Foodie Friday - Umeboshi Plums

Okay, say it with me: "oo-meh-bow- shee"...!


In Japanese, the word 'umeboshi' literally means "dried ume"... and while ume is usually translated as "plum", it is actually a species of apricot (Prunus armeniaca). Ume never ripen well on the tree, and, as unripe green fruits, they fall off the trees, and are actually poisonous.

The Japanese, however, have found a way to pick the fruits, pickle and age them and create a powerfully medicinal condiment. The pickling process, which involves packing the plums in sea salt and adding shiso leaves, gives them an amazing red color, as well as a salty and sour flavor.

Traditionally, umeboshi has been recommended in cases of food poisoning, water contamination, diarrhea or constipation, motion sickness and headache. I always keep some on hand at home, for one, because it's a great addition to sushi, but also because of its instantaneous effects of curbing nausea. Among other things, due to its alkalizing effects, it neutralizes the acidic effects of too much sugar, toxins, alcohol, etc. (which is seen as a yin/yang balancing effect). Great hangover remedy, by the way...

The biochemical explanation for ume's medicinal effects have been researched for some time, revealing such remarkable qualities as:

** containing protein, minerals and fat in twice the amount found in other fruits... in particular, calcium, iron and phosphorus. Also richer in citric acid and phosphoric acid.

** 10 grams of umeboshi can neutralize the acidity created by consuming 100 grams of sugar. This is due to several factors:  the abundance of citric acid, the high amount of alkaline minerals (which are better absorbed due to the presence of citric acid) and that citric acid breaks down lactic acid in blood and tissues.

** has antiseptic and antibiotic properties... found in experiments with the destruction of dysentery germs.

** presence of other acids which support liver function, breakdown of artificial chemicals in the liver, and peristaltic movement of the intestines.

** prevention of fatigue (which can often be attributed to the accumulation of acids which are not broken down fast enough in the body)

** prevention of aging (which is, simply speaking, a process of oxidation)... ume (as well as tamari soy sauce) has an anti-oxidizing effect on the blood.

** stimulation of detoxification.

Pretty amazing stuff, right?

There are a number of macrobiotic home remedies that use umeboshi in such preparations as tea, broth, and mixed with other condiments. Like I mentioned above, we spread a little of the paste on sushi rice.. and it only takes a little. We also use umeboshi vinegar sprinkled on sliced radishes. And in times of stomach distress, just a tiny piece of an ume plum, or a little paste on the tongue has an immediate effect on nausea. I did not try this when I was pregnant, but it is stated that ume can help relieve morning sickness, believed to be caused by the over-acidity of a pregnant woman's blood.

Ume plums and paste are usually sold in most natural food stores. A small package can seem a bit pricey, but because of their powerful punch, only a tiny amount is ever needed in anything you are making, so it lasts a long time.

(Thanks to Macrobiotic Home Remedies by Michio Kushi for the wealth of info on this topic.)

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