Nutrient - Ume - the Samurai Superfood
Japanese Plum (Prunus mume)
Ume is the Japanese name for a species of Asian plum that was used by Samurai warriors to promote recovery from fatigue. However, the name is something of a misnomer as the plant is actually an apricot! Either way, it contains more citric acid, calcium, iron, phosphorous than - and twice as much protein as - any other fruit, as well as being rich in organic acids and minerals. Ume has been used for over 4,000 years in China and 1,300 years in Japan and is highly regarded for its health-promoting properties. In fact, there is an old Japanese saying that goes “Plant two plum trees whenever a child is born”, an adage intended to safeguard the children’s future health.
Traditionally, the fruits were used to support the digestive system and were also found to be helpful in cases of parasites. Laboratory experiments done on Ume suggest that it can reduce the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a notoriously hardy type of bacteria thought to be the cause of many stomach ulcers, as well as inhibiting the growth of various other harmful bacteria. This explains why the Japanese officially distributed Ume concentrate to their soldiers and sailors in the 1920s to help reduce the incidence of dysentery.
Ume also has other beneficial effects on digestion. It helps to promote the action of the gallbladder, which aids liver detoxification, promotes fat digestion and helps to keep bile flowing freely. It also has a positive alkalising effect on the body and can help to neutralise excess stomach acid.
The Samurai warriors viewed Ume as an excellent battle tonic. The high levels of citric acid help to support energy production as well as assisting the breakdown of lactic acid - the substance that causes muscle fatigue and cramping. What’s more, Ume is an incredible source of age-fighting antioxidants and was traditionally viewed as an aid to longevity. Antioxidants help to protect the body from the harmful effects of excess free radicals, in addition to supporting the immune system.
More recent studies on Ume have also uncovered a number of cardiovascular benefits. For example, an active compound called ‘mumefural’ that is found in the fruit can help to promote blood fluidity and healthy circulation. In other research, scientists have found that juice extract from Ume can help to keep arteries elastic and pliable, making it an excellent choice for long-term heart health.
The modern environment is a far cry from the poor hygiene, plagues and battlefields of ancient times, but Ume’s benefits are just as applicable to our contemporary challenges. Nowadays, our bodies are constantly confronted with stress, toxins, free radicals and germs that compromise our health and accelerate the ageing process. With more than ever to deal with, it seems we could all do with a little of Ume’s ancient magic.