The Chinese plum is a somewhat difficult stone fruit to pin down.
The reason for this is that the name applies to three different species of fruit trees – each of which also goes by several other common names.
The Chinese plum (Prunus mume) has a huge variety of culinary uses, numerous health benefits, and is cultural significant across much of East Asia.
What Are Chinese Plums
The following three plants are all known as the Chinese plum:
- Prunus mume
- Prunus salicina
- Loquat (Eriobtrya japonica)
All three plum trees are distinct species, although they are all often called the Chinese plum.
Strangely enough, all three of these fruit trees are also interchangeably called the Japanese plum, which further adds to the confusion.
Today, we’re going to focus on the Prunus mume since it’s arguably what most people think of when it comes to the Chinese plum.
Chinese Plum History
The Chinese plum is native to China.
It was first discovered growing near the Yangtze River in southern China before it was subsequently introduced to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
The plant has a long history of culinary as well as medicinal use throughout Asia.
The fruit itself is small. It’s usually yellow, although it often has a red blush, especially during early stages of growth.
The Chinese plum blossoms are incredibly beautiful. The white, pink, and red flowers are treasured throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia. They are commonly referred to simply as “plum blossoms.”
The tree itself usually grows to about 13 to 33 feet tall over the length of its life.
Several varieties have been cultivated. Strangely, the Chinese plum is more closely related to apricots rather than plums.
Over the centuries, this plant has achieved cultural significance in East Asia and Southeast Asia. It’s commonly seen in paintings and often referred to in poetry.
What Do Chinese Plums Taste Like?
Freshly picked Chinese plums are quite sour.
In fact, they’re commonly described as tasting much like an under-ripe apricot.
Because of this sour tastes, Chinese plums are much more often used in dishes and recipes rather than eaten straight off the branches of the tree.
How to Use Chinese Plums
The fruit from the Chinese plum has several culinary uses.
Among the most common are as an ingredient in juice, tea, wine, and plum sauce. The fruit is also commonly pickled or preserved.
Plum blossoms are also used in a pancake dish known as “flower pancake.” This Chinese plum recipe is most common in Korea.
The recipe for Chinese plum sauce is extremely common, not to mention delicious. It’s quite a thick sauce with a sweet taste. It uses chili, ginger, garlic, salt, sugar, and vinegar in addition to the plums. Many people use this condiment to eat with egg rolls.
Historically, Chinese plum also has a variety of medicinal uses, namely as part of traditional Chinese medicine.
It was often used to treat cough, fever, and stomachache as well as menopausal symptoms and even insomnia.
Health Benefits of the Chinese Plum
The fruit of the Chinese plum and recipes it’s used in promote numerous health benefits.
For example, plum juice concentrate has been shown to promote overall health, especially heart health and gastrointestinal help, according to WebMD.
Plums, including the Chinese plum, are high in vitamins, fiber, and potassium.
Where to Buy a Chinese Plum Tree
Chinese plum seeds can often be found online.
You can also buy a Chinese plum tree as a sapling from many garden stores and nurseries, although this varies depending on location and time of the year.
Most people prefer buying seeds over a sapling.
How to Grow Chinese Plums
The Chinese plum is typically self-unfruitful.
This means that you need to grow at least two of these plants to be successful. We recommend planning two seeds per pot and planting several pots at once. A 5-gallon pot is ideal.
Bonsai Club International recommends a mixture of coca shell, peat moss, turface, and ground pumice stone as the ideal potting soil for the Chinese plum.
Start by burying each seed roughly ¼ inch under the soil. Separate the two seeds in each pot by 2 inches.
Mist the surface in the pots twice each day. Although you want to keep the soil moist, avoid letting it get too wet.
Germination should occur in about two weeks.
Once the seedlings reach about two to three inches in height, it’s important to pull out the weaker/smaller of the two, so there’s now only one plant growing per pot.
It’s important to keep the plants in their pots for at least one year before transplanting to the ground. Transplanting should be done in the early spring or late fall.
While your Chinese plum plant is still in the pot, it’s possibly to leave it outside overnight as long as the nighttime temperature doesn’t drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Other Fruits Like the Chinese Plum
As mentioned above, there are several other fruits like the Chinese Plum.
Although not very closely related, the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is also sometimes called the Chinese plum.
Chinese Plum FAQ
Here are answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions about Chinese plums.
What Are Chinese Plums Good for?
Chinese plums are great in a number of culinary dishes. Popular recipes include plum sauce and plum wine. Health benefits include constipation relief, regulating blood pressure, and promoting good heart health.
What Is Chinese Plum Sauce Made of?
In addition to fresh plums, traditional Chinese plum sauce is made from chili, ginger, garlic, salt, sugar, and vinegar.
Are Chinese Preserved Plums Healthy?
Chinese preserved plums are just as healthy, if not healthier, than fresh plums. These preserves contain vitamins and minerals. They are very high in antioxidants.
What Month Do Chinese Plum Trees Blossom?
April is the most common month for Chinese plum trees to blossom, although the blossom yield depends on temperature and weather throughout the year.
How Old Are Chinese Plum Trees Before They Fruit?
Most Chinese plums begin to produce fruit two to three years after planting. However, the yield will remain quite small until about five years after planting when the plant’s full-cropping capabilities are available.
The Chinese plum is a great addition to any backyard orchard.
If you can track down the fresh fruit, perhaps at an Asian market, then you’re in for a real treat as countless Chinese plum recipes are available, including famous plum sauce.
Even if you don’t ever plan to use your plant for culinary uses, there’s a reason why these plum blossoms are cherished throughout East Asia – they’re simply beautiful!
Let us know what you think about the Chinese plum in the comments below.