September 15, 2021
In Autumn of 1914, while the tinderbox that was Europe had exploded into the great war, Frank Meyer, a Dutch born American adventurer-botanist found himself in a freezing room at an inn on a mountainside in northern China where a previous patron had written in French, “The room of 1,000 bedbugs.” He knew that if he lit a fire it would warm him but also warm the bedbugs. He lit the fire anyway. As his fingers came back to life he steeled himself for the itchy night ahead. He could not have known that he would wake to a bandit’s blade at his throat, a not so subtle reminder that he was working in extremely remote places where the law didn’t always apply.*
Frank Meyer’s job was literally to walk around China and send back to the US varieties of plants that might be useful there. Soybeans - Frank Meyer. Meyers lemons - yep. Add to that list varieties of sorghum, buckwheat, apples, pears and pistachios and you start to get the idea. One discovery that absolutely did not catch on here in the US, but has been in cultivation since paleolithic times and has been a part of Chinese Herbal Medicine for millennia, is the humble jujube.
Oh, and the bandit. Ya, that isn’t what got Frank. His death is still considered mysterious. He was last seen alive on a steamer on the Yangtse headed to Shanghai. He was found on the bank of the river drowned. It could have been suicide, foul play or an accident.
Scientific Namesemen (settle down, it just means seed) Ziziphus jujuba var. spinosa Common Name (Western)Spiny Date Seed Chinese Name (Pin Yin) Suan Zao Ren OriginMostly harvested from a number of provinces to the West of Beijing clustering weirdly on the 40th parallel. For a U.S. reference, 40 degrees north marks the border between Kansas and Nebraska and passes through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Boulder, Colorado.
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The genus ziziphus has about 40 species of shrubs and trees and are members of the buckthorn family. They have a distribution throughout the world in the warmer temperate and subtropical regions. The spiny sour date is a woody, thorny, perennial shrub that grows to a height of about 10-12 feet and makes a small reddish brown drupe fruit. Much like other drupes, for instance, apricots, the seed or kernel is contained inside a hard pit. This seed kernel is what is used in herbal medicine. Good quality suan zao ren will be roughly lentil sized with a thin seed coat surrounding a cream colored fatty center. One of the preparations is to char these seeds in a hot wok which gives the seeds a flavor not completely unlike peanuts.
The part of this plant that gets used in Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine is the seed. This herb is mostly used in formulations for sleep. There are many studies that show the method of action is mediated primarily through the Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABAergic system) which is the body’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter. The seeds of the ziziphus jujube var. Spinosa are combined with other herbs to make formulations. Depending on dosage and which other herbs are used, these formulations can be used for sleep, stress, anxiety, PTSD or even mania. Traditionally, the seeds are quickly blitzed in a spice grinder roughly ground and then boiled to make a decoction. They can also be used in alcohol extracts and pills or capsules. A dosage of 10-18 grams is commonly used, while an upper limit of 30 grams can be used in extreme cases. The primary use is as a sedative / hypnotic but it has also shown uses in relieving mild pain and reducing body temperature
Use with caution if you have diarrhea or if you are fighting off a cold.
Due mostly to the ability of Suan Zao Ren to exert a calming influence, it is seen in many formulations that focus on sleep and nervous worry.
Herbalolgic Solid Eight Herb Drops and Capsules are a slightly modified version of the classic formula Suan Zao Ren Tang, which is the exemplar formula for this herb. I mean, the formula is literally named after this one herb. This formula is the go-to formula for a variety of sleep issues.
Herbalogic Quiet Mind Herb Drops and Capsules help with nervous worry and include spiny date seeds in just the right proportion for its calming influence, so you can be calm during the day without feeling sleepy.
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