In traditional Japanese culture, the equivalent of the apple a day that keeps the doctor away is the pickled umeboshi. These small, pickled plums are not only valued for their culinary qualities. The ancient folks highly revered the small preserved plums for their medicinal values.
Pickled umeboshi are made from the fruit of Prunus mume—actually an Asian species of apricot, but more commonly referred to as a plum.
The fruits are picked at the end of June when they are green and unripe and at the peak of their acidity. The plums are then pickled with salt and the red leaves of a medicinal herb called shiso or beefsteak. They are then aged for a year or longer, and the pickled umeboshi come out small and shriveled with a reddish hue from the shiso leaves. They taste salty and sour due their high citric acid content.
Umeboshi is a traditional food that is believed to have originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. The Japanese have been eating umeboshi plums for centuries, with an early reference to these pickled plums dating back to the 10th century. They were traditionally eaten by everyone from the daimyo to sumo wrestlers, and by samurai who ate them to ward off battle fatigue.
They are often used in dressings, dips, and sauces to enhance flavor in various dishes and to whet one’s appetite.
The pickled plums have powerful healing properties and help balance pH and strengthen the body.
Umeboshi are beneficial for many different conditions, including various gastrointestinal troubles, bad breath, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, lack of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.
They are great for easing many different kinds of fluid discharge—such as a runny nose, excessive urination or perspiration, and heavy menstrual periods.
One of the most alkalinizing foods, umeboshi helps restore the body’s acid-alkaline balance. Our blood and other body fluids are naturally slightly alkaline when we are healthy. Illness and infections thrive when the body condition becomes too acidic. Thus the plums also make a good natural home remedy for bacterial and viral infections.
A friend of mine once alleviated a mild asthma attack while on holiday in Europe by popping an umeboshi into his mouth. He said that he was able to breathe again within 15 minutes.
He did this because he understood the yin and yang nature of foods. He had had too much ice cream, which is very yin (cold and sweet), and this upset his body, and so he countered the situation by eating a salty, yang umeboshi plum.
Another unusual story about umeboshi is how it worked as a mosquito repellent. A macrobiotic teacher from the European Kushi Institute tells the story about how during a visit to Africa, he slept with the windows wide open at night—but with an umeboshi in his mouth. He said that because of this, the mosquitoes did not bother him at all.
Many commercially made umeboshi are laced with sugar, MSG, preservatives, and other unnatural ingredients. When you buy umeboshi plums, make sure you read the label carefully. Do not buy the ones with all these unnatural ingredients.
While these commercial plums may taste nice and sweet, their healing properties are not a strong as the umeboshi plums made using traditional methods.
While for culinary cooking, it may not matter so much to use commercially made umeboshi plums, for use in home remedies, it is best to use plums preserved without preservatives and other additives.
Of course, it is better to use preserved whole plums and preferably organic umeboshi that you can buy online or from health food stores.
This is part one of the umeboshi story. The second part is called Ten Ways to Use Umeboshi Plums.
Note: These natural food tips, traditional remedies, and anecdotes are for maintaining your health and wellness. They are not meant to replace any medical treatment. If you have a diagnosed condition, or are in doubt, you should always seek medical advice.