The scientific name for Persimmon is Diaspyros, which in Greek means “divine fruit” or “God’s pear.” The word we use for the Common Persimmon, actually comes from an Algonquian Native American language and means “dry fruit.” If you have ever bit into a tasty snack of persimmons in late fall, you know exactly why it has its two namesakes. There is nothing more unappealing or “dry” about biting into a persimmon before it is ripe but almost nothing quite as delicious once it is.
The common persimmon, found across North America, has a whole variety of edible uses. The ripe fruit is popular in jams, and the pulp can be made into molasses or dried like a prune. The Rappahannock even made a beer using the fruit. The leaves can be boiled to make a tea high in vitamin C, and the seeds can be roasted to make a coffee substitute, similar to chicory. For the best quality taste of a persimmon, it is best to wait until after the first frost to enjoy it as a sweet treat.
An unripe persimmon has a pretty unappealing taste, like a mild astringent, evident of its namesake. However, that quality didn’t stop indigenous people of North America from using it in very practical everyday ways, like for cleaning clothes and treating sores and wounds. The bark of the persimmon, along with other native species like walnut, alder, and cherry, were made into a cold tincture to help with healing issues of the liver.
European settlers across North America became very fond of this unique tree and its fruit. In Ozark folklore, it is said that cutting open a persimmon to observe the seed can tell you the severity of the upcoming winter. The shape of the seed (either spoon, fork, or knife) determines the severity of the winter. A spoon, which indicates a shovel for digging out the snow, A knife which means a cold icy winter, or a fork, which indicates a mild winter.
It is not a common tree in urban environments, but in more rural areas you can identify the persimmon tree because of its unique, chunky bark. I think it looks closes to alligator skin, but many also say it appears square and corky. In order for fruit production to occur, you need the presence of both a male and female tree, as they do not self-pollinate. The lumber also has many practical uses for making pool cues and golf clubs.
For more information on wild edibles like the persimmon, check out the following titles in our collection: