Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Pyrus cydonia (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Rosaceae
Synonym: Cydonia vulgaris (PERS.).
Parts Used: Seeds, fruit.

The Quince has been under cultivation since very remote times. It is a native of Persia and Anatolia and perhaps also of Greece and the Crimea, though it is doubtful if in the latter localities the plant is not a relic of former cultivation. It is certain that the ancient Greeks knew a common variety, upon which they grafted scions of a better variety, which they obtained from Cydon in Crete, from which place the fruit derived its name of cydonia, of which the English name Quince is a corruption.

Botanically, the plant used to be called Pyrus cydonia, but modern botanists now place it in the genus Pyrus and assign it to a separate genus, to which the former specific name Cydonia has been given.

In old English literature we find the fruit called a Coyne, as in the Romaunt of the Rose and the old English Vocabularies of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, this name being adapted from the French coin, whence Middle English Coin, Quin, the plural quins, becoming corrupted to the singular Quince.

The Quinces differ from the Pyrus genus in the twisted manner in which the petals are arranged in the bud and in the many-celled ovary, in which the numerous ovules are disposed horizontally, not vertically as in the Pears. They are much-branched shrubs, or small trees, with entire leaves and large, solitary, white or pink flowers, like those of a pear or apple, but with leafy calyx lobes.

The Quince as we know it in this country is a different fruit to that of Western Asia and tropical countries, where the fruit becomes softer and more juicy. In colder climates, the fruit is of a fine, handsome shape, of a rich golden colour when ripe and has a strong fragrance, by some judged to be rather heavy and overpowering. The rind is rough and woolly and the flesh harsh and unpalatable, with an astringent, acidulous taste. In hotter countries, the woolly rind disappears and the fruit can be eaten raw. This is the case not only in Eastern countries, where it is much prized, but also in those parts of tropical America to which the tree has been introduced from Europe. This explains the fact that it figured so prominently in classical legends. It was very widely cultivated in the East and especially in Palestine, and many commentators consider that the Tappuach of Scripture, always translated Apple, was the Quince. It is also supposed to be the fruit alluded to in the Canticles, 'I sat down under his shadow with great delight and his fruit was sweet to my taste'; and in Proverbs, 'A word fitly spoken is like Apples of gold in pictures of silver.'

Pliny, who speaks at length of the medicinal virtues of the Quince, says that the fruit warded off the influence of the evil eye, and other legends connect it with ancient Greek mythology, as exemplified by statues on which the fruit is represented, as well as by representations in the wall-paintings and mosaics of Pompeii, where Quinces are almost always to be seen in the paws of a bear.

By the Greeks and Romans, the Quince was held sacred to Venus, who is often depicted with a Quince in her right hand, the gift she received from Paris. The 'golden Apples' of Virgil are said to be Quinces, as they were the only 'golden' fruit known in his time, oranges having only been introduced into Italy at the time of the Crusades. The fruit, being dedicated to Venus, was regarded as the symbol of Love and Happiness, and Plutarch mentions the bridal custom of a Quince being shared by a married pair. Quinces sent as presents, or shared, were tokens of love. The custom was handed down, and throughout the Middle Ages Quinces were used at every wedding feast, as we may read in a curious book, The Praise of Musicke: 'I come to marriages, wherein as our ancestors did fondly and with a kind of doating, maintaine many rites and ceremonies, some whereof were either shadowes or abodements of a pleasant life to come, as the eating of a Quince Peare to be a preparative of sweet and delightful dayes between the married persons.' Quinces are mentioned among the curious recipes in Manuscripts relating to domestic life in England. Wynkyn de Worde, in the Boke of Kervynge, speaks of 'char de Quynce,' and John Russell, in the Boke of Nurture, speaks of 'chare de Quynces' - the old name for Quince Marmalade. This preserve is now practically the only use made of the Quince as an article of food, though it is sometimes added to apple-tarts, to improve their flavour, but in Shakespeare's time, Browne spoke of the fruit as 'the stomach's comforter, the pleasing Quince,' and a little later, Parkinson says: 'There is no fruit growing in the land that is of so many excellent uses as this [the Quince], serving as well to make many dishes of meat for the table, as for banquets, and much more for their physical virtues.'

Cultivation: The Quince is little cultivated in Great Britain, though it will thrive almost anywhere, but is best adapted to a damp spot, in a rich, high and somewhat moist soil. In Scotland, it seldom approaches maturity unless protected by a wall.

Propagation is generally by cuttings or layers, the former making the best plants, but taking longer to grow. The Quince forms a thick bush and is generally not pruned, unless required to form standard fruit-bearing trees, when it should be trained up to a single stem till a height of 5 or 6 feet is attained.

There are three principal varieties of the Quince: the Portugal, Apple-shaped and Pear-shaped. The Portugal is a taller and more vigorous grower than the others and has larger and finer fruit; the Apple-shaped, which is sometimes considered to have a finer flavour, has roundish fruit, is more productive and ripens under less favourable conditions than either of the others and earlier than the Pear-shaped variety and is therefore preferred to it.

The Quince is much used as a dwarfing stock for certain kinds of pears and for this purpose the young plants when bedded out in the quarters should be shortened back to about 18 to 20 inches. The effect is to restrain the growth of the tree, increase and hasten its fruitfulness and enable it to withstand the effects of cold.

Medicinal Action and Uses: A syrup prepared from the fruit may be used as agrateful addition to drinks in sickness, especially in looseness of the bowels, which it is said to restrain by its astringency.

The seeds may be used medicinally for the sake of the mucilage they yield. When soaked in water they swell up and form a mucilaginous mass. This mucilage is analogous to, and has the same properties as, that which is formed from the seeds of the flax - linseed.

The seeds somewhat resemble apple-pips in size and appearance. They are of a dark brown colour, flattened on two sides, owing to mutual pressure and frequently adhere to one another by a white mucilage, which is derived from the epidermal cells of the seedcoats. The seed contains two firm, yellowishwhite cotyledons, which have a faintly bitter taste resembling that of bitter almonds.

Chemical Constituents: The cotyledons contain about 15 per cent fixed oil and protein, together with small proportions of amygdalin and emulsion or some allied ferment. The chief constituent of the seed is about 10 per cent mucilage, contained in the seed-coat. The pulp of the fruit contains 3 to 3.5 per cent of malic acid.

Pereira considers the mucilage peculiar to this fruit; the chemists Tollens and Kirchner regard it as a compound of gum and cellulose. It differs from Arabin in not yielding a precipitate with potassium silicate and in being soluble both in hot and cold water. It is almost free from adhesive properties.

The seeds, on account of their mucilage, have soothing and demulcent properties and are used internally in the form of Decoctum Cydoniae, an official preparation of the British Pharmacopoeia. It is prepared by boiling 2 drachms of Quince seed in a pint of water in a tightly-covered vessel for 10 minutes and straining off. Large quantities of the decoction may be drunk in dysentery, diarrhoea and gonorrhoea and it is used in thrush and irritable conditions of the mucous membrane. The decoction also forms a useful adjunct to boric-acid eye-lotions. On account of its mucilaginous character, it is not so readily washed away by the tears.

It is also used as an adjunct to skin lotions and creams.

It has been proposed to evaporate the decoction to dryness and powder the residue: 3 grains of this powder form a sufficiently consistent mucilage with an ounce of water. According to Grant (Journal de Pharmacie et de Chénie, Paris), 1 part communicates to a thousand parts of water a semi-syrupy consistence.

Mucilago Cydonice (Mucilage of Quince Seeds, B.P.) is stronger than the decoctionand has similar properties. It forms a useful suspending agent for such liquids as tincture of Benzoin, when added to toilet preparations. When used for this purpose, it is sometimes prepared with rose-water.

RECIPES Quince Marmalade
Pare and core the Quinces and cut them up, putting them into water as they are cored, to prevent them from blackening. Put them into a preserving pan with 1 lb. sugar and 1 pint water for every lb. of fruit. Boil over a gentle fire until soft. Then put through a sieve, or mash with a spoon, boil up again and tie down in the same way as any other preserve.

In France, before putting the marmalade into pots, a little rosewater and a few grains of musk, mixed together, are added. This is most delicious and among the French, by whom it is called Cotiniat, has a reputation for its digestive powers.

Quince and Apple Marmalade
Take equal quantities of Apple and Quinces. Put into an earthenware jar, 2 quarts of water and, as quickly as they can be pared and sliced, 4 lb. of Quinces. Stew them gently till soft and then strain them. They must not be boiled too long, or they will become red. Boil together, for 3/4 hour, 4 lb. of sliced Apples, with the same weight of Quince juice. When it boils, take it off the fire and add 1 1/2 lb. sugar. When dissolved, put it back on the fire and boil, together with the Quinces, for another 20 minutes, stirring all the time and removing the scum. Then pot.

Quince Jelly
Pare and core some ripe Quinces, cut them up, weigh them and put them at once into part of the water in which they will be cooked. Put the Quinces on the fire, with 1 pint water to each pound of fruit and let it simmer, but not long enough to change the colour to red - it should be quite pale. Strain through a jelly-bag. Weigh the juice the next day and put it in a preserving pan and boil it quickly for 15 minutes. Then take it from the fire and stir into it 12 OZ. sugar for each lb. of juice. Boil for another 15 or 20 minutes, till cooked, stirring all the time, and remove the scum.

Quinces and Apples can be mixed, making a good combination.