Umeboshi: In the Kitchen or Medicine Cabinet?

Umeboshi:  In the Kitchen or Medicine Cabinet?
by Cynthia Briscoe

Umeboshi is useful  in both the kitchen and in the medicine cabinet.  This little wrink led salty and pickled fruit is a dynamo.

In the kitchen its tangy flavor adds pizazz and zing to many dishes and dressings.  In the medicine cabinet, it arm wrestles hangovers, diarrhea, the flu, headaches and upset stomachs.  It is a mercenary for the ‘bad guy bacteria’ that make you sick, and at the same time a champion for the ‘good guy bacteria’ that keep your engine purring and your blood quality from running amok.  If Eve had offered Adam an umeboshi instead of an apple, well, I think the history of mankind may have been decidedly different!

A unique marriage, through the fermentation of a simple trio of ingredients, creates the health-giving properties of umeboshi.  The star of the show is a small, often misunderstood fruit called ume (ooh-may).  For starters, it was mistranslated along the way as “plum,” when actually its closest kin is the apricot.  The skin is lightly fuzzy like an apricot, not smooth like a plum.  It is harvested while still firm and green and is very sour, even when it is ripe.  The second ingredient is purple shiso, a plant from the mint family with unique antiseptic properties.  It is prepared and layered in the crock with the ume and gives the final umeboshi a natural reddish hue.  Shiso is also known as ‘perilla’ or ‘beefsteak’.  Shiso can combat food poisoning, viruses, colds, inflammation, indigestion and asthma, to name a few.  The high quality sea salt is a key player as well, creating a sodium-balanced alkaline environment for ‘friendly’ bacteria to make a home and raise their families both in the crock and within your body when ingested.


My great teacher, Cornellia Aihara, taught me the value of these small incredible pickled fruit and how to make them.  Many products such as umeboshi, miso, and shoyu are primarily available as imports from Japan, but Cornellia encouraged her students to to be self sufficient and ecological by teaching us how to make many specialty foods at home.   “Importation too wasteful,” she’d say to us, and “What if boat stops coming? What will you do?”

This spring shortly after moving and distributing my compost, I was amazed to discover ume seedling everywhere I had distributed compost.  Baby ume trees sprouted in my garden, in the flower beds and even in the tall flower urns flanking our front door.  At Cornellia’s macrobiotic school, the Vega Study Center, we also had ‘volunteer’ ume trees that planted themselves in various marginal places on the property.  She claimed that the seeds had sprouted from discarded pickled umeboshi. I listened but was skeptical.  I thought, “Surely, there must be some mistake.  How is it possible for the seeds to sprout after being salted and pickled?”

My thoughts returned to her story when I saw the little trees sprouting everywhere I had added compost.  I hadn’t thought too much about it last fall, when I tossed the damaged or mashed umeboshi into the compost bin.

These umeboshi had been sorted out three months after their entry in the pickle crock.  (In the fall, the umeboshi are removed from the crock and spread out on baskets for three days to dry.)  What a hearty little fruit!  The life force housed within the pits survived composting and even three months of pickling.  Cornellia was proven right.

Another lesson is how Life, Nature, and Community are so beautifully integrated within the process of making homemade umeboshi.  Most of us do not have the opportunity to share with others in harvesting and producing food as a group.  The picking, cleaning, stemming and pickling of ume at the Vega Study Center, was a community affair, made easier and fun by everyone’s help.  My favorite ‘ume time’ was harvesting the fruit.  Imagine ladders, plenty of buckets, jokes and children playing tag in the orchard.  Completing the task was cause for celebration with a picnic.

Umeboshi are not difficult to make, as nature does most of the work, but since each ume must pass individually through human hands during numerous processes, many hands make lighter work.  The initial process begins in June when the ume fruit is picked from the trees.  Next a tiny stem must be removed from each piece of fruit.  Then the ume is washed and soaked overnight.  The following day, the ume is drained and dried in baskets before it is placed in the crock with layers of sea salt.  In July, after the shiso is fully grown and harvested, the ume must once again be removed from the crock, drained and then layered with rubbed, salted shiso.  Two to three months later, the crock is re-opened and the umeboshi is spread out on bamboo mats or baskets in a single layer to dry.  For three days, each individual plum must be turned once per day and preferably brought in at night to avoid the dew.  Finally it’s back to the crock where they can rest until pulled out for eating. The skin and flesh of each umeboshi is soft.  If they are not handled gently and coaxed out of the crock, the umeboshi will tear.  So you see, there is a great deal of care and attention that each individual ume receives.   And now you can understand why umeboshi are not cheap at the store!

For their contributions, I would like to give special thanks to my friend, Keiko Tokuda, for helping me move the heavy baskets of umeboshi upstairs from the basement and arrange the umeboshi on the mats to dry.  I would also like to thank our friend, Meiko, for her generous supply of beautiful organic shiso from her garden, essential to the making of these umeboshi.  These good memories and their generous spirit flavors these umeboshi.

Click here to order my homemade umeboshi


Many people ask if they can study umeboshi-making with me, but unless you live nearby it would be difficult, because the entire umeboshi process takes place in stages over many months.  But I am starting production of a “How To Make Umeboshi” video.  This way students all over the world will be able to learn


This fall, I will offer an advanced course in traditional macrobiotic homemade foods.  You can come and learn hands-on how to make white miso, tempeh,  natto, amasake, seitan (wheat meat), takuan (daikon rice bran pickles), steamed rice bread, ohagi, tekka, shiguri miso, and many other gems of the traditional macrobiotic kitchen that are usually bought in stores, if they are available, at very a high price.  But they are not as hard to make as you might think, and they taste so much better than anything you can buy.  Making these products at home can be something you make for your family to enjoy, can save you money or could even turn into a shared group event and celebration.


UPDATE: The current supply of homemade umeboshi is completely sold out. The next crop will be available in 2011.

Stress & Acid-Alkaline Health by David Briscoe

Stress & Acid-Alkaline Health by David Briscoe

We usually talk about food being the factor in acid-alkaline imbalance, but there are other contributing
factors. Many people who have herpes, cold sores, canker sores and other similar viral infections, notice that the symptoms will flare up unexpectedly and then subside, going dormant until the next flare up. And many of these people notice that the flare-ups are often preceded by an increase in the stress level of their daily lives. This is due to the fact that a virus is stimulated by the elevation of acidity that happens during stress. Additionally, the extra-cellular fluid, the fluid around the cells, becomes slightly more concentrated in acid, and this acid causes the cell membrane to become weak. When the cell membrane weakens the virus can easily enter and become active again. This causes the flare-up of symptoms.

It is easy to say, “Manage your stress,” but we all know how difficult this is to do. Just driving in a car is stressful. Traveling of any kind is stressful, even if it’s a cruise or other vacation. Add to these common,
daily stresses, the stress of a difficult relationship, challenging job and co-workers, financial crises, and unexpected traumas and difficulties, and it’s easy to see how stress affects us.

So, what can we do? I do believe that a lot of the affect of stress comes in our response to stressful situations. Stress is not going to disappear from our lives, but we CAN learn how to deal with it differently, so that it’s affect on us is minimized. When a person is feeling weak and tired, stress has more of a negative affect. Everything seems overwhelming. Here are some things to consider doing, to make yourself stronger so that your way of dealing with stress can improve:

1. Strengthen your kidneys by doing something personally courageous such as developing your ability to do public speaking, or signing solo in front of others, or overcoming some other personal fear you’ve had inside but could transform if you too the necessary steps. When you overcome a personal fear, you will develop the ability to deal with stress in so many other areas of  your life

2. Adopt “mindfulness” practices that can be used through out the day. For this I’ve personally found some of the simple techniques taught by Thich Nhat Hanh to be very practical and useful. He has written many books. His book, Being Peace, is a good place to start.

3. Minimize or avoid the extremely acid-forming foods, meat (of all kinds) and sugar (of all kinds).

May abundant blessings shower upon you and yours!

Macrobiotics Beyond Food by David Briscoe

Macrobiotics Beyond Food by David Briscoe

If we set aside for a moment the food aspect of macrobiotics, what is there to call macrobiotics? Anything? What is macrobiotics beyond its food and physical health benefits? Does it have anything else to offer an individual and society? When I first was introduced to macrobiotics in 1972 by a cookbook a friend had left at my apartment door, I didn’t have any interest in food, and I made no association between food and my health or any of the physical and mental challenges I was facing at the time
But reading that book changed my life. It wasn’t the recipes and the food ingredients printed there. I didn’t even know what those ingredients were, and I rarely cooked for myself. But something else in the book appealed to me. There was mention of “freedom,” self-responsibility,” “creative thinking,” “wholeness,” and other such concepts. I was surprised to find mention of these in a cookbook. Still to this day, these concepts are what fuel my on-going macrobiotic adventure. But I find this spirit of macrobiotics fading from macrobiotic teachings and consciousness today as the predominant view being promoted is that of macrobiotics as glam cooking for movie stars, gourmet recipes, and “vegan cuisine.” I understand that this is partly an attempt to make macrobiotics more appealing and to reach out to the masses who might be scared by the word “macrobiotics,” but it seems to me that promoting macrobiotics as another vegan or natural diet only, stripped of its spirit and creative principles, is missing the deeper opportunity to really help humanity and the planet.
In my opinion, the real beauty and true depth of macrobiotics is not in its food and health aspects, though some of us have experienced dramatic healing from this alone, but in the “spirit of macrobiotic living” from which the dietary aspect of macrobiotics has emerged. What is macrobiotic living between meals? How do macrobiotic principles and view of life express themselves outside of the kitchen? In our daily lives, how do we live and behave as a result of having looked at life through the macrobiotic view?
And what IS the “macrobiotic view?” I am curious to know how macrobiotics
touches your life besides the ways in which you eat. Please share this with me.

Comments or questions are welcome.

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The Close-Up View & The Whole View by David Briscoe

The Close-Up View & The Whole View by David Briscoe

If we look at the human body under a microscope, we see trillions of single cells. If we only knew this view we’d have to conclude that we are trillions of single cells. But if we take our eye off the microscope and step back, we see a totally different view. We don’t see individual cells. We see that the human body is one whole organism. Both views are real. The microscopic view shows us the close-up view and the macroscopic view shows us the big view. Both comprise the whole view.

In today’s world the is an ever-increasing tendency to view life only from the close-up microscopic view. From this view it appears that we are all separate individuals, separate nations, separate religions, etc. Of course, by nature’s design different geographical and climatic conditions have produced different cultures, traditions, languages, etc. But when we only live by this close-up view of the separate me and separate we, great problems and conflicts arise, individually and collectively. If the big view is missing, and we see only the close-up view, we miss the whole view.

As I see it, our challenge in today’s world is how to live with the close-up view, and its individual living circumstances of our families, personal lives, collective cultures and traditions, and at the same time have the big view in our consciousness
When the close-up view and the big view are together, our lives and actions are rooted in the whole view.

Weak Kidneys & Acid-Alkaline Balance by David Briscoe

Weak Kidneys & Acid-Alkaline Balance by David Briscoe

Many people have “weak kidneys” but are unaware of it. To my knowledge, the condition of weak kidneys is not considered in modern urology. Weak kidneys allow some minerals to leak out that should be reabsorbed and sent back into the blood by the kidneys

Every time we urinate we naturally excrete some minerals. This is part of the kidneys work. They decide what minerals to reabsorb and what minerals to excrete in order to constantly maintain a correct concentration of minerals in the blood and entire body. But when the kidneys get weak, they lose a little bit of their ability to properly filter the blood. And the kidneys have to filter the entire blood supply every 30 minutes. When they become weak from overworking for a variety of reasons, the begin to lose some of their healthy filtering ability.

One of the most common signs of weak kidneys is regular nighttime urination. If you have to get up once a night, even 2-3 nights per weak, to urinate after you have gone to sleep, you may be developing weak kidneys.
While we are sleeping is the time for the kidneys and all the organs to rest by the slowing down of their functions. It’s a time given to us by Nature to restore ourselves. If we have to get up at night, our body’s ability to restore itself is disturbed. It’s a sign that something needs to change in our lifestyle and dietary choices.

When we urinate more than is necessary, we lose some minerals that we need to remain alkaline.

If you are interested in learning more about the kidneys and how to take care of them, you may want to attend our live online class, Taking Care of Your Kidneys.

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