The date fruit is one of the main stays in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and it is almost impossible to walk into a TCM store and not find them on display somewhere.
Rich in vitamins and nutrients, it’s medicinal properties are known to be able to reduce blood pressure, balance sugar balance, and boost awareness, etc.
It’s scientifically recognized as a small fruit that packs a lot of antioxidants too.
The fruits of the date tree are initially green and turns red when ripe.
Dried dates are often used to boil soup, blend drinks, and also as ingredients for oriental dishes.
It mandarin name is zao (枣) sounds like 早 which means to be early. This auditory similarity has led to various poems crafted that plays with these words to somewhat carry a dual meaning.
They are also known as red dates, Chinese dates, and jujube.
Legend of date fruit
The are many reference to the date fruit in Chinese literature and folklore.
The most well-known story was probably one set in the Tang dynasty.
A farmer by the name of Zhao Jumhui (趙居晦) had a magnificent date tree in front of his house. One day a Taoist sage passed by and was astounded by the beauty of the tree. He then remarked to the farmer that the descendants of the tree owner would be highly successful in politics and maybe even become a prime minister. Zhao brushed this off as nonsense. Zhao soon had a son named Zhao Ying (趙瑩) who later rose to power and became prime minister during the later Jin era. The date then became an auspicious item to wish couples (especially newly-weds) to have righteous and honorable children.
This is why the Chinese date often accompanies the lychee and longan as well-wishing gifts to married couples for fertility luck. A traditional practice for newly weds who want to have children soon is to spread seeds of various fruits like melons with the Chinese date. Cribs made out of date tree wood also convey the same wishes.
There’s also a famous story of kindness about the accomplished poet Du Fu (杜甫) who had a date tree on his property bearing beautiful dates. A poor old lady was poor and had to pick the dates to fill her own stomach. He allowed her to do it and even ensured that the new owners of his house when he relocated continue to allow her to pick the dates.
When it is depicted with other objects of symbolism, it almost always carry the meaning of early due to the phonetic play of words as explained earlier.
For example, when red dates are present in a paining of the ruyi, the painting design would carry the meaning of high office soon. And when paired with fruits of fertility, it conveys the message of a wish for descendants soon.
The wood from date trees is believed to have magical powers. This can be observed with it’s specific use in some taoist rituals.
The branch of the tree was also specifically cited in ancient practices of da liu ren.