Djida - the wild dates

djida1If you happen to be in an Oriental bazaar, pay attention to the neat piles of fruit which look like dates. They are called djida in Uzbekistan. In other countries they are known as wild or northern dates. It is surprising how many different names the plant has. Both in old and modern publications it may be called differently: silverberry, rabitberry, oleaster, wild olive, Armenian dates...

Djida is one of the most beautiful trees growing on the slopes of the Chatkal Moun­tains and is rightfully believed to be one of the most fragrant trees in the world. Its luxuriant laced crown, opalescent like a silvery cloud of light, is made of narrow leaves covering the tree from top to bottom that exude an intoxicating fragrance.

Since ancient times, djida has been cultivated in the Central Asian region as a food plant. Its garden variety is known as Bukharan djida. The fruit of both wild and garden varieties were ground into flour and added to flat-cakes, spice cakes, buns and all kinds of national dishes. Light and long-keeping dry djida fruit are comparable in their nutritive value to dates. They are usually dried and served to tea or added to compotes and home-made wine making them even more fragrant Marshmallow is also cooked from them.

In ancient times and the Middle Ages, djida occupied an important place in the rations of nomadic peoples thanks to the ability of its nourishing fruit to be kept for a long time without any treatment.

dgida

Back in the 11th century, djida as a me­dicinal plant was described by Avicenna in his "Book of Healing* and "Canon of Medicine". In folk medicine, concoctions made of its fruit, flowers and leaves are used as an astringent to treat gas­tric, pulmonary and renal diseases. It also helps in case of ischemic heart disease, sclerosis, rheumatism and ar­thritis. Oil brewed on djida flowers is rubbed into the skin in cases of cough and cold. It can also be rubbed into aching joints and into hair to prevent it from shedding. Incidentally, if you got scratched or bruised when walking in a locale where djida trees grow take a few leaves from this plant, rub them between your fingers and press them to the bruise; it will heal very fast.

Djida was also present among ritual symbols of Central Asian peoples. It was believed that this thorny and very fragrant plant protected dwellings from evil spirits. Djida fruits as a symbol of staunchness, vital force and fertility were used as a ritual food. Newly-weds used to be showered with these fruits instead of grain. In Central Asian fairy­tales, legends, proverbs and riddles djidais mentioned as often as sakura in Japan, and its descriptions are as poetic.

There is a legend explaining the appearance of stripes on the stones of djida fruits. At the end of June all djida fruits allegedly leave their trees and set out for Mecca. It is there that the sacred alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, appears on their stones. The fruits then return to their trees where they ripen. In ancient times, these "con­secrated" striped stones were used for making prayer beads and amulets. Children make beads and bracelets from them to this day.

Tea with djida

Take about a dozen djida fruits and remove their stones. Crush the pulp in a mortar and put it into a pot of tea dur­ing brewing. In fifteen minutes the heavenly drink will be ready.