Buddha’s Hand Citron (Citrus medica L.)

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

When that old adage “The grass is always greener” was coined they must have been thinking about gardeners — or maybe they were just thinking about gardeners like me — because as much as I love my gardens and appreciate the variety of plants this climate can grow, there is a part of me deep down inside that really, REALLY wants to try gardening in a warmer climate. That yearning rises up to the surface most especially when it comes to growing citrus.

Don’t get me wrong, I can grow citrus, just not in ground and certainly not outdoors year round. I have a small key lime and a small kumquat tree in pots that I diligently schlep outside in the summer and back indoors just before the first frost. They blossom and flourish during those months on the roof, but I spend the cold months indoors chasing light for them as best I can. They do produce — there are four kumquats on the tree as I write this. It’s possible, but a small struggle and I am definitely limited to plants that will thrive under these parameters. If I had more space and bigger windows I could definitely pull off more.

And yet, I dream about a Meyer lemon tree thriving in a fantasy yard and covered in more of those delicious thin-skinned lemons than I can handle. Oh, if only to have the problem of too many lemons. I dream about homegrown limes, soft and fresh off the tree, completely unlike the thick-skinned, tough little rocks we get at the supermarket here in the Cold North. The first time Davin and I traveled to Mexico in 1998 we nearly lost our shit over a lime tree next to the bus station. We watched as some kids played around knocking limes off the tree with huge sticks. Once the kids left I scooped up a lime they had left (probably considered the crappiest one and not worth taking by the standards of those kids) and held onto it for our entire 2 hour journey, both of us smelling it, squishing out the oils, and taking little bites, marveling over how it was the best lime we had ever seen in our lives. And it really was, the best lime we had ever seen in our entire lives up to that point. Davin eventually ate the thing whole, rind and all — that’s how good it was. Now, imagine an entire tree of those limes. I imagine Flying Dragon trees — they don’t really grow much that is edible but, wow, are they gorgeous! And best, if not craziest of all, growing my own Buddah’s Hand citron or some other ridiculously unreal citron variety. Can you imagine a tree with those octopus-like creatures dangling from the limbs?

I suppose the demand isn’t high for citrus trees here in Canada, because even though some of these plants are possible given the right conditions and a bit of work, they’re impossible to source out. I’ve been lucky enough to get the trees I have. Meyer lemons are about impossible to find. Yet when I travel to the U.S. citrus trees are easy to find. I’ve purchased unusual citrus trees for events in New York City and Chicago. The one we found at Sprout Home in Chicago was particularly huge and gorgeous, covered in heavy, variegated fruit. And in Austin, Texas… well, don’t even get me started on the wonderland that is a garden center in Austin. Sigh. The Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon sells all sorts of potted citrus trees from Flying Dragons to Buddha’s Hand for about 15 bucks a pop. I wanted so badly to take one home with me but alas, the powers that be do not allow it in your luggage (and for good reason). I found some interesting citrus leaves and fruit (including Kaffir Lime) for cooking at an Asian food stand in Vancouver’s Granville Island Market and brought a few home to enjoy since there was no border crossing on a trip like that. Unfortunately I did not find any actual plants.

Fortunately, just last week in Toronto I was FINALLY able to find a Buddha’s Hand citron. Just a fruit, not a plant, and the thing probably traveled about 20 million miles to get here, but it was exciting none-the-less to finally get a chance to cut one open and see what’s inside.

And here’s what it looks like:

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Buddha’s Hand is a juiceless citrus made up entirely of rind and the white pithy stuff. I’ve read that it is mostly used to scent a room. Believe me the smell is amazingly strong. Davin says it’s the first thing he smells when he walks through the door. Apparently, when it comes to eating, it is best used to make candied rinds, flavor alcohol, or cooked with fish. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my Buddha’s Hand but I’d better make some decisions fast since I’ve already cut into it.

Know of any recipes or ways to use this citrus? I’d love to hear it.

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Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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16 thoughts on “Buddha’s Hand Citron (Citrus medica L.)

  1. Any recipe that calls for lemon zest is perfect for the Buddha’s hand.

    imagine the lemon pound cake or muffins you’d get with this…

  2. Any recipe that calls for lemon zest is perfect for the Buddha’s hand.

    imagine the lemon pound cake or muffins you’d get with this…

  3. I have one of these about to bloom in my greenhouse now. It’s never set fruit, but it would be cool if it did. You can see the tiny fingers present when the petals fall off.

  4. Gail,
    I think every gardener who lives outside of the tropics should experience gardening in tropical climate for at least six months, if possible one year. Growing up in the Caribbean, we grew some kind of fruit or vegetable all year round. Some come in season while anothers are on their way out.
    My saying is that ‘you never miss the water till the well runs dry’. Luck for me I live in Southern United States and have a long growing season.I plant a four season garden. I still wish I lived in the tropic. I must say I had lots and lots of fun and experience growing up there. We grew all that we ate…. plants and animal alike, with spices and herbs to crown any meal.

  5. Lemongrass: I’m West Indian on my maternal side. My grandmother is from Dominica and moved to Barbados. Then everyone to Canada in the 60′s and 70′s when immigration was opened up to British colonies. I have a dream to go live in Dominica for at least a month.

    Jody in PA: That does sound nice. I love that plant.

    Nancy: You’re right. I think I will start with some kind of bread/muffin/cake. I just bought a new cake pan too.

    plantmonkey: I’ve never made marmalade so that would be the chance to try something new.

  6. I planted 10 grapefruit seeds this past spring. From those I got 6 seedlings, of which 5 still survive,the largest is now 6″ tall.
    And the darn things have THORNS! Whodathunkit?

  7. I’m in Texas and I have one each of myer lemon and kefir lime trees. Right now they are housed in a cool but not cold craft room. I’m in North and while I have a long growing season it can get down right cold here. We’ve been in the mid 20′s to 30′s mostly for the last week over night. Too cold for citrus. Even I’d have to go South for more ideal conditions. Even though I live in a warm state it’s not always ideal for gardening. Our scorching dry summers are considered extreme and many edible plants don’t like it.

    Also even though I am in Texas, I can’t get citrus anywhere but from Texas because of disease. I spent 3 very long years looking for these trees and now my lime is not liking the transition to the indoors:(

  8. I dream of growing citrus or a fig tree but never will in the zone 5. But I can grow tulips and all sorts of bulbs that would never bloom in a warmer climate. It’s my only consolation so far.

  9. John of Indiana: The Key Limes have thorns too. Drives me nuts.

    Jennifer: I know that my envy for certain climates isn’t always correct. Seems like Texas actually has quite variable climates and conditions depending on location. Makes sense since it is such a large state.

  10. Now that we’re buried in 7 inches of snow in NY, I’m missing all kinds of things I grew in Austin, but crave citrus especially. My folks have a Meyer lemon tree in far West TX that is so heavy with fruit they have to give them away. They’re at over 4000 ft and it gets plenty cold, but it sits in a perfect protected microclimate against a stone wall that gets a lot of sun. Mom says she’d like to have room for another tree, but then she’d have to charge for them ;) p.s. Loved your “plants of Mexico post”–aren’t the tropics amazing? We had a Flame tree outside our window in Kenya, and I could never get over the blooms. http://travelinbride.wordpress.com/2008/04/15/bloom-day-on-muringa-rd/

  11. I almost always HAVE TO inhale these when I see them in the fruit/veggie section of the market. I’ll bet it would make a lovely scented hand balm.

  12. Gayla: Dominica is stunning, we were there 2+ years ago and it is nothing like the other touristy islands at all. They say they have a river for every day of the month. It was one of the few islands I’d want to return to and explore more (Barbados was one of the others).

  13. The oil you get from the rind is good for cleaning. Removes any grime you get on stoves, counter tops, etc. Smells better than storebrand crapola– even the stuff that claims to have orange oil. I like to eat lemons with salt. It’s not so good for your teeth (so brush them afterward to get the citric acid away), but it will cure your cold faster than oranges and keeps your sinuses clear. Our lemon tree isn’t producing much. We just got it this year. So we’re stuck with store bought lemons… but we’re excited for next year!

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