Curious plants: Buddha’s hand

The somewhat ugly Buddha’s hand (the oldest-known citrus in cultivation) has very little pulp, and no seeds, but instead is almost all rind (lots of zest!). However, one of its main appeals is its perfume. Native to northeastern India (or China), the fruit of Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis has been used for centuries to perfume rooms and clothing.

Although we in the West regard Buddha’s hand as a single variety, in China there are at least a dozen named varieties. In China and Japan the fruit are also popular as temple offerings and in China the fruit represents a wish for a long and healthy life.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Despite the fruit needing to be cleaned and buffed by hand, it is commercially grown in California, albeit in a small way – in 2008 there was at least 10ha but in the 1980s virtually no commercial plantings. Read more here. It is believed the tree was introduced to the state from Japan in the 19th century.

I’ve come across it a couple of times in Tauranga area gardens mostly grown as a talking point.

Here are five suggestions on what to do with the fruit and here are a few more (both include recipes that emphasise its flavouring possibilities). One grower in California says it’s an ideal plant for the front garden – no one knows what to do with it so passersby don’t pick it! Read an LA Times profile of Buddha’s hand here.

The tree likes to be frost free, doesn’t like to dry out in summer or be too hot and prefers well-draining soil. I’ve seen it described as a “Goldilocks” plant. It can be grown as a patio plant in a pot.

For New Zealand readers Waimea Nurseries, Wairere Nursery and Fronds stock this show-stopping citrus.

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