Persimmons are large reddish-orange sugary lumps, or berries, that grow on widely spreading deciduous trees, potentially reaching around 18 metres in height. They belong to the Ebony (Ebenaceae) family. The varieties are more often divided between astringent and non-astringent, and between those categories the two most common are Diospyros virginiana and Diospyros kaki. The American, astringent (virginiana) variety is only happily eaten once it is fully ripe, as the astringency, given by the high concentration of tannins makes them chalk-like, bitter and dry. If you have ever experienced a persimmon in this form you likely never went back. Once ripe, however, they are soft, gooey, jelly-like and sweet.The Oriental variety (kaki) can be eaten prior to extreme ripeness without trouble, as it is non-astringent. The taste, when ripe, is of a honey-sweet pumpkin, with a touch of spice. Diospyros, in Greek means “Food of the Gods” or “divine food.” The tree is hardy and attractive, does well in cooler summer climates, is self-fruitful, and practically pest-free.
The astringent ‘Simmon, American Persimmon, or Hachiya, is found in hardy zones 4 through 8, and ranges across the United States from Southern Connecticut to the Gulf of Mexico, and West to Texas. The fruits are oval-shaped. The tree has a hard desirable wood, with greyish-brown bark, and glossy 6” leaves, which emerge as reddish and become yellow and red in the fall. The Oriental, or Fuyu, found in hardy zones 8 through 10, originated in China, and can now be found in Japan, Korea, Southern Europe and Brazil. These fruits are round with a flat bottom.
This fruit’s fragrant white flowers emerge in July and August, while its fruit comes to visit in the late fall and early winter. The trees are best propagated by grafting onto established root stems. A leaf analysis can ensure the tree is receiving proper nitrogen amounts, as the tree responds well to nitrogen fertilizers, and would, therefore, do well planted with nitrogen fixers. Fruits vary in quality and size even upon the same tree, but fruit thinning is a sure way to guarantee high quality persimmons. Trees may need to be cross pollinated, so it is best to plant two. A young tree should start to produce by its sixth year, and will reach its maximum production when around 25-50 years old. It requires full sun, and once established it is mostly drought-tolerant, and hardy up to -25 degrees fahrenheit.
In Korean Folklore, they used dried persimmons to keep tigers away. Both varieties have been cultivated since prehistoric times, in China, and by Native Americans. In China the fruit was believed to have mystical healing powers. The fruit is likely little known because it makes a poor market fruit. This is due to the fruit being extremely astringent prior to ripeness, and being at its best when able to fully ripen on the tree.
Besides consuming persimmons fresh and dried, they are good in baking, caramelized into a sauce, vinegar, molasses, pudding, beer and tea. Since the fruit is high in fibre, it aids in weight loss, and helps with stomach issues like IBS and diarrhea. They are a natural antibiotic and antioxidant, and are safely consumed by those with diabetes. Beta-carotene makes them good for eyesight, and high concentrations of Vitamin-C in the fruits and leaves may help those with anemia, as iron is better absorbed when consumed with this vitamin. The bark has medicinal properties. This is a damn good Permaculture plant.
The late fruit production makes the plant useful as a year-round food source, as the fruits are at their best when other fruits are done. This increases one’s food security and resilience. It serves as a winter food source for both humans and animals. As it needs full sun, it makes a great shade-giving plant for the canopy layer. It does well planted with most other things, and its resilience against “juglone”, Black Walnut Poison, makes it a good buffer plant. And hey wow, practically pest-free, so no worries, man! The fruits can be used to make dye because of the high tannin content. The dark wood can be used to make beautiful objects, such as bowls. Since the tree is aesthetically beautiful, it makes a great food-producing ornamental. The fruits are easy to preserve as they stay on the trees through much of the winter, and can keep well on a counter for weeks. Once established they do not need to be watered. The easiest way to pick persimmons, according to Euell Gibbons, is to lay a blanket or tarp-like material around the base, and then climb up and shake the tree, allowing the perfectly ripe fruits to fall upon it. Did I mention that they are sugary-lumps?
Encyclopedia of Fruit & Nuts. (2008). (Jules Janick & Robert E. (ed.). Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory: 3rd Edition. (2001). (Kent Whealy, ed.). Seed Savers Exchange, Inc: Decorah, Iowa.
Gibbons, E. (1962). Stalking the Wild Asparagus: Field Guide Edition.
…..Also if you feel so inclined watch this music masterpiece by Flight of the Conchords titled “Sugar Lumps”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ozSSseCh3U ……