Health benefits of Chinese red dates (jujubes)

Health benefits of Chinese red dates (jujubes)

Chinese red dates (the edible fruits of Ziziphus jujuba, also commonly known as jujubes) are one of the most popular foods consumed for their health benefits in China.

Most species of jujube are native to China, where it has been cultivated for more than 4,000 years and there are over 400 cultivars available. Nowadays, red dates are also grown and enjoyed around the world, including Russia, southern Asia, southern Europe, southwestern United States, and Australia.

In Chinese, red dates are known as “da zao” or “hong zao”, in Iran and India, it is known as “ber”, and it is also abundant in Arabian countries and known as “Sedra” and the edible fruit is called as “Nbeg” or “Ennab”.

Chinese people highly value red dates as a food, a health tonic, and a traditional Chinese medicinal herb.

Jujube fruit has very positive meanings in Chinese culture, such as a sweet life, a flourishing business, fertility, harmony, and happiness. On special occasions many people will buy quality red dates and give these as gifts to their friends and relatives.

Many traditional Chinese herbal medicine formulas include red dates (Da Zao) as they are used for balancing the herbal formula, and to tonify the Qi and Blood of the body. Likewise, they are also used in cooking to sweeten and balance the flavours of recipes.

Dried red dates are readily available from a Chinese market or grocer, throughout the year, all around the world. Dried dates are red, soft on the outside, with a sweet smell. The inside is soft and moist. Fresh dates have a sweet and crisp texture like a tiny apple and are only available in season.

Unfortunately, many people don’t realise the amazing health benefits of Chinese red dates, and therefore, they’re not as popular in western food and diet therapy culture. You may be encouraged to include them in your diet, after learning how they can benefit your health.

How Chinese red dates can benefit your health

Chinese medicine has recognised the health benefits of jujubes since the earliest classic Chinese medicine texts of Huangdi Neijing (475-221 BC) and Shennong Bencao Jing (300 BC-200 AD). Jujube was regarded as one of the top-grade medicinal herbs that had functions of nourishing blood, increasing sleep quality and improving the digestive system.

Recent scientific studies on animal models have indicated that jujube possesses a wide range of pharmacological activities on the nervous system, cardiovascular system, as well as anti-oxidation and anti-cancer properties. Jujube is also known to contain numerous minerals, iron and vitamin C to benefit iron deficiency anaemia due to deficiency of dietary iron or vitamin C (Chen & Tsim, 2020).

Tonify Blood Deficiency

Chinese medicine regards that blood is formed through the healthy digestion and absorption of food, which is mainly supported by the Spleen and Stomach organ systems. If Spleen and Stomach Qi are weakened, it will affect the body’s blood and its function.

Severe Blood Deficiency in Chinese medicine may lead to iron deficiency anaemia, whose signs and symptoms may include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Chest pain, fast heartbeat or shortness of breath
  • Headache, dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt or starch
  • Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anaemia

If you experience many of the symptoms listed above, we suggest to first see your western medicine doctor for a general check-up and blood test.

Some people who have a Blood Deficiency syndrome may also experience chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism) and women’s health issues.

If you are currently receiving treatment for the above symptoms, your Chinese medicine practitioner may recommend that Chinese red dates are suitable to add to your diet. We have shared some easy traditional jujube recipes later in this article.

Jujube promotes erythropoiesis via activation of hypoxia inducible factor-induced erythropoietin, possesses potential capacity in recycling heme iron during erythrophagocytosis, exhibits bidirectional role in regulating immune response under different conditions, contains numerous minerals including iron (Chen & Tsim, 2020).

Improve Sleep and Calm the Mind

Jujube is regarded as a Chinese medicinal herb that calms the mind and relieves mental tension. Both the fruit (Da Zao) and seeds (Suan Zao Ren) of jujube are used in Chinese herbal medicine formulas.

Chinese medicine considers the syndrome of Qi and Blood Deficiency to be one of the underlying causes of insomnia. This is due to the Blood being unable to support the Liver and Heart organ systems. This imbalance can cause sleep symptoms, including the following:

  • light sleep (easily woken)
  • lots of vivid dreams
  • lack of energy from the beginning of the day.

People with Qi & Blood Deficiency syndrome may also experience dizziness, lower blood pressure, palpitations, pale skin, and shortness of breath, especially during activities. They may also notice tremoring hands when they become tired.

Jujube possesses neuroprotective activities, including protecting neuronal cells against neurotoxin stress, stimulating neuronal differentiation, increasing expression of neurotrophic factors, and promoting memory and learning (Chen & Liu et al., 2017).

Chinese Red Date Recipes

Chinese dates can be enjoyed in many ways. You can eat fresh dates as they are, or you can cook them which is very easy to do. Dates can be cooked with rice congee (porridge), steamed rice or in a soup. It’s suggested that adults can eat up to five dates in a sitting, three or four times a week for general health benefits.

Chinese red date and goji berry tea

  • 3 whole dried Chinese red dates
  • A tablespoon of goji berries

Place the red dates and goji berries into a tea mug, add hot boiling water and steep for 5 minutes. You can refill with hot water a few times. Don’t forget you can eat the red dates and goji berries at the end (watch out for seeds in the red dates).

Effects: Tonifies body fluids (Yin) and Blood.

Chinese red date rice congee

  • One hand full of white rice
  • 5 Chinese red dates (remove the seed)
  • 3 cups of water

Bring the rice and whole dates to the boil and simmer until the rice is soft and the liquid is sticky (around 30 minutes). The porridge will smell very nice and will taste mildly sweet. It is best to eat when warm. However during summer you can eat the porridge at room temperature. It can be eaten for breakfast or for dessert.

Effects: Strengthens the digestive system and tonifies blood.

Chinese dates and lotus seed porridge

This porridge is cooked the same way as Chinese red date congee above, but you can also add 5 lotus seeds.

Effects: tonifyies Spleen function and increases Blood; helps those with sleeping issues.

Beef bone soup with red dates

  • 1kg beef bones with a little meat
  • 8 cups of water
  • 20 Chinese red dates

Add the beef bone to the water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and cook slowly for 4 hours. 30 minutes before eating, add the Chinese red dates and cook. Add salt and pepper for taste and serve with your favourite vegetables.

Effects: Tonifies Qi and Blood; warms the circulation.

Precautions

While Chinese red dates have many health benefits, they are regarded as very sweet and tonifying in Chinese medicine, so they may not be suitable to consume for some body types and during certain illnesses.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, it may be best to avoid Chinese red dates, or to limit the amount you eat:

  • constipation
  • smelly stools
  • stomach bloating
  • body heat or fever
  • red face
  • bad breath
  • cough with yellow phlegm
  • worms
  • tooth disease including gum and tooth pain or infection
  • mouth ulcers

If you’re in doubt, please check with your Chinese medicine practitioner.

Food as medicine (A disclaimer)

Our “food as medicine” articles share knowledge about health foods in the context of traditional Chinese medicine diet therapy and practices often dating back thousands of years. We also support this knowledge with references to published scientific research. Please keep in mind that scientific research into the health benefits of foods is still emerging and human research is limited.

Consuming a wide variety of natural foods as part of a balanced diet is most beneficial for health, however, we don’t advise using food alone to treat diseases. Please consult with your doctor or health professional about which foods are suitable for your body or health issues.

It was very popular to plant jujube trees inside the hutong courtyards of old Beijing. The jujube trees blossomed in spring, provided shade in summer and many delicious fruits for the families and children in autumn.

Dr Ping’s memories of old Beijing

I remember 40 years ago when I lived in the traditional hutong (alley street) in the centre of Beijing, a lot of the courtyard houses there had many red date trees and in November which is late autumn, it would be the harvest time for the dates.

There were many red dates hanging off the trees, just like little red lanterns looking so beautiful. The date trees from different homes each had different tastes, some may be crunchy, soft, sour or sweet, so many children exchanged dates with all their friends to try everyone’s home grown dates.

Everyone knew that if they ate too many dates it would cause them to bloat and have diarrhoea, so they would only eat 10 dates at most.

Years ago, the hutong I lived in was redeveloped and changed into a public park so there are no longer as many red date trees in the area. But the beautiful image of the date trees are still in my memory.

What Does The Research Say?

The following insights are obtained from scientific studies, systematic reviews and analysis of clinical trials investigating the efficacy of Chinese Red Dates.

Scientific References

Browse our collection of scientific research on Chinese Red Dates. It includes recent and reputable papers published by peer-reviewed journals within the last 10 years.

BioMedicine

2020, Dec 1

Investigation the effect of jujube seed capsule on sleep quality of postmenopausal women: A double-blind randomized clinical trial
BioMedicine China Medical University

Consumption of the jujube seed capsule had a positive impact on improving the sleep quality of postmenopausal women and could be recommended as a useful herbal medication.

Mahmoudi R, Ansari S, Haghighizadeh MH, Maram NS, Montazeri S. Full Article

Journal of Functional Foods

2020, Dec

Jujube fruit: A potential nutritious fruit for the development of functional food products
Journal of Functional Foods

Jujube products possess high nutritional and biological value, which can be incorporated into different food formulations to improve product quality. Therefore, jujube fruit can be a promising food ingredient for the development of functional food products to achieve high consumer acceptability and health benefits.

Rashwan, A. K, Karim, N., Shishir, M. Rezaul Islam, Bao, T., Lu, Y., & Chen, W. Full Article

Frontiers in Pharmacology

2020, Nov 26

A Review of Edible Jujube, the Ziziphus jujuba Fruit: A Health Food Supplement for Anemia Prevalence
Frontiers in Pharmacology

As illustrated in cell and animal models, the application of jujube extract possessed beneficial effects, including regulation of erythropoiesis via activation of hypoxia inducible factor-induced erythropoietin, potential capacity in recycling heme iron during erythrophagocytosis and bi-directional regulation of immune response. Thus, the blood-nourishing function of jujube is being proposed here. Flavonoid, polysaccharide and triterpenoid within jujube could serve as the potential active ingredients accounting for the aforementioned health benefits. Taken together, these findings provide several lines of evidence for further development of jujube as supplementary products for prevention and/or treatment of anemia.

Chen Jianping, Tsim Karl W. K. Full Article

Horticulture Research

2020, Aug 1

The historical and current research progress on jujube-a superfruit for the future
Horticulture Research

Based on a systematic analysis of the unique characteristics of jujube, we suggest that it deserves to be recognized as a superfruit.

Liu, M., Wang, J., Wang, L. et al. Full Article

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine

2017, Jun 7

A Review of Dietary Ziziphus jujuba Fruit (Jujube): Developing Health Food Supplements for Brain Protection
Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Jujube possesses neuroprotective activities, including protecting neuronal cells against neurotoxin stress, stimulating neuronal differentiation, increasing expression of neurotrophic factors, and promoting memory and learning. Flavonoid, cAMP, and jujuboside could be the potential bioactive ingredients to account for the aforesaid biological activities. These findings imply that jujube is a potential candidate for development of health supplements for prevention and/or treatment of neurological diseases.

Chen J, Liu X, Li Z, et al. Full Article

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

2013, Mar 12

The jujube (Ziziphus jujuba Mill.) fruit: a review of current knowledge of fruit composition and health benefits
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

This review may be useful for predicting other medicinal uses and potential drug or food interactions and may be beneficial for people living where the jujube fruits are prevalent and health care resources are scarce.

Gao QH, Wu CS, Wang M. Full Article

WRITTEN BY:

Dr Ping Wang is the clinic founder and senior practitioner of Ping Ming Health. She has over 30 years of experience in traditional Chinese medicine teaching and practice. Dr Ping especially enjoys sharing her knowledge of Chinese medicine through our popular clinic articles, seminars and clinical training of students and practitioners.

  • Jack
    REPLY

    this is news to me. thanks for the great article.

    28 November, 2010
  • Suzanne
    REPLY

    I suffer from blood disorder ( thalassaemia) and low qi but now i understand at last that it has been the reason for my tendency to insomnia and light sleep, and ALL the other symptoms you list. I have been taking red date and dang gui tea with ginger for a year and my blood count (red blood cell) went up. Now i will try red date porridge! Yummy!

    21 August, 2011
  • mar
    REPLY

    I suffer from a disease called thrombocytosis, which is characterized by high platelet counts; my platelets range from 700 hundred to 900 thousand but i have been as high as 2 million before. They have manage to get it down with a medication called hydrea, which has many bad side effects of which i am very afraid of. Even with the hydrea i have not been able to go lower than 700 thousand. Hydrea makes my stomach burn and this is one of the milder side effects. I constantly live with the threat of stroke with the high platelets and cancer as the side effect of hydrea. What can i do? Thank you for taking my question; grateful Mar.

    31 July, 2013
  • Leigh Ann Lipscomb
    REPLY

    Are these ok for women who get hot flashes? Thanks!

    26 October, 2013
  • plyn
    REPLY

    Thks for the valuable infomation!
    Can i know if the beef bone soup with red dates are suitable for 3year old kid? My son has poor appetite, pale looking, i thought of cooking some soups to boost him up

    Thanks!

    13 December, 2013
  • glw
    REPLY

    I’ve been diagnose with low iron, GP given iron supplements. I also have itchy skin rashes behind the neck and on both my legs. I also have a white tongue and constipation. Would the red date porridge be suitable for me?

    30 December, 2013
  • rachel
    REPLY

    When is the suitable time for ladies to take red dates in a
    particular month?
    Can they consume it during their menses?

    10 March, 2014
  • Abdul Khalid
    REPLY

    I have just undergone a Coronary Bypass Artery Graft operation and the Doctor has given me medicine including “warfarin, Aspirin” for thinning the blood. My question is if I take “Chinese Red Dates”, will the “Chinese Red Dates” collude with my medicine especially the blood thinning.

    11 March, 2014
  • kay kay
    REPLY

    Hi, I have been diagnosed with IBS so I always have bowel movement immediately after I eat (especially in the morning), and have been suffering from painful menstrual cramps and frequent spotting which makes me feel dizzy from the lost of blood. Does red dates with ginger soup help?

    25 January, 2015
  • Connie chang
    REPLY

    May I know if red dates r good for Qi, wat if I always have bad breathe issues, can I still take small amount of red dates? Can you pls advise how to cure severe bad breathe? I hv consulted so many doctors n physicians but issues are nvr solve. Thanks

    13 April, 2015
  • Christine
    REPLY

    Hi

    Thanks for sharing your article.

    I recently boiled red dates water using 65 pieces of small red dates. Is this too much for the body? Will there be any side effects?

    Look forward to your reply.

    Regards
    Christine

    3 May, 2015
  • Narelle
    REPLY

    I live in Hillary’s and was wanting to buy Chinese dates can you tell where I can buy them from please

    19 June, 2015
  • Athifa
    REPLY

    Hi,
    Recently only i knew about red dates and very curious about it. I am on medication for hyperthyroid. And also i have a week gum and teeth problem. So will it be ok or good to take 5dates per day?

    9 April, 2016
  • Faye
    REPLY

    I am scheduled to have an abdomen surgery on 10 Sep 16 but the recent blood test shows my haemoglobin level is too low (<9) for the surgery and doctor has postponed my operation. He asked me to take iron pills to boost up the HB level but I tend to have headache after the pill.

    Can you please kindly advise what should I take to increase my haemoglobin level? I prefer through diet instead of the pill as the pill make me sick. Do you think the beef bone + red date soup has good effect on this?

    Thank you.

    25 August, 2016
  • deeznuts
    REPLY

    I hate dates they never go out with me

    21 October, 2016
  • Kanti Selig
    REPLY

    Hello dear Sir,
    I’ve heard that red dates boiled with celery and drink the tea are good for high blood pressure. My BP is VERY high, what do you think of this remedy or do you have other suggestion?
    Thank you for all that you do to help others!
    Sincerely,
    Kanti Selig

    27 November, 2016

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