I love citrus and use lemons, limes and oranges in many of my recipes for their fresh, lively flavor and bright aroma. Of late, I’ve discovered a new citron, at least to me, whose aroma rivals all of its other citron relatives, the fruit of Buddha’s hand tree – also known as the fingered citron tree. What is Buddha’s hand fruit? Keep reading to find out all about Buddha’s hand fruit growing.
Buddha’s hand fruit (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis) is a citron fruit that looks like a ghoulish, lemony hand made up of between 5-20 “fingers” (carpels) dangling from a small distorted lemon. Think lemon colored calamari. Unlike other citron, there is little to no juicy pulp inside the leathery rind. But like other citrus, Buddha’s hand fruit is rife with essential oils responsible for its heavenly lavender-citrus scent.
The Buddha’s hand tree is small, shrubby and has an open habit. The leaves are oblong, slightly rumpled and serrate. Blossoms, as well as new leaves, are tinted with purple, as are the immature fruits. Mature fruit attains a size of between 6-12 inches (15-30 cm.) long and mature in late fall to early winter. The tree is extremely frost sensitive and can only be grown where there is no chance of frost or in a greenhouse.
Buddha’s hand fruit trees are thought to have originated in northeastern India and were then brought to China during the fourth century A.D. by Buddhist monks. The Chinese call the fruit “fo-shou” and it is a symbol of happiness and long life. It is often a sacrificial offering at temple altars. The fruit is commonly depicted on ancient Chinese jade and ivory carvings, lacquered wood panels and prints.
The Japanese also revere the Buddha’s hand and is a symbol of good fortune. The fruit is a popular gift at New Year’s and is called “bushkan.” The fruit is placed on top of special rice cakes or used in the home’s tokonoma, a decorative alcove.
In China, there are a dozen varieties or sub-varieties of Buddha’s hand, each slightly different in size, color and shape. Buddha’s hand citron and “fingered citron” are both referring to Buddha’s hand fruit. The Chinese word for the fruit is often mistranslated in scientific research translations to the English “bergamot,” which while another aromatic citrus, is not Buddha’s hand. Bergamot is a hybrid of sour orange and limetta, while Buddha’s hand is a cross between Yuma ponderosa lemon and citremon.
Unlike other citrus, Buddha’s hand is not bitter, which makes it the perfect citron to candy. The zest is used to flavor savory dishes or teas, and the entire fruit to make marmalade. The heady aroma makes the fruit an ideal natural air freshener and is also used to perfume cosmetics. The fruit can also be used to infuse your favorite adult beverage; just add sliced Buddha’s fruit to alcohol, cover and let stand for a few weeks, then enjoy over ice or as part of your favorite mixed drink.
Buddha’s hand trees are grown much like any other citrus. They will usually grow to between 6-10 feet (1.8-3 m.) and are often grown in containers as bonsai specimens. As mentioned, they do not tolerate frost and can only be grown in USDA hardiness zones 10-11 or in containers that can be moved indoors at the risk of frost.
Buddha’s hand makes a gorgeous ornamental plant with its white to lavender blossoms. The fruit is also lovely, initially purple but gradually changing to green and then a bright yellow at maturity.
Pests like the citrus bud mite, citrus rust mite and snow scale also enjoy the Buddha’s hand fruit and need to be watched for.
If you do not live in the appropriate USDA zones to grow Buddha’s fruit, the fruit can be found at many Asian grocers from November through January.
Posted by Kevin on 2 December 2020 26 Comments
I first saw a Buddha’s hand citron in a museum. The graceful, curly tipped fingers of the fruit had been carved during the Qing Dynasty in milk-colored jade. The carving’s complexity was astonishing and I was equally amazed to learn this was not a fantasy object but the representation of a real fruit.
Since seeing that jade art work, I’ve held, smelled, eaten and “drank” Buddha’s hand citron.
In Japan, China and Korea, the fruit’s “fingers” are thought to resemble the boneless, elegant hands of the Buddha. Fresh, highly scented Buddha’s hand citrons were taken to temples as offerings or were placed on family altars at home instead of flowers to scent a room and to bring good luck, especially during new year celebrations. In Chinese, the fruit is called fo-shou, similar to the words for fortune/blessings and longevity. The fingers of the fruit may be splayed or close together depending on the variation/cultivar grown.
It used to be difficult to find Buddha’s hand citron (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis) in the US. Even in Los Angeles, I couldn’t find a Buddha’s hand fruit no matter how hard I searched in Chinatown and Little Tokyo. Now, Buddha’s hand citron is grown commercially in California and my husband has grown a small, fruit-bearing tree here in the Pacific Northwest (it graced our bedroom in winter and you can see one of its fruits in the blue and gold cup below). In Seattle, even "regular" supermarkets stock it between late October and January.
The smell of Buddha’s hand citron is unique and powerful: sharp, resinous (almost pine-y) with the best attributes of oranges, limes and lemons. When you eat the candied peel of a Buddha’s hand there’s also a distinct floral taste present. Each year in November and December, I buy several fresh Buddha’s hands to scent my house. The fruit lasts for weeks and puts out a potent aroma, on a par with a strong perfume diffuser, candle or bowl of potpourri.
Buddha’s hand citron is all peel and pith, no juice. What's interesting is that the pith is sweet, not bitter, and is loaded with Vitamin C. Buddha's hand peel is often candied and is used to scent teas and vodkas (simply place whole “fingers” in a bottle of vodka for a month as I do). I also cook a divine (if I say so myself) marmalade from the whole fruit. If you can’t find Buddha's hand tea or if Korean honey citron tea is too sweet for you, simply put a dollop of Buddha's hand marmalade in the tea pot while brewing tea leaves. Next time I make babka, I’ll use layers of white chocolate and Buddha’s hand citron marmalade to flavor it.
Many of you may think you're unfamiliar with Buddha’s hand citron but you encounter aspects of it VERY often in all types of toiletries and perfumes: limonene is an extraction from citron (among other citrus sources).
TIP: When you buy Buddha’s hand citrus, look for fresh, firm fruit with a vibrant color (and no brown-tipped fingers or dull skin). To release the glorious scent, rinse the fruit under running water to remove the shiny wax coating some growers use. Also, since most fruit is chilled in U.S. markets, you can't properly judge the aroma of individual fruits till you rinse them and bring them to room temperature (but I've had very few duds over the years).
If you have a Buddha's hand citron story. do share!
Note: all photos by the author with the exception of the jade carving, Qing Dynasty/Qianlong Period, via Sotheby's. If your local museum has a collection of Chinese jades, chances are good you might see an example of a carved Buddha's hand citron.
O ne of the most exotic-looking items in high-end produce departments is Buddha’s hand citron, a palm-sized fruit that sells for as much as $10. It’s a steep price to pay for something with no juice, no pulpy flesh and just a mild-tasting white pith. The appeal here is all in the highly aromatic rind: The fingers of the fruit can deliver eight times the surface area for zest compared with other citrus.
Buddha’s hand (Citrus medica) is thought to have originated in India or China, but it's ideally suited to Southern California's climate -- a fact noted more than 100 years ago by B.M. Lelong, the secretary of the state Board of Horticulture, who included a recipe for brined candied fruit in his 1888 report.
Only now is Buddha's head starting to catch on, with commercial growers as well as with rare fruit fans. Marsha Fowler, a member of California Rare Fruit Growers in Altadena, says it’s ideal for putting in the frontyard because most people don’t know how to use the fruit, so it doesn’t get picked by passersby. She put in one plant a few years ago after a chef introduced it to her and enjoyed it so much, getting fruit in two years, that she got two more.
“Anything you can use lemon peel for, you can use this,” she said. “It has multiple culinary uses, savory and sweet. It pairs well with lavender and basil. In a crème brûlée or the crust of a cream pie, it’s exquisite.”
When harvest time comes, segments of Buddha's hand -- diced, grated or slivered -- find their way into vodka infusions or sprinkled onto baked fish. In China, the winter-ripening fruit is kept whole, allowing the intense bouquet to perfume a room. In Japan it’s given as a New Year's present and often used ornamentally on an altar.
Fowler said it can be added to a potpourri mix. She shares her crop with RIPE Altadena, the Residential In-season Produce Exchange group that swaps excess harvests, but only at the smaller meetings. If the offer for Buddha's hand went out on the email list, she’d be swamped.
You'll find plants in nurseries fall to early spring, and demand can deplete stock quickly, nursery owner Frank Burkard said. “It was very popular about 10 years ago," he said, and has only become more popular.
This year Buddha's hand may be even harder to find, he said. Buddha’s hand is threatened by the Asian citrus psyllid, a pest that spreads a disease threatening the state's citrus crops, and some growers have proactively cut back production. Two nurseries that regularly stock Buddha’s hand are Southland Nursery in Sunland, (818) 353-3502, and Paradise Nursery in Chatsworth.
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The fingers of Buddha's hand citron.
Buddha’s hand citron vodka is so easy to make, there really isn’t much of a recipe. Infuse the rinds in vodka for about 30 days and have fun with some fantastic cocktails! Follow our simple photo tutorial!
1. Start with a buddha’s hand. Clean as best as possible from dirt.
2. Slice “fingers” lengthwise and wash again to remove dirt.
3. Remove as much white pith as possible, leaving fragrant rind…
…separate white pith from rinds. Discard the piths.
4. Insert rinds into clean bottle or jar. Fill with vodka. Infuse for about 30 days, then remove the rinds and strain the vodka to remove any excess citrus tidbits or debris.
Beautifully citrus infused vodka makes great gifts.
Check out our Cocktail Recipes Here and our Complete Whiskey Guide.
Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
Grow outdoors year-round in hardiness zone
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
East Palo Alto, California
North Charleston, South Carolina
On Sep 30, 2012, RosinaBloom from Waihi,
New Zealand (Zone 1) wrote:
Buddha's Hand Citrus Fruit is also known as Bushukan or Fingered Citron. It originated from India and China.
It is an ornamental tree or shrub, covered in thorns, but has fragrant white flowers tinged with a purplish colour. It has a thick peel which is used as zest in culinary dishes, and it has no juice.
It is used as an offering in Buddhist temples, and the closed fingers were preferred by Buddha because they were like praying hands.
It's fragrance is used to perfume clothing and rooms.
On Mar 6, 2011, Gangajay from Marine Parade,
I'd often seen this as an ornamental plant, but discovered its culinary value when I was served some fresh cheese in a restaurant with the zest grated over. The scent was heavenly, almost like sweet Sicilian lemon.
On Dec 14, 2008, rntx22 from Puyallup, WA (Zone 8b) wrote:
I was surprised to see this guy survive the snow we had last week. A few leaves got a little brown, but otherwise mine still looks ok!!
On Apr 28, 2007, ManicReality from Houston, TX (Zone 10a) wrote:
It looks beautiful, I have just gotten ahold of a young plant about a foot tall. It is outside, hopefully it will like it there.
On Oct 15, 2006, Laaz from North Charleston, SC wrote:
Buddha's hand does not normally produce seed. If by chance you find one I would not think it would come true to type.
On Apr 15, 2006, Jamie_Anderson from Wellington,
New Zealand wrote:
I have one of these citrons in a pot, after repotting it has just started to settle down, and throw out a flush of leaves. The picture I have posted is of a juvenile fruit.
The fruit of this plant is reportedly highly prized in Asian cultures for its deliciously sweet and citrussy scent, and for its beauty.
This plant grows well in New Zealand.
On Jun 10, 2004, marshtackie from Orlando, FL wrote:
That despite the fact that the plant I had was the most bug-prone citrus ever. It has since kicked the bucket.
Why my experience was positive: the smell is heavenly, even better than that of a Key lime. Prune a branch and it perfumes the air. I grew it in a large pot, as I do Key limes, and I intended to try to make Sukkade out of the fruit (candied citron) and perhaps try the leaves in soups or stews as the Thais use lime leaves.
Should add: reason I grew it in a pot--like Key lime, this one is sensitive to cold temperatures. I live in Zone 9. Can't grow Key limes in the open ground here one year with a freeze and blooey! Should also add: acid citrus tends to bloom and fruit off and on throughout the year. This is true of Key limes and calamondins I think i. read more t may be true of C. medica also.
On Apr 26, 2004, martina from El Cajon, CA (Zone 10a) wrote:
We bought three plants for our garden E of San Diego, one little tree died and one is struggling - snail attacks seem to be the problem - California snails easily destroy the bark of the trunk. Still, our third plant is a success, plenty of beautiful blooms and absolutely stunning fruit - well worth all the care and waiting.
On Sep 20, 2003, IslandJim from Keizer, OR (Zone 8b) wrote:
This plant's a natural crowd pleaser. People spot the fruit from as far away as they can see it and gravitate to it to get a better look. The one at Marie Selby Botanical Garden always seems to have fruit and always seems to have a crown of tourists taking pictures of it. It may be the most photographed plant in the Selby collection.
On Nov 20, 2002, Bug_Girl from San Francisco, CA wrote:
I really like the way this fruit looks,like an odd shaped lemon. The fruit is mostly rind, but is candied in Asian cuisine.