For several years, we have been enjoying biwa fruit from our tree in the back. Biwa, for the uninitiated, is a popular but seasonal Japanese fruit called loquat in English. Since loquat is only slightly better known among non-botanists than biwa, and since it is well known in Japan, I’m sticking with the Japanese name. Biwa is an evergreen tree, and attractive enough. The fruit is very sweet and tender, and spoils if not eaten quickly.
As I said, we have enjoyed the fruits, but a few problems started arising. One was that crows could swoop in and pick the tree clean in 15 minutes, leaving mostly uneaten biwa remains on the ground to rot. The more difficult problem was that ants had infested the tree, and many parts were rotting out. I decided to do some extreme pruning one day, and planned to cut the tree back to where there was no rot at all. I did. Unfortunately, though, all that was left of the tree was a slender stump that rose up to my neck. No branches, no leaves, just a long stump. She was a goner. I left the stump long because it would be easier to pull out that way come spring.
Then spring came. By the time I got around to the biwa stump, it had sprouted a perfectly round head of leaves. Like a professionally pruned decorative tree. It was too pretty to take down, so I left it. Another year goes by and we have a 15 foot biwa tree that needs some trimming. Oh, joy.
I hate trimming, pruning and anything that produces nothing other than orderliness. So I looked for motivation and found that I could make biwa tea from the freshly trimmed leaves. Technically, this is called a tisane, but also I hate having to explain myself. So let’s call it tea from fresh leaves.
Here you can see some of the leaves I pulled in and then lightly washed.
Washing is not quite enough. Biwa leaves a peach-like fuzz on their underside, and the little hairs can irritate the throat when drinking the tea. So, we have to scrub them off to the degree possible. Some will always be left, but we try to get 90%. Some people use a knife for this. Other methods can be using a softer scouring pad, or even your fingers (though they will get a bit raw if you wash more than a few leaves at once).
Once this is done, simple grab some scissors and snip up the leaves into a pot of water. The more the merrier. If you do it right, you get a nice golden red tea.
You’ll see the color starting to turn in the picture on the right, though there are not nearly enough tea leaves in that pot.
Bring the water to a boil for 3 or 4 minutes, then turn the heat lower and simmer with a lid over the pot for 20 or so. When it stops, leave it in the pot another 20 minutes to steep. Overnight is OK, too. I have never yet had a biwa tea that is too strong. It naturally is mild and easy to drink, so try to get all the goodness out of it that you can.
I have found that drying the leaves works even better (though we lose the chlorophyll that the fresh leaves give us so much of). To dry them, I use a wire coat hangers. The link here shows how. It’s in Japanese, but the pictures are enough to see what he is doing. The leaves are strong, so hang maybe 20 or so on one hanger by poking a hole through them and hanging them lengthwise.
Drying may take 10 days or a month, depending on your weather conditions. An alternative would be to over dry them, but since I haven’t tried that I can’t help there.
It’s good hot, and makes a refreshing iced tea as well.
The Benefits of Biwa Tea (Loquat Tea)
Considering how easy it is to drink biwa tea, the health benefits it is reputed to provide are stunning. Some of the following have been strongly demonstrated in studies, some less so. This is not medical advice but just a list of suggested benefits.
It has recently been suggested that it may help ward off cancer, as the leaves (and especially the seed pit of the fruit) contain amygdalin. Amygdalin is also known as the anti-cancer vitamin B17, or laetrile.
The tea may help with gastrointestinal problems, indigestion, diarrhea and stomach issues. It has strong anti-diabetic properties, and can help to lower blood sugar.
The loquat leaf has traditionally been used topically as a way to reduce skin inflammation. Biwa tea itself is believed to help beautify the skin.
The leaves are high in vitamin A and C, calcium, potassium, iron, and phosphorus.
Biwa leaves help release antioxidants, to prevent various diseases, and increase immunity and life expectancy.
Biwa can helps combat diabetes. The leaves produce triterpenes, which may increase insulin production to fight off diabetes. It has been approved by the Chinese government as an anti-diabetic agent because it produces a set of natural bodily chemicals known as polysaccharides, which also increase insulin production. The leaves are also believed to benefit the pancreas.
The list goes on to make biwa tea one of the most promising health drinks on the market.
Growing a Loquat Tree (Biwa Tree)
If you live in a humid climate with mild winters, you may find these trees flourish there. There are many biwa trees is the USA south, mostly ignored because Westerners are generally unaware of their great benefits (and the good fruit they produce!)