Jujube is a small deciduous tree or shrub reaching a height of 5-12 m, usually with thorny branches. The leaves are shiny-green, ovate-pointed, 2-7 cm long and 1-3 cm wide, with three prominent veins at the base, and a finely toothed margin. The flowers are small, 5 mm wide, with five inprominent yellowish-green petals. The fruit is an edible oval drupe 1.5-3 cm deep; when immature it is smooth-green, with the consistency and taste of an apple with lower acidity, maturing brown to purplish-black, and eventually wrinkled, looking like a small date. There is a single hard kernel, similar to an olive pit, containing two seeds. Jujube is native to China, Mongolia and Korea, widely cultivated in India.
The Indian jujube is native from the Province of Yunnan in southern China to Afghanistan, Malaysia and Queensland, Australia. It is cultivated to some extent throughout its natural range but mostly in India where it is grown commercially and has received much horticultural attention and refinement despite the fact that it frequently escapes and becomes a pest. It was introduced into Guam about 1850 but is not often planted there or in Hawaii except as an ornamental. Specimens are scattered about the drier parts of the West Indies, the Bahamas, Colombia and Venezuela, Guatemala, Belize, and southern Florida. In Barbados, Jamaica and Puerto Rico the tree is naturalized and forms thickets in uncultivated areas. In 1939, 6 trees from Malaysia were introduced into Israel and flourished there. They bore very light crops of fruit heavily infested with fruit flies and were therefore destroyed to protect other fruit trees.
The plant is a vigorous grower and has a rapidly-developing taproot. It may be a bushy shrub 4 to 6 ft (1.2-1.8 m) high, or a tree 10 to 30 or even 40 ft (3-9 or 12 m) tall; erect or wide-spreading, with gracefully drooping branches and downy, zigzag branchlets, thornless or set with short, sharp straight or hooked spines. It may be evergreen, or leafless for several weeks in hot summers. The leaves are alternate, ovate- or oblong-elliptic, 1 to 2 1/2 in (2.5-6.25 cm) long, 3/4 to 1 1/2 in (2-4 cm) wide; distinguished from those of the Chinese jujube by the dense, silky, whitish or brownish hairs on the underside and the short, downy petioles. On the upper surface, they are very glossy, dark-green, with 3 conspicuous, depressed, longitudinal veins, and there are very fine teeth on the margins.
In India, some types ripen as early as October, others from mid-February to mid-March, others in March, or mid-March, to the end of April. In the Assiut Governorate, there are 2 crops a year, the main in early spring, the second in the fall. In India, 2 or 3 pickings are done by hand from ladders, a worker being capable of manually harvesting about 110 lbs (50 kg) per day. The fruits remaining on the tree are shaken down. After wrapping in white cloth, the fruits are put into paper-lined burlap bags holding 110 lbs (50 kg) for long trips to markets throughout the country.
The fruits are applied on cuts and ulcers; are employed in pulmonary ailments and fevers; and, mixed with salt and chili peppers, are given in indigestion and biliousness. The dried ripe fruit is a mild laxative. The seeds are sedative and are taken, sometimes with buttermilk, to halt nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pains in pregnancy. They check diarrhea, and are poulticed on wounds. Mixed with oil, they are rubbed on rheumatic areas.
The leaves are applied as poultices and are helpful in liver troubles, asthma and fever and, together with catechu, are administered when an astringent is needed, as on wounds. The bitter, astringent bark decoction is taken to halt diarrhea and dysentery and relieve gingivitis. The bark paste is applied on sores.