うめ【梅】

Ume blossoms photographed by Brian Chandler in March 2000.

Prunus mume Sieb. et Zucc.; Japanese apricot

□ A member of the Prunus family, which includes many familiar fruiting trees and shrubs such as cherry, peach, plum, apricot and almond, Prunus mume produces white, pink or red fragrant flowers in late winter and early spring, followed by fruit in early summer. It is commonly known in the botanical world of English-speaking countries as "Japanese apricot." The Latin name also derives from the old Japanese name for the plant, mume, which later changed to ume. However, the plant was actually brought to Japan from China, where the fruit had long been used as a medicine.

The blossoms of this tree were also a popular subject of Chinese poetry, and the appreciation of the blossoms as a herald of spring was also imported from China to Japan. In the Nara period, the word 花(はな) in poems often referred to 梅 rather than 桜(さくら). The Japanese produced many varieties of 梅, and it is said that there are now over 300 cultivars.

Although the fruit is unpalatable and harmful if eaten fresh, it has many culinary uses in Japan, such as 梅干し, 梅酒 and 梅酢 (see below).

"Japanese plum" is sometimes given in Japan as the English name for 梅, but in English-speaking countries this name usually refers to another member of the Prunus family, Prunus salicina Lindl., whose Japanese name is スモモ (also written 李 or 酸桃).

A photograph of white ume blossoms is available here and of red blossoms here.

◇ 梅干し(うめぼし)
Salt-cured and dried Japanese apricot fruit, coloured and flavoured with 紫蘇(しそ), a Japanese culinary herb. Has piquant, pickle-like taste, and is often eaten with rice.

梅酢(うめず)
Vinegary extract obtained in the 梅干し curing process. It is said that this was once commonly used for cooking, and the word 塩梅(あんばい), which refers to flavoring or seasoning or, by extension, a state or condition, comes from 塩 and 梅酢.

梅酒(うめしゅ)
"Wine" made with Japanese apricot fruit. It is actually distilled spirit called ホワイトリカー (a type of 焼酎(しょうちゅう)) flavoured with the Japanese apricot fruit and sugar.

桜切るばか、梅切らぬばか
See this item.

松竹梅(しょうちくばい)
The three felicitous plants used for New Year decorations. This is also the traditional grading system for meals, rooms, services, etc., where 梅(うめ)is the standard grade and 松(まつ)is the best product the shop offers.


This entry was created by Yuno Hanlon.


Created 2001-03-14.


jeKai Index Home