From Eat the Weeds
and Other Things Too website
by Green Deane
Persimmons can persists after the leaves drop making them easy to spot.
Pure Pucker Power
About the only bad thing you can say about a persimmon tree is that it
has pucker power, if you pick it at the wrong time.
You’ll have competition for ripe persimmons.
What most people don’t know is that
the persimmon is the North American ebony, Diospyros virginiana
(dye-OSS-pih-ross ver-jin-nee-AY-nuh.) There are few trees more
versatile than the persimmon. The fruit, actually the largest native
berry in North America, can be eaten out of hand or cooked in various
ways. Its seeds can be roasted and ground for a coffee extender. The
leaves are loaded with Vitamin C for a healthy tea and the hard,
closed-grain wood can be worked (often to be made into
“natural” wedding bands.)
Persimmons do not like to grow in the forest
like to grow along the edges of things; fields, roads, rivers, rail
roads, fences, trails. They can be anything from a spindly shrub to
over 80-feet tall. I can well remember the first time I found a green
persimmon fruit on the ground locally. I was hiking in the Wekiva State
Park in Florida along Rock Springs Run. What was memorable about the
event was I couldn’t find the tree. I turned 360 degrees and
still couldn’t see a persimmon tree until I looked up, way,
up. Competing with other trees river side they were incredibly tall,
and not nine inches through. They were spindly 70-foot tall trees! Very
The Persimmon's native range
of the persimmons trees you will see, especially in Florida, are only
eight to ten feet tall, occasionally 15 to 20 feet. Persimmons are
found in the eastern half of the United States excluding northern
boarder states. They’re also found in Utah, California and
into Mexico. Oddly, they are not naturally found along the Appalachian
Mountains or the Allegheny Plateau.
The Persimmon is usually the
last tree to leaf out in the spring and the first to lose it leaves in
the fall, a strategy to thwart predatory insects. The champion
persimmon tree in the US, as of 2009, is in Yell, Arkansas. It is 94
feet high, 12.5 feet around and as a crown spread of 78 feet.
It’s been around since the first English settlers came to
America. One of them, Captain John Smith, wrote about the persimmon in
1608. He said it tasted like an apricot and by 1629 it was introduced
into England. In fact that was a main part of Smith’s reason
come to the Americas, find new plants.
Persimmons get smutty but the black smut does not bother it nor us
many authors say the ripe persimmon tastes like dates they taste like
persimmons to me. Interestingly persimmons can be interchanged in any
recipe with bananas, measure for measure, weight for weight. Yellow
persimmons will ripen off the tree but the best ones are the ones you
have to fight the ants for. There is an old saying that persimmons
don’t ripen until after a frost but that’s not true
according to researchers nor here in Florida where frosts show up a
couple of months after persimmons fruit.
Shaking a persimmon
tree is the standard way of collecting the fruit. Process them by
rubbing them through a colander. The pulp can be used to make jelly,
syrup, beer, wine, liquor, bread, pancakes, pudding, molasses, fruit
leather, dried fruit and ink. The pulp can also be frozen and eaten
like ice cream. A peanut-like cooking oil can be squeeze from the
seeds. Each persimmon can have one to eight seeds. Happiness is finding
a persimmon with one seed, when there are eight there isn’t
to eat. The seeds, however, were used as buttons by the Confederate
Army during the American civil war.
The fruit, especially the skin, can be made into fruit leather
use for a persimmon tree is reportedly as a remedy for the itch of
poison ivy. Remove a few twigs from a persimmon tree, cover with water,
and boil for 20 minutes. Strain and cool the liquid. Several
applications is said to dry the rash. By the way, persimmon tea is not
universally praised. I have a friend who describes the taste of tea
from green leaves as “dirty dishwater.” Tea from
leaves is better. In fact, the longer the dried leaves are stored the
better the tea tastes. Dry the leaves in a slow over for two hours. To
make the seeds into a coffee substitute or extender clean them and
roast them in the same slow oven. You can also throw the tough fruit
skins into a blender, put the slurry on a cookie sheet and dry them
along with the seeds and leaves in the same oven.
As an ebony,
Persimmon wood has many uses.
means is subject to a lot of mistranslation from Greek. The
complicating factor is the distortion from Greek to Latin and the
different alphabets and pronunciations. (There are five ways to
represent the “ee” sound in Greek.) Then
translation into English and its use by those who don’t speak
Greek or know Latin. Such is the headache with Diospyros.
Briefly it can mean “what God has sown”
Grain” or “God’s fire.” Making
it worse, the
most common translation “food of the Gods ” does
well on Greek ears. Ambrosia means “food of the gods. Diospyros does not.
Theostratus coined the name Diospyros
In 300 BC or there abouts, Theophrastus called
a local tree, the European hackberry, Diospyros. The
fruits were astringent which ripened to sweetness and that is
supposedly why Linnaeus called the persimmon tree Diospyros when he
was naming plants. With that said lets tackle Diospyros.
The disagreement is whether the two Greek words are
“dio/spyros” or “thios/piros.”
It comes down to
Greek spelling. The most common translation is the more unlikely. As
translated as “fruit of the gods” or
“food of the
gods.” That would be very bad Greek. Some translate Diospyros
as “the fruit of Zeus” which is just plain silly.
There’s also “heavenly plant”
fire” Divine pear” and “Jove’s
Jove’s Pear? That’s expired poetic license. Jove
Roman equivalent of Zeus, or the Roman name for the top god. Where the
pear came from I have no idea though in Texas the persimmon is
sometimes called Jove’s Fruit.
A third possibility is Diospyros
meaning “God’s Fire” in reference to the
unripe berries of the European hackberry but that would require
changing a plural to a singular which is not likely in this case in
Greek. Carl Linnaeus, the fellow who started naming plants, had the
right idea of calling the persimmon after the ancient hackberry because
of the way it ripens. He was not good at Greek yet his “food
the gods” has stuck. “God’s
Wheat” is the
closer translation for ancient Greek, which would mean the Diospyros in
the modern vernacular means the “best food” or as
Brown says “good eats.”
Roasted Persimmon seeds can be used to extend coffee
Horses should not be pastured with Persimmons
or they can get bezoars, as can some people.
is of Virginia but in botanical terms it always means North America.
Persimmon is the Anglicized version of an Algonquin name that means
“dry seed” or “dry fruit”
referring to the high
level of tannins in the unripe fruit. That tannin is a good substitute
for oak tannin. Persimmons do, however, come with two warnings. The
first one is if you do not digest food well or have had gastric bypass
surgery excessive consumption of persimmons can create intestinal
blockage called a bezoar. It happens more in farm animals than man but
people who consume huge amounts of persimmons or who have gastric
issues are at risk.
Nothing resembles a ripe wild persimmon tree.
for the second warming. While the seeds can be roasted then ground into
a black powder to extend coffee there may be reasons not to use it
exclusively as a coffee substitute. See the “letter to Green
Deane” below. The writer mistakenly made
of the seeds rather than using them as a coffee extender, like chicory.
It is included here in its entirety should it be important some day.
is hardly a woodland creature that doesn’t like the
Its waxy, fragrant flowers help produce honey. The persimmon is also
sometimes called “possom wood” because opossums
know a good
food when they find it. It even has entered the folky and now
politically incorrect literature of Uncle Remus:
Bear rushed into the patch and shook the persimmon tree.
Possum dropped out from the ripe persimmons, landed on the ground and
started running for the fence like a race horse. B’rer Bear
chased him and gained with every jump. When B’rer Possum made
to the fence B’rer Bear grabbed him by the tail.
Possum went between the rails on the fence and gave a powerful pull to
get this out of B’rer Bear’s teeth. B’rer
holding so tight and B’rer Possum pulled so hard that all the
hair came off in B’rer Bear’s mouth, and if
Rabbit hadn’t come along with a gourd of water
would have choked. From that day to this,” said Uncle Remus,
knocking the ashes carefully out of his pipe,
ain’t had no hair on his tail, nor any of his
Even Green Deane breaks his no-flour rule for some hot Persimmon bread.
3½ cups sifted flour
1½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 to 2½ cups sugar
1 cup melted unsalted butter and cooled to room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2/3 cup cognac, bourbon or whiskey
2 cups persimmon puree
2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped
2 cups raisins, or diced dried fruits (such as apricots, cranberries,
Optional: Orange zest or orange extract
Butter 2 loaf pans. Line the bottoms with a piece of parchment paper or
dust with flour and tap out any excess.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Make a well in the center then stir in the butter, eggs, liquor,
persimmon puree then the nuts and raisins.
Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
2 cups pureed persimmon pulp
1 3/4 cups condensed milk (unsweetened)
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
condensed milk, sugar, butter, flour, and persimmon puree well and pour
into glass baking dish. Sprinkle top with chopped walnuts. Bake for 35
to 45 minutes at 375F. Serve warm or cooled to room temperature.
Delicious topped with a crème Anglaise or rum.
Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
Tree, shrub size to 80 feet, usually 15 to 20. Leaves are oval,
pointed, 3- to 6-inch long, lustrous dark green, sometimes covered with
a harmless dark soot that can be washed off. Two handy identifying
characteristics of the persimmon is young twigs are fuzzy and on new
growth the branch will have leaves of different size. Bark on older
trees is broken up into square blocks. D. virginana has leaf tips that
are pointed, on D. texana the tip is flat, rounded or notched,
Time of Year:
Fruit ripens in September/October. Fruit is not ripe until the skin is
Grows along edged of fields, roads, rivers and the like. Will grow in
dry ground and partial shade but prefers moist soil and full sun. Slow
growing, hardy to Zone 4
Numerous: The pulp can be used to make jelly, syrup, beer, wine,
liquor, bread, pancakes, pudding, molasses, fruit leather and dried.
Native Americans had some herbal uses for the tree. The Alabama boiled
the roots for a tea used in “bowel flux.” The
a bark infusion to treat thrush in babies. The Cherokee used it for
bowel problems, sore throats, heartburn, liver problems, piles, thrush,
toothaches and venereal disease. The Rappahannock used an infusion for
thrush and sore throats. The tannic acid in the green fruit was used to
treat diarrhea, dysentery, and uterine bleeding.
I received the
following letter in 2010 in response to my article on persimmons. The
writer says he made two pots of persimmon “coffee”
than using the ground seeds just as a coffee extender. The first pot
— four cups — was made from seeds fresh from ripe
the tree, then roasted. No ill effects reported. The second pot was
made from seeds picked up off the ground and/or from rotting fruit
(enzyme action?) Then instead of directly into the oven the second
batch of seeds were boiled first (taking something away? Changing
something?) and then roasted. Two other possibilities are the first pot
did not reach some critical chemical level and or he didn’t
an allergic reaction until a certain point with the second pot. And of
course something else might be acting as well. I do not know the
truthfulness of the account below but it seems reasonable to include
it. More so, if it is accurate it is something foragers and researchers
“I just wanted to shoot you a quick note
about my experience with Persimmon seeds last fall, sorry it took so
long for me to write. I have several of the trees in my yard and near
my home, and I always enjoy the fruit in the late fall after frost. But
I had never heard of making coffee out of the seeds before. Being the
adventurous sort I gave it a try, and my first pot of roasted and
ground up seeds taken from the fresh fruit right off of the tree was
wonderful, thank you.
“Later I began collecting the seeds
off of the ground around the trees where the fruit had fallen off and
rotted, carefully avoiding the piles of possum poo of course. When I
had about a quart of seeds I put them in a small saucepan and boiled
them for about 5-10 minutes to kill any bacteria and clean the residue
off of the seeds, then I slow roasted them on about 250 until I could
hear them steadily crackling and popping.
“After the seeds
had cooled I anxiously ground up a handful for a full eight cup pot of
coffee. My first pot from the earlier experiment was only about four
cups. I brought my fresh, large mug of coffee (About 3.5 cups) to the
computer and I enjoyed it immensely while watching videos. But almost
as soon as I began the second mug full I began to feel a little funny.
In a few minutes I became dizzy and stopped drinking. A few more
minutes passed and I became very ill and evacuated my stomach of any
remaining persimmon coffee lol.
“I have a heart condition
so I made sure that I was not in cardiac distress, and when everything
seemed OK i stumbled off to bed. The next day, after a very sweaty
night, I still felt a little peculiar, which is not unusual for me. But
I was no longer dizzy or nauseous.
“Now for the really
interesting part. I have Cardio Myopathy and severe heart disrhythmias,
so I can usually feel my heart skipping and pounding. But for about
three months after this incident I was like a normal person, heart
rhythm wise that is lol. I have actually been able to feel my heart
beat since I was a young boy, and I have only rarely had a steady
rhythm for short periods. So not being able to feel my heart beat or
detect rhythm problems was phenomenal for me.
“My heart is
back to its normal skipping and pounding now, and I have been trying to
decide if it was worth the risk to try lowering the dose of persimmon
coffee down to a sip or two and see if I get positive results. I am not
writing for advice because I know that it would be too much of a
liability for you to give me the go ahead on something like that, but I
did want someone to know what had happened with my adventure in
drinking persimmon seed coffee.”
Disclaimer from Green Deane
Information contained on this website is strictly and
categorically intended as a reference to be used in conjunction with
experts in your area. Foraging should never begin without the guidance
and approval of a local plant specialist. The providers of this website
accept no liability for the use or misuse of information contained in
Common Persimmon Page