Monday, November 28, 2016

Buddha's Hand, an unusual citrus fruit

Photo 1: Buddha's Hand, closed hand-shaped green fruit on semi-dwarf plant

Photo 2: Buddha's Hand, ripe closed hand shaped fruit

Buddha's Hand is a bizarre citron. Its scientific name is Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis, and is a member of the Citrus genus to which lemons, oranges, grapefruit and limes belong.

It’s called Buddha's Hand because of the shape of the fruits that resembles a human hand with fingerlike projections. The origin of this citrus plant, also known as Fingered Citron, is traced to northeast India and China.

The Fingered Citron is an evergreen, large, fast-growing shrub that can grow to a small tree of 3m to 5m height. It has long thorny branches and oblong leaves. Its white flowers have a purple tint and appear in fragrant clusters.

The plant loves temperate climate, and is sensitive to extreme climatic conditions like excessive heat and frost. It can be reproduced from branch cuttings.

Unlike other citrus fruits, Buddha's Hand fruit, looking like a lemon with fingerlike projections, has a sweet aroma. It contains only a very small amount of pulp and negligible juice, and is seedless.

Admired for its unique shape and aroma, the fruit can be eaten raw. It is mainly used in various recipes for its unique flavor, lemony zest and zing, and also to flavor alcoholic beverages. It can be sliced into strips, or chopped and added as special ingredients in sweet breads, cakes, cookies and ice creams.

In traditional medicine, the sliced, dried peel of immature fruits is recommended as a tonic. The fruit is known to help relieve pain and discomfort due to injuries, swellings and bruises and to relieve discomforts related to respiratory diseases, diarrhea, constipation, high blood pressure, heart problems, menstrual issues, etc. (This is no medical advice, consult a doctor).

The fruit is important as a religious offering at Buddhist temples. Buddha prefers fruits with closed fingers, resembling folded hands symbolizing the act of prayer. Some fruits of this plant naturally resemble Buddha's hand symbol and are specially revered. The fruit is a symbol of good fortune, longevity and happiness in China where it is also a traditional offering in temples and given as a New Year gift.

The Fingered Citron is very fragrant and is used in Japan, Korea and China as a perfume for rooms and clothing. It is also grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and in pots placed on porticos and terraces.

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