Botanical Description & Habitat
Historical Properties & Uses
Ume is the Japanese plum. The term ume means plum, but actually the fruit is an apricot. Other common terms are umeboshi, meaning "dried plum," and bainiku ekisu, or ume concentrate.
In May and early June, the ume fruit fall from the tree, yet they are still "green," and somewhat poisonous. Left alone, they eventually ripen and become suitable for eating. However, it is the green fruit used for medicine.
The green fruit is often picked before it falls from the tree, and is dried and pickled in salt. The unique flavor and color of commercial ume are due to presence of shiso (chiso, beefsteak) leaves during the pickling process. Weights are placed on top of the pickling barrels and left for the duration of the process, which can last from two months to several years. The juice of plums collects in the bottom of the barrels.
The result of the above process is umeboshi, often just called ume. Bainiku ekisu, or ume concentrate is made from the juice produced during the pickling process. It is simmered for about 2 days until it becomes a dark thick syrup. As might be expected, the effect of ume concentrate is much stronger than umeboshi.
Ume vinegars, drinks, balls, and other ume preparations are also available.
Traditionally, ume has been used in the following ways:
1. for gastrointestinal ailments: stomach ache, diarrhea, bad breath, constipation, indigestion, food poisoning, motion and morning sickness and other forms of nausea, lack of appetite
2. for antibiotic purposes: antiseptic, anti-dysentery, anthelmintic, anti-typhoid, anti-cholera
3. for fatigue: to fight the harmful effects of excess lactic and pyruvic acid, the normal products of energy production in the body
4. as an antioxidant
5. for miscellaneous other purposes: anemia, acne, headache (especially vascular--perhaps not indicated for tension headaches), heatstroke, hangover; or for any problem due to excess alcohol consumption, earache, alterative, colds and flu, food preservative, post-surgical recuperation.
Of all the above, there appear to be three main uses: for gastro-intestinal upset, fatigue, and to correct metabolic imbalances. In the macrobiotic community, ume is popular a source of alkalinity. Metabolic disturbances are common among vegetarians who ingest large quantities of acid-forming foods, such as grains and nuts, without balancing with enough fruits and vegetables. It is not as much a matter of balance as it is sheer quantity. Ume is a quick and excellent source of alkalinity (for how an acid food can be alkaline, see below). Relatively small quantities added to a macrobiotic diet will do amazing things to the acid-alkaline balance.
Ume has the ability to quickly and effectively clear up various kinds of "touristo," or dysenteric diarrhea. Ume not only clears it up, but will prevent it.
Fatigue involves the build up of lactic acid during exercise. This mild form of acidosis can usually be quickly corrected by exhaling deeply (ridding the blood of excess carbonic acid or carbon dioxide), and by drinking highly alkaline drinks. The use of ume under this circumstances is ideal. Should the acidosis become severe enough to produce nausea or fainting, ume concentrate might be the only logical treatment, because it only takes very small amounts (quarter of a teaspoon), and a lot of excess water need not be administered.
Method of Action
Ume Contains Many Concentrated Nutrients
The primary ingredient of ume is citric acid. Comparison tables consistently place ume at the top of the list in terms of citric acid and phosphoric acid concentration.
It is very high in certain important minerals: calcium, iron, and phosphorus. Many other minerals are also present in significant amounts, including magnesium, manganese, germanium and potassium. No other fruits, except lemon, come even close to having concentrations of these nutrients equal to ume. Lemon contains much more citric acid than ume; however, it contains much less phosphoric acid.
When ume is concentrated, the level of citric acid is more than ten times that of lemon. Therefore, the action of lemon cannot be expected to match ume concentrate. It takes just 2 parts of ume concentrate to neutralize 100 parts of sugar--a strongly acidifying foodstuff.
Ume also contains therapeutic amounts of picric acid, catechin, and pectin.
We also shouldn't forget ume is high in salt from the pickling process. In fact, it is the salt that might be responsible for some of the miscellaneous uses of ume.
The amount of substantial, valid, reliable research on ume is minimal. There seems to be quite a bit of Oriental anecdotal material beefed-up to look like research, but tightly controlled clinical trials are extremely few.
Regardless, a potent alkalizing effect on the blood can be easily and validly deduced from the presence of such large amounts of citric acid/mineral salts. Therapeutically, this would explain its potent effects on fatigue, gastro-intestinal problems, and some of the other ailments for which it is used. Certainly, anyone contemplating an alkaline-ash diet, as in the treatment of gout, or uric-acid, or cystine kidney stones, would do well to include ume.
Ume has Antibiotic Properties
One of the first indications ume has antibiotic properties was the observation ume could keep rice from spoiling.
Investigators at New York University determined in the late 1890's the citric and malic acids in ume were responsible for the fruit's potent antituberculosis activity (against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, or M. smegmatis). Recently, J.K. Rhee and associates at the Department of Veterinary Parasitology of Jeonbug National University in Korea, determined the Prunus mume has a wormicidal or anthelmintic property (directed against Clonorchis sinensis). In their studies, the researchers administered to animals simple boiled water extracts, such as might be administered in Korean herbal folklore.
An important review paper on the antibacterial properties of ume was presented to the Japanese Epidemiologist Association in 1959. The paper claimed ume could destroy or at least suppress the growth of dysentery-, plague-, cholera-, tuberculosis-, and typhus-causing micro-organisms.
Ume and Cancer
A joint Japanese-American study carried out in Hawaii in 1982 found indications the use of ume by Japanese women was responsible for a lower incidence of intestinal cancer. It should be noted this was purely a correlational study, in which dietary factors were assessed and correlated with the presence of a variety of diseases. The authors carefully note the need for controlled studies in order to validate the observation.
Drug Interactions & Precautions
Safety Factors & Toxicity
Ume or Japanese plum itself is nontoxic. However, there are reports in the literature of processing methods that can impart some degree of toxicity in the form of cyanide.
If the fruit is processed with beta-glucosidase, special care must be taken to insure the no trace of this almond emulsin is left in the final product (the only commercial product to possess dangerously high levels to date has been ume concentrate: bainiku-ekisu).
Preparation & Administration
Ume usually comes in a paste or in balls. Dip a little ume paste on the tip of a knife (exact amount is unimportant), and swirl in a cup of warm water until dissolved. Repeat as desired. It may be applied directly to the tongue, bypassing the water. The balls are swallowed; dose = 1-2 three times daily.
Ahn, B.Z. & J.K. Rhee. Anthelmintic natural products against clonorchis sinensis and the analogues. Journal of Pharm. Soc. Korea, 30(5), 1986.
Anon. Ume plum products (Japanese plum). Product statement MUSO CO, LTD.
Chen, C.C., et.al. Volatile components of salted and pickled prunes prunus-mume. Journal Agric. Food Chem., 34(1), 140-144, 1986.
Kushi, M. Macrobiotic Home Remedies, Japan Publications, Inc.
Ma, T.S. & R. Roper. Microchemical investigation of medicinal plants. I. The antitubercular principle in prumus mume and schizandra chinensis. Mickrochim. Acta, 1, 167-181, 1968.
Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.
Ninomiya, K., et.al. Specificity of prunus mume peptidase toward peptide substrates. Agric. Biol. Chem., 45(9), 2121-2122, 1981.
Nomura, A., et.al. Intestinal metaplasia in Japan: association with diet. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 68(3), 401-405, 1982.
Ogihara, H., S. Itoh & H. Tsuyuki. Studies on the lipids in sees of ume apricot prunus mume. Bull. Coll. Agric. Vet Med. Nihon Univ., 1982, p.97.
Ohashi, H. A study of the antibacterial effect of ume.
Perry, L. Medicinal Plants of East and Southeast Asia, MIT Press, Mass. 1980.
Rhee, J.K., B.K. Baek & B.Z. Ahn. Alternations of clonorchis sinensis EFG by administration of herbs in rabbits. American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 13(1-4), 65-69, 1985.
Rhee, J.K., et.al. Structural investigation on the effects of herbs on clonorchis sinensis in rabbits. American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 13(1-4), 119-125, 1985.
Wood, R.T., The Last Word - Plum Ball Master. East West Journal, Jan. 1984, p. 98.
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