Quince, A Healthy and Almost Forgotten Fruit

Germany loves to celebrate its plants, trees, and fruits.  So, except for the fact that quince fruits are relatively unknown in America, it should come as no big surprise that the quince fruit was celebrated in Germany as the official fruit of 2017. Its pink and white flowers possess a scent reminiscent of citrus and roses. 

Celebrated by practitioners of Hildegard medicine, like Dr. Wighard Strehlow, quince is rightly experiencing a renaissance as a health food in Germany.

Beautiful quince flowers

Quince Fruit Basics

Quince (Cydonia oblonga, Altochdt. Quitina) looks like an apple- or pear-shaped yellow citrus fruit, but it belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae). Unlike apples and pears, quince is not eaten raw. 

The quince tree or bush is a slow-growing shrub. The appearance of the plant’s flowers in spring reflect its heritage as a part of the rose family. Leaves and fruits are covered with a felt-like coating. Worldwide there are about 200 quince varieties, but the best known are the pear quince and the apple quince.

Quince Fruits
Quince fruits

Quince fruits are harvested late in October and November. Most cultivated quince varieties can only be eaten when cooked. As much as we appreciate the beauty of bitter flavors, we advise rubbing-off any fluffy hairs on the skin before processing, as they contain a large amount of bitter substances.

Quince, an Ancient Fruit 

As the fruit of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, quince plays an important role in Greek mythology. The father of medicine, Hippocrates praised the healing effects of quince, as did Saint Hildegard von Bingen. Many of the valuable properties of this vitamin bomb remain in use today in the production of anti-inflammatory remedies.

Quince, fluffy hairs on the outer skin

Despite the many health benefits, today, this six-meter-high shrub has become rare in German gardens, and virtually unknown in America. Each year, quince appears less commonly in grocery stores and farmer’s markets. 

Quince Has a Long History 

Quince has been appreciated as a medicinal plant since ancient times. Records dating back as far as 4,000 years show quince first appeared in and around the region known as the Caucuses.

Quince fruit how to eat
Quince, a delicious, healthy but rare fruit

In Greece there is documented proof of cultivation in 600 BC and among the Romans in 200 BC. With the Roman legions the quince came to Central Europe. More detailed records, including the naming of this fruit remain preserved in Crete. The Greek name for quince fruit, Kydomalon traces back to the name “Apple of Kydonia”, an ancient Cretan town.

It’s All in The Name

The Portuguese called the quince fruit a honey apple, or a “melimelon” in Greek.  They derived their own version of the word, Marmelon. Eventually, this word evolved to mean marmalade. In Greek mythology, the quince symbolized love, happiness, fertility, wisdom, beauty, constancy, and immortality. 

The quince fruit remains the focus of several important mythologies.  For example, the biblical “golden apple” of paradise is actually a quince fruit. And, in Roman times, quince was thought to have been used by the night goddess to seduce with its scent.

Ripe quince

In an ancient marriage ritual, brides used to receive a quince before the wedding night. The sweet scent reminded her of the pleasures, while the bitter taste evoked the hardships. 

Ancient Healing Properties of Quince

Since ancient times, numerous medicinal sources praised the extraordinary healing power of quince. Hippocrates recommended quince for fever and constipation (and, diarrhea).  He also promoted the raw fruit for preventing bleeding from wounds.

Hildegard’s nutritional treatment emphasized quince as a rich source of dietary fibers and vitamins.  Hildegard wrote of quince: “The arthritic person should often eat this fruit cooked and baked, and it will destroy in this person rheumatic toxins.”  Hildegard von Bingen, specifically recommended quince for mild symptoms of gout, rheumatism and as a mild laxative. 

Considered one of the founders of botany, the German, Hieronymus Bock swore by quince bread. Our ancestors, like Bock trusted their anecdotal observations of quince and its healing properties.

Quince health benefits
Quince has various health benefits

Why is the Quince Healthy?

Today studies have shown that the ingredients of this power fruit are highly effective. It contains vitamin C, vitamin E, folic acid, manganese, potassium, sodium, zinc, iron, copper, fluorine, tannins and lots of pectin, which normalizes blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol.

200g of quince fruit satisfies the following daily values.

  • 35% of the daily vitamin C requirement, supporting the immune system, benefits the connective tissue, blood vessels, gums, and promotes firm and smooth skin.
  • Vitamin E (8% of the recommended daily dose) supports blood building, hemostasis, blood circulation, prevents arteriosclerosis and inflammation and protects the cells.
  • 12% folic acid (the recommended daily dosage) reduces the risk of high blood pressure (internal link), acts on the brain and nerves, and promotes the gastrointestinal activity
  • 5% manganese (the recommended daily dosage) supports a healthy metabolism.

The Best Time for Quince

Fresh quince fruits are only available in autumn. Fruits harvested ripe last as long as two months. Though quince fruits are hard, they possess a delicate composition. As soon as the outer, fuzzy layer is rubbed off, the fruit releases a delicious discreet scent. However, if the wax layer is damaged, the fruit loses moisture, dries out or rots.

Quince Recipes
Quince can be used in many ways

Though fairly uncommon in the U.S., quince fruits are sold in specialty organic stores or farm shops (think Community Shared Agriculture ). For a simple pleasure, enjoy a bowl filled with quince, which leaves a pleasant fragrance in the house for weeks. Quince jelly or marmalade serves as a delicious German treat at the breakfast table. 

Healing Effect of Quince 

The healing and immune strengthening properties of quince fruit are well known. When ingested, the fruit has natural diuretic, anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-lowering, and stomach-strengthening effects. It is good for the stomach and helps with flatulence, intestinal health and digestive problems.

Infographic Quince
Infographic Quince

Due to its antibacterial effect, it serves as an effective natural cold remedy. Used topically, it can be used as a cream, oil, or tincture. The skin shows a clear improvement in inflammation, acne, and skin aging. It has a particularly beneficial effect on maltreated skin (e.g. burns, sunburn, open areas as a result of bedsores, bleeding wounds, cracked skin and sore nipples). Quince tea was frequently consumed in Hildegard’s time for mild anxiety, insomnia and bad breath (we suppose that was common in the Middle Ages).

Quince Uses

  • Stomach discomfort
  • Heartburn
  • Flatulence
  • Diarrhea
  • Hoarseness
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Tonsillitis
  • Periodic cramps
  • Dry and brittle skin
  • Skin inflammations
  • Immunodeficiency

How to Eat Quince Fruit

Quince Tea & Quince Juice

The best quince remedy for colds comes from making tea with the fruit’s seeds. Soak the seeds in hot water for a few hours until a slime forms. 

You can also make a tea from fresh or dried fruit pieces by infusing them and letting them steep for 15 minutes. The juice is pressed from the fruits.

Quince Jam & Quince Jelly

Quince Jam
Quince jam or quince jelly are still popular in Germany

From the fruits a jelly or a jam is cooked. The fresh fruits pureed result in a deliciously fragrant puree. A syrup can be made from the chopped peeled fruit mixed with honey. In any form the quince relieves the stomach.

Quince Tincture & Quince Cream

Soak the crushed shell in olive oil and allow 6 days to soak. This tincture works to address cases of skin impurities, skin inflammations, and skin aging. 

Dried Quince Seeds

Use the seeds found inside the quince fruit. They are removed from the housing, cleaned of fruit flesh residue, dried and consumed as “cough drops”.

The lozenges produce a slimy substance on the outermost layer of the kernels, which relieves sore throats, chesty cough and bronchitis. Be careful not to chew the seeds, they taste extremely bitter and contain prussic acid (Hydrogen cyanide), which can be very dangerous.

Quince Mucilage

The kernels are placed in water, which causes the outermost layer to swell and form a slimy substance. To prepare, take 1 part quince seeds and 8 parts cold water, and allow the combination to sit overnight. Topically, the mucus is used for burns, cracked skin, sore lips and inflamed eyes.

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