The bark and unripe fruit of Diospyros virginiana, Linné.
COMMON NAMES: Persimmon, Date-plum.
Botanical Source.—This is an indigenous tree growing from 15 to 50 feet or more in height, its dimensions being larger at the South; the bark is rough and dark-colored; the branches alternate and spreading. The leaves are alternate, elliptic or ovate-oblong, abruptly acuminate, from 3 to 5 inches long, entire, smooth, shining, and glaucous beneath; the petiole, veins, and margin are puberulent. The flowers are obscure, pale, greenish-yellow, the fertile ones in axillary racemes, 1 to 3-flowered, the pedicels being shorter than the flowers; the sterile flowers are smaller and often clustered. Stamens 16 in the sterile flowers, 8 in the fertile, in the latter imperfect; the anthers of the sterile flowers are bilobed. The style is 2 to 4-cleft, and short; the stigma obtuse and spreading. The fruit is a round, golden-yellow berry, about an inch in diameter, containing a sweet and edible pulp, and from 6 to 8 hard, compressed seeds (W.—G.).
History.—This is a well known indigenous tree, growing in woods and fields from Rhode Island to the western states and southward, flowering from April to July, ripening its fruit in September and October. The fruit is edible after exposure to frost. The unripe fruit and the bark are very astringent, and are the medicinal portions of the tree. (For description of fruit see Botanical Source). A beer is sometimes made from the fruit, and the fruit is made into a bread with wheat bran, known as persimmon bread, and then kept for the purpose of making beer by means of fermentation with hops. The roasted seeds have been used in some portions of the South as a substitute for coffee.
Chemical Composition.—Water or alcohol extracts the virtues of the bark and unripe fruit. B. R. Smith found the unripe fruit to contain lignin, tannic acid, sugar, a little malic acid, and coloring matter; also, that when ripe the tannic acid almost disappears, while the sugar and malic acid become more abundant (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1846, 167). J. E. Bryan (1860) also found pectin present, and thought the tannin to be analogous to that of cinchona, catechu, etc., while others contend that it is identical with the tannin from oak and galls. The bark of persimmon was analyzed by F. E. Murphy (1889), and a crystalline body obtained by him from the ethereal extract investigated by Schleif (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1890). He found it to be free from nitrogen, and allied to the resins.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Tonic and astringent. The bark has been used in intermittents, and both it and the unripe fruit have been beneficial in various forms of disease of the bowels, chronic dysentery, and uterine hemorrhage; used in infusion, syrup, or vinous tincture, in the proportion of 1 ounce of the bruised fruit to 2 fluid ounces of the vehicle, and 1/2 fluid ounce or more given to adults, and a fluid drachm or more to infants. The infusion may be used as a gargle in ulcerated sore throat. When ripe the fruit is very palatable, and as it matures at a time when fruits are generally departing for the season, the cultivation of the tree would undoubtedly be a valuable accession to our autumnal fruits. A kind of brandy is obtained by distillation of the fermented infusion.
Related Species.—Diospyros Kaki, Linné filius, the Chinese date-plum or Japanese persimmon, is a native of China and Japan, and is cultivated in India. The fruit is of a bright-red color, about the size of an ordinary apple; when ripe, it is eaten by the Chinese, and when dried, is made into sweetmeats. The bark is astringent, and probably resembles that of other species of Diospyros. The Japanese regard this persimmon as their best fruit, which they even eat before it ripens. When dried it resembles the fig. When fresh, and eaten with sugar and cream, it is said to be delicious. It is now cultivated in Florida (U. S. Agr. Rep., 1890). J. Ishii, of Tokio, in 1895, found in the unripe fruit a considerable amount of tannin which disappears upon ripening; the pulp contains much dextrose and laevulose, while the seeds, being free from starch, contain a soft white material, mannane, convertible into mannose by boiling with 5 per cent of sulphuric acid (Proc. Amer. Pharm. Assoc., 1896, p. 574).
The bark of Diospyros Kaki has been advised as an astringent in chronic mucous affections, as in certain forms of dyspepsia, in diarrhoea and dysentery, in mucous diseases of the bladder and urethra, and as a local application in leucorrhoea, gleet, chronic conjunctivitis, and catarrhal affections. The fluid extract, diluted with water, may be applied locally, by injection, or by spray. By some physicians kaki is highly lauded as a remedy for gastro-intestinal irritation. Dr. J. W. Huckins (see Webster's Dynam. Therap., p. 359), regards it as an excellent remedy for dysentery, simple mucoid diarrhoea, chronic diarrhoea, and diarrhoea of typhoid fever, quickly relieving pain, tenesmus, and thirst, and checking the discharges; he also praises it in gastric catarrh, ulceration of the stomach, or bowels, and in catarrh of the rectum and colon. A decoction of 1 or 2 drachms of kaki to 1/2 pint of water, steeped 1/2 hour and cooled, is employed in doses of 1 to 4 tablespoonfuls every 1 to 4 hours as required.
Diospyros obtusifolia, Willdenow;Mexico. Bark and leaves employed. Astringent tonic.
Diospyros embryopteris, Persoon, or Indian persimmon tree, is found in India, Java, and neighboring tropical islands; but is not valued highly for its fruit, which is insipid. When green, they are very astringent, and are employed in tanning. The inspissated juice has been used in diarrhoea; it is thick and viscid, and has been employed in India as a preservative for coating fishing nets, and the seams of boats. The unripe fruit was admitted into the Pharmacopoeia of India in the year 1868.