Quince (Cydonia oblonga)

 A small Asian tree that has medicinal uses not only for its golden aromatic fruits but also bark, leaves and seeds.

Medicinal effects

The quince is most widely known for its fruit which has anti-oxidant, astringent, carminative, diuretic and tonic actions (Ashraf et al., 2016). A syrup of the fruit is used in sickness for diarrhoea. Other parts can be useful. The seed is demulcent and laxative, and is soaked to swell up for treating constipation, similar to the use of linseed. The bark and leaves are astringent and antiseptic.

Growing

The quince is a small tree in the rose (Rosaceae) family growing to around 6 m, often multibranching. It is originally from Asia and was widely cultivated in the Middle East and Mediterranean. The quince is quite hardy in much of the UK, but may need to be grown in a sheltered site in colder areas. It likes a rich and damp soil. Large whiteish pink flowers are produced in May, often avoiding frosts. This tree will grow in shade but should be located in a sunny place for maximum production of fruit. A number of quince varieties are available in good fruit nurseries. Treated as a fruit tree the quince will spread its branches, so crossing stems should be removed and some pruning carried out to recover an open shape. The quince is used as a rootstock for pear varieties. The flowering quinces (Chaenomeles spp.) are usually smaller and thorny shrubs to 3m and may be more suitable as a hedge, also having acid and tart fruits, plus earlier flowers for bees.

Harvesting

Quince is a self-fertile tip bearer, producing fruits on the end of short branches. In most summers the fruits are fragrant but gritty and not edible raw in UK and Northern Europe. The fruits can be harvested in October when yellowing and ripened indoors. In warmer locations and southern parts of Europe the fruits ripen on the tree to become soft and juicy. The bark, fruit and seed can be used. 

young alder plant
male alder catkins
male alder catkins

Traditional use

The quince was highly regarded in Greek and Roman times for its medicinal properties and also as a token of love and happness shared or sent (Grieve, 1931). In Asian medicine all parts of the tree are used including the flowers for head and heart complaints. Traditional medicinal uses mainly relate to digestive and respiratory complaints. The seeds were used in treating diarrhoea and also in a lotion to soothe the eyes.

Research studies

The fruit contains phenolic compounds, especially in the peel (Magalhaes et al., 2009). The seeds are rich in mucilage, mainly in the seed coating (Grieve, 1931). In addition the seeds contain sterols, triterpenes, amygdalin and tannins.

High in pectin and vitamin C, the fruits are used in the food industry. The whole plant is rich in tannins, which provide astringent and antiseptic effects, so much so that extracts have been researched for use as a possible insecticide (Djalili et al., 2021). The anti-oxidant leaf extract has been researched for potential use in diabetes and other conditionss, and the leaves can be used as an antifungal agent (Ashraf et al., 2016)

Ways to use

A decoction of seeds can be made with about 10 g of seed in 500 ml of water, boiled in a covered pan for 10 min, then strained for use internally in diarrhoea, or externally in thrush.

The fruit can be made into a syrup used for diarrhoea and digestive complaints.

The fruit or leaves can be made into an infusion to make a mouthwash or gargle for a sore throat.

The fruits can be cooked and pureed for a delicious quince marmalade or preserve that goes well with cheese.

Note that the seeds, like those of apples, should not be eaten in large quantities.

References 

Ashraf, M.U., G. Muhammad, M.A. Hussain, et al. 2016. Cydonia oblonga M., a medicinal plant rich in phytonutrients for pharmaceuticals. Front Pharmacol 7:163.

Djilali, A.B., R. Mehraz, K. Bouacem, et al. 2021. Bioactive substances of Cydonia oblonga fruit: Insecticidal effect of tannins on Tribuliumm confusum. Int J Fruit Sci 21:721-31.

Grieve, M. 1931. A modern herbal: The medicinal, culinary, cosmetic and economic properties, cultivation and folklore of herbs, grasses, fungi, shrubs and trees with all their modern scientific uses. Reprinted 1980. London: Penguin.

Jafari-Dehkordi E, Hashem-Dabaghian F, Aliasl F, et al. 2017. Comparison of quince with vitamin B6 for treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy: A randomised clinical trial. J Obstet Gynaecol 37: 1048-52.

Magalhães A.S., B.M. Silva, J.A. Pereira, et al. 2009. Protective effect of quince (Cydonia oblonga Miller) fruit against oxidative hemolysis of human erythrocytes. Food Chem Toxicol 47:1372-7.