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Getting to Know the Loquat

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LOQUAT (Eriobotrya japonica)
[Nyerges is the author of “Nuts and Berries of California,” “Foraging California,” and other books. He also leads regular field trips to learn about the uses of wild plants. He can be reached at]

The loquat, also sometimes known as the Japanese medlar,  is one of those fruits that seems to be everywhere, and most of it just gets eaten by birds or falls to the ground and rots.  It’s maturing right now, all over town, and maybe in your yard.
This smallish tree – perhaps up to 15 feet tall –  produces some of the earliest fruit each spring.  The plant is somewhat common in California, and fortunately, more and more people are getting to know it, and more importantly, more and more people are beginning to value this sweet fruit.
Loquat’s native home is China, Japan, and North India, this evergreen’s leaves are broad, and pointed at the end, averaging about 8 inches in length.  Each leaf  is darker green on the upper surface, and the under surface is lighter green, with a characteristic wooly surface.
The tree produces white flowers in the late autumn, and its golden-yellow fruits are often abundant on the trees.  The small oblong fruits can be about two inches long, give or take. The flesh is sweet and free of fibre, and each fruit contains a few large brown seeds.  The flavor is sweet, but with a slight sour tang. They’re a bit addicting once you get used to them.  The fruit is high in Vitamin A, dietary fibre, manganese, and potassium.
If the tree is cultivated in your yard, you can produce some bigger fruits by simply irrigating and fertilizing. If the trees are just allowed to go wild, the fruits tend to get smaller each year, though still delicious.  Sometimes in our local wild areas, such as in the Arroyo Seco or along the foothill trails,  you can see where someone stopped to have lunch and then spit out the brown seeds, which readily sprout. 
I think loquats are great simply chilled and eaten fresh.  You can remove the seeds, and serve a bunch of the fruit with some ice cream.
If you’re on the trail and you happen upon some loquat trees in fruit at the time, just stop and enjoy a few!  They make a great refreshing trail snack.
Once the large seeds are removed, the flesh is sweet and tender and can be readily made into jams or pie fillings.  Just use a standard recipe that you already know and like for some other fruit, like peaches, and substitute loquats for the peaches.  You’ll find that these make an excellent jam or jelly.

Sometimes you’ll see loquat jam or jelly at local stores or farmers’ markets.  Mary Sue Eller, who was a professional cook who sold loquat jelly at the Highland Park and other farmers markets, shared with me her recipes, which is printed in my “Nuts and Berries of California” book.  She starts with four cups of fresh loquats, which she washes and deseeds.  She puts them into a pot with a little water, 1 to 2 cups of sugar (depending on the desired sweetness), and the juice of one lemon. She cooks it all until it gets thick, and then puts them into sterilized jars.  Eller suggests that first-time canners research all the details of such canning (in a book or website) before doing this.

It’s pretty easy to grow new loquat trees, and they will produce fruit in a few years.  Though they’re drought tolerant, they will still produce better fruit if they are watered somewhat regularly and fertilized with some regularity.

The leaves of the loquat are used in Chinese medicine to make cough syrup. The demulcent effect of the leaves soothes the respiratory and digestive systems.  I’ve noted that there is a popular cough remedy which I’ve purchased in Alhambra herb shops, which contains the extract of loquat leaf as one of the main ingredients. At one of my classes, we prepared a simple infusion with only the loquat leaf.  It has a mild but pleasant flavor that everyone found agreeable.

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