JUJUBE, ʿonnāb (Ar.; usually prnounced annāb in Pers.), the edible drupe of the jujube tree Ziziphus jujuba Miller (= Z. sativus Gaertn., Z. vulgaris Lam.), a spiny arborescent, deciduous brush or a tree of Rhamnacea family (for morphological details, see Browicz, p. 5), native to the East Mediteranean regions. Trees grow to about 30 ft. with a crown diameter of up to 15 ft., have shiny small green leaves, and bear olive-like fruits. The fully ripened fruit has a thin, wrinkled, red skin over the whitish, rather sweet flesh around a single hard stone, and varies in shape from round to elongate. The general distribution of the jujube tree, both spontaneous and cultivated, includes Central and Western Asia, the Caucasus, India, China, Korea, and North African countries. It has also been introduced into North America. Kazimierz Browicz provides details about its distribution in the Flora Iranica area, summarized as: 1) Persia (Gorgān, Gilān, Azerbaijan, Isfahan, Baḵtiāri, Fars, Bušehr, Kerman, Sistān, Khorasan, etc.); 2) Iraq (Kurdistan, Kirkuk, etc.); 3) Turkmenistan; 4) Afghanistan (Herāt, Kabul, Nangrahār, Jalālābād, Laḡmān, Nurestān, Badaḵšān, etc.); 5) West Pakistan (Swāt, Kurram, etc.).

In his article on ʿonnāb, Rašid-al-Din Fażl-Allāh Hamadāni (q.v.; d. 718/1939), besides describing the methods of jujube tree propagation, has made several interesting observations. According to him, there are several varieties of ʿonnāb,depending on soil quality and weather. Its tree thrives both in cold (sardsir) and warm (garmsir) regions. Ithas numerous uses because of its edibility (whether fresh or dried) and its medicinal virtues. In this realm (i.e., Persia), good jujubes are found in some villages of Jorjān (Gorgān); those of Ḵatāy (Cathay, i.e., Ghina: cf. the archaic Ar. synonym ḡorbayrāʾ al-Ṣin for ʿonnāb below) and of Oyḡorestān (country if Uighurs in Mongolia and eastern Torkestān) are “extremely large, good and palatable, much better than those of other countries” (Rašid-al-Din, pp. 30-40).

Present vernacular names for jujube in Persia include Kurd. šilān and provincial variants of ʿonnāb, for instance, Azeri Turk. innāb, Luri ennāv, and o/unnāf in some localities in Gilān.  Obsolete names mentioned in some older dictionaries or pharmaco-medical works include: šeylāna(k), tabarḵun/ṭabarḵun, whose absolute synonymy with ʿonnāb is uncertain (see Dehḵodā, s.v. both spellings); senjed-e Jilān, lit. “oleaster of Jilān” (not to be confused with Jilān, the Arab. form ofGilān, the Caspian province in Iran; here Jilān most probably refers to Jilān, a village in ∏āhrud sub-province, in Semnān Province, whose flora includes a large number of oleaster trees; see Edāra-ye joḡrāfiāʾi-e arteš, XXIX, p. 15); and ḡorbayrāʾ al-S˘in (e.g., Biruni, ed. Said, p. 274, ed. Zaryāb, no. 733; cf. the Pers. tr. by Kāsāni, and note 731 in Moẓaffarzāda’s tr.: “In Farḡāna [q.v.], a mountainous region in Central Asia, it is called senjed-e Jilān”; in connection with China, cf. the Eng. synonym “Chinese date” for jujube). According to Wikipedia (s.v. jujube), “Z. jujuba … is thought to be native to North Africa and Syria, but it moved east through India to China, where it has been cultivated for over 4,000 years [!].”

Local people do not dislike eating unripe jujubes (when the stone inside is soft enough), but more esteemed and used are the ripe ones (either fresh or dried) that look like oleasters, with dark-red exocarps and sweetish pulps, supposed to have medicinal virtues.

The Galenic mezāj (temperament) of jujubes is indeterminate (for different opinions in this regard, see Ebn al-Bayṭār’s quotations from several ḥakims, “physicians,” II, pp. 191-92). The prevailing view nowadays at least in Iran is that ʿonnāb is “cold in the first degree” (as already stated by some Persian authors of the past; e.g., H˘osayni Tonokāboni [comp. 1080/1669-70], pp. 613-14). As such, its mucilaginous decoction is believed to be effective for sore throat, bronchitis, as an expectorant, and for abating the ḥedda (hotness, caloricity) of blood, for “purifying” the blood and decreasing arterial hypertension.

In classical Persian literature, some poets have compared to ʿonnab the (red small) lip(s) of their beloved and rarely his/her fingertips. A number of these far-fetched comparisons are to be found in Dehḵodā. In the following distich, the poet Ẓahir-al-Din Fāryābi (d. 598/1202, q.v.) has referred both to this comparison and to the jujube’s reputed property of cooling and soothing the ardor (of love):

Če-rā hawā-ye lab-at ḵun-e man ba-juš ārad;

Agar nešāndan-e ḵun az ḵawāṣṣ-e ʿonnab ast?

(If abating [the ardor of] blood is one of ʿonnab’s virtues, why [the mere] yearning for thy lip brings my blood to the boil?; Dehḵodā, s.v. ʿonnāb).


Moḥammad-Ḥosayn ʿAqili ʿAlawi Ḵorāsāni, Qarābād˚in-e kabir, Tehran, n.d., pp. 296-97. 

Abu Rayḥān Biruni, Ketāb al-ṣaydana fi’l-ṭebb, ed. and tr. Hakim Muhammed Said, Karachi, 1973; ed. ʿAbbās Zaryāb, Tehran, 1991; Pers. adaptation by Abu Bakr b. ʿAli Kāsāni, ed. Manučehr Sotuda and Iraj Afšār, 2 vols., Tehran, 1979; tr. Bāqer Moẓaffarzāda as al-Ṣaydana fi’l-ṭebb/Dāru-šenāsi dar pezeški, Tehran, 2004 (Pers. tr. of U. I. Karimov’s Russ. tr. and annotation). 

Kazimierz Browicz and Jerzy Zielinski, Rhammaceae, Flora iranica. Flora des iranischen Hochlandes und der umrahmenden Gebirge 125, Graz, 1977. 

ʿAli-Akbar Dehḵodā, Loḡat-nāma, Tehran, 1946-79, s.vv. ʿonnāb, tabarḵun, and ṭabarḵun

Ebn al-Bayṭār, al-Jāmeʿ al-mofradāt al-adwia wa’l-aḡd˚ia, 4 pts. in 2 vols., Bulāq, 1291/1874; tr. Lucien Leclerc as Traité des simples, 3 vols., Paris, 1877-83.

Edāra-ye joḡrāfiāʾi-e arteš, Farhang-e joḡrāfiāʾi-e ābādihā-ye kešvar-e jomhuri-e eslāmi-e Irān, 139 vols., Tehran, 1978-, XXIX: Šāhrud (Gorgān)

Moḥammad-Moʾmen Ḥosayni Tonokāboni, Toḥfa-ye H˘akim Moʾmen, Tehran, n.d.

Rašid-al-Din Fażl-Allāh Hamadāni, Āṯār al-aḥyāʾ, ed. Manučehr Sotuda and Iraj Afšār, Tehran, 1989. 

ʿAli Zargari, Giāhān-e dāruʾi-e Irān I, 3rd ed., Tehran, 1981, pp. 407-8.


(Hušang Aʿlam)

Cite this article:

Hušang Aʿlam, “JUJUBE,” Encyclopædia Iranica, XV/215-16, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/jujube (accessed on 30 December 2012).