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Plums: Precious Guests of Early Summer

Posted June. 20, 2005 03:01,   


Novelist Lee Moon-gu, who passed away in 2003, went back to his hometown in Boryeong, South Chungcheong, after he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. There he harvested plums himself, made plum brandy and sent it to his writer friends. On an arid winter day in Gwanchon, fresh plums might be very much missed naturally. Now the season of sour plums has been in full bloom.

The harvest season for plums begins late May and ends in the middle of June. It is said that “plums harvested after Mangjong (one of the oriental seasonal divisions that begins from June 6 to June 21 until Haji begins) are the best.” So now is the prime time for having plums.

Plenty of Citric Acid That Quenches Your Thirst and Stops Fatigue-

Water makes up 85 percent of plums and is followed by 10 percent sugar and five percent organic acids. Compared to other fruits, plums contain much more citric acid, which is one of the organic acids. Citric acids help the metabolism and relieve stress by dissolving lactic acid stored up in muscles. They also facilitate the absorption of calcium.

Another acid in plums helps neutralizing poisons in the liver, and catkin acids are known for preventing inflammation in intestines by restraining harmful bacilli. Besides, plums have more nutrition than apples; calcium by four times, iron by six times, magnesium by seven times of magnesium, and zinc five times when compared in the same amount.

Welcomed by Oriental Medicine but Doubted by Modern Medicine-

In oriental medicine black plums, the name given to unripe plums that are smoked over a straw fire after being peeled, are used as antibiotics and haemostatics. In Donguibogam, one of the classics of oriental medicine, it says, “Black plums stop patients from having phlegm and getting thirsty, and cure vomiting and diarrhea. Also, they are good for relieving hangovers.”

In oriental medicine, it is recommended to have a cup of warm water mixed with plum powder when patients have a sudden digestive upset or serious diarrhea. It also prescribes washing off the throat with plum water when patients have swollen tonsils. In folk treatments, people pad plum powder mixed with water on injuries.

It is also used for stopping womb bleeding and bloody secretions, and bone pain and stomach pain caused by roundworms. The 1999 TV drama “Heo Joon” dealt with a story that plums were efficient in stopping an epidemic. Since that TV airing, plums have become popular as a cure-all medicine.

Meanwhile, plums have not been proven as an efficient substance in modern medicine. The Korean Food and Drug Administration has proved only its efficiency as a health supplement food and it only recognizes its efficiency on curing fatigue with its organic acids, suppressing bacilli in the intestines, and preventing body acidification.

Recently, the Korean Society of Food Science and Technology announced its research results on plums. According to the report, plums increase the activity rate of ADH enzymes that dissolve alcohol and ALDH enzymes that dissolve the causal substances of hangovers. In addition plums are known for their efficiency in skin whitening as they suppress the synthesis of melanin.

Research on plums’ potential as an anti-cancer medicine and antioxidants has been ongoing, but it still has not brought any specific results that will acknowledge their efficiency.

Do Not Eat Raw Plums- Plums Are Not Good for Certain Persons –

In the novel “Samgukjiyeonui,” there is a part where Jojo consoles his tired and thirsty soldiers saying that “If you move forward a little bit more, there is a forest of plum trees.” When you think of sour plums you might be oblivious of your thirst for the moment. However, one thing unique to plums is that you cannot eat them raw.

Unripe plums have a poisonous substance called “amygdaline” in their seeds and flesh. When people eat too many plums, the substance decomposes into hydrocyanic acids and causes a toxic effect. When plums are processed as medicines and food like brandy or beverages, hydrocyanic acids almost disappear.

In the book “Bonchohak,” a botanical study for oriental medicine, it gives the warning, “If black plums are wrongly used for patients who need to sweat, it can bring serious harm.”

“It is better for people who get stomachaches often due to plenty of stomach acids, who have weak teeth, and who have lots of body heat not to eat plums,” says Professor Ko Chang-nam at the Kangnam Oriental Medical Hospital at Kyunghee University.

TK Sohn sohn@donga.com