfere with the protein expression of melanogenic enzymes, strengthen the cells and scavenge intracellular ROS. It is obvious that a diet that includes yangmei helps your skin stay young for longer.

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Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) might also be effective against heart diseases and any type of degenerative conditions in general. This is due to their very strong antioxidant action, which is considered to be 50 times stronger than the one of vitamin E and about 20 more powerful than the one of vitamin C.

A traditional Chinese remedy against chronic diarrhea is rice soup with yangmei ash. Dried yangmei fruits can be ground into a powder and inhaled as a treatment against headache. The fruit can also be prepared as a decoction and applied on malignant sores as an external cure.

Habitat and cultivation

In some areas of south and central China, the yangmei tree has been cultivated for more than 2000 years. It is native to China and other countries in Eastern Asia. Today, yangmei remains a very important cultivated species south of the Yangtze River. It grows best on valleys and mountain sides between the altitudes of 100 and 1500 m.

Constituents

The plant was well researched and many compounds of the fruit, leaves and bark have been isolated and investigated. Ellagic acid, tannins and anthocyanins and other polyphenols have been particularly well studied. Scientists have focused on their anti-cancer, antioxidant and anti-viral effects. Myricerone is one of the compounds found in the yangmei fruit that might be included in future drugs. It appears to block endothelin, which is a peptide receptor that mediates the constriction of blood vessels.

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