We live in Ag Zone 7b at the base of the Appalachian Mountains in Greenville, SC. This area is not exactly known as the citrus capital of the world. However, years back we decided we were going to figure out how to grow citrus here, so we could enjoy our own fresh organic citrus straight off the tree. (You can read our “how to grow citrus anywhere” article here.)
As such, each fall and winter day when the temperatures drop below the mid-30s, we roll our large citrus pots into one side of our garage or into our dining room. During the rest of the year (or on days when temps are 40+ degrees), the plants are outside. Yes, most citrus varieties–especially when they’re mature–can tolerate freezing temps, but they don’t enjoy it.
There is an astounding number of citrus varieties out there, many of which you’ll never see at a grocery store. Currently, we’re growing blood oranges, makrut limes, meyer lemons, pink ‘lemonade’ lemons, satsuma mandarins, kumquats, red finger limes, calamondin oranges, and Buddha’s hand citron.
Of all the citrus varieties we grow, the one that always gets the most attention from guests is indisputably our Buddha’s hand citron. “What is that thing?” “What do you do with it?” “Do they bite?”
No, they don’t bite, although we’ll teach you how to bite them in just a moment…
About Buddha’s Hand Citron
Scientists believe that all modern citrus varieties and cultivars came from four original citrus fruits (mandarin, papeda, pomelo, and citron) which were growing wild in southeast Asia long before humans said “these are good, we should domesticate them.” Citron (Citrus medica) may be the oldest of these four, and Buddha’s hand citron (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis) is likely not that far removed from the original wild version of the fruit.
The shape of a Buddha’s hand citron fruit resembles a human hand, albeit bright yellow with quite a few more fingers. (Come to think of it, if your hand ever looks like this, please consult your physician.) Each Buddha’s hand citron cultivar is a little different: some have “open hands,” some have “closed hands.” Ours seems to produce both open and closed hand fruit.
Buddha’s hand citron earned its name partially due to its hand-like shape and partially because it has long been used as a ceremonial offering at Buddhist temples. FYI if you plan to offer a Buddha’s hand citron to Buddha at a temple, he prefers closed handed fruit since it better symbolizes prayer and meditation.
What Can You Make With Buddha’s Hand Citron?
You won’t be using Buddha’s hands citrons for fresh eating or to make lemonade. That’s because most cultivars, like ours, don’t have any pulp/juice inside. They’re all skin (flavedo) and pith (albedo). Unlike many other citrus varieties, however, the skin and pith of Buddha’s hand citron is sweet and mild, with barely any bitter.
So, what the heck do you do with such a fruit?
Lots, actually. They’re candied, pickled, made into jams, confections, teas, liqueurs, and perfumes. Buddha’s hands also smell absolutely amazing, which is why they’re used as an air-freshener in Asia, where they’re considered a symbol of good luck, fortune, and happiness. (A few slices can scent a whole home.)
3-In-1: One Recipe, Three Treats
Our favorite use thus far? Buddha’s hand candy. One of the best things about this recipe is that it’s actually a 3-in-1 because you’ll get sun tea, candy, and simple syrup by the time you’re done.
- 5 citrons (each of ours weighed about 8 oz)
- 5 cups organic sugar for cooking + 1 cup sugar for rolling/coating the finished fruit candy
- 6 cups water for cooking
- Cut each citron into ~1/3" thick slices (see photo above) to reveal the internal flower shape. Use the "finger" pieces too.
- (Option A: Sun Tea) If it's warm (over 70 degrees) and sunny out and you'd like to make sun tea, place the slices into a jar and fill with water. Put jars in a sunny spot for the day. Strain out citrus to make candy and put "citron tea" into fridge until ready to drink (sweeten to taste).
- (Option B: No Sun Tea) If it's cold or you're in a rush for time, jump right in to candy-making mode. You'll need to blanche the citron to remove the bitter flavor. Put the citron slices into a pot and cover with water. Simmer (low boil) just long enough to make pieces translucent (30-40 minutes). Pour out water.
- Add 5 cups water back to the pot + sugar. Cook just until the temperature of the mix reaches 230 degrees F. A candy thermometer is REALLY helpful for this. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Pour the citrus-flavored simple syrup from the pan into jars and refrigerate until you're ready to use them. Strain the citron pieces out and place them on cooling racks to dry for 24 hours.
- Pour organic pure cane sugar into bowl. Toss each piece of citron in sugar until thoroughly and uniformly coated. Place back on drying rack for 1-2 days. (Or put in a dehydrator for 6 hours.)
- If candied pieces are still tacky/sticky after initial sugar coating, toss them in sugar one more time and allow to dry for another 1-2 days on racks.
- Once dried, place in airtight container in refrigerator for long-term storage (more than 1 month). If you plan to eat them within a couple of weeks, you don't have to refrigerate them.
Where to Buy a Buddha’s Hand Citron Tree
If you’re like us, there’s zero chance you’re going to find a Buddha’s hand citron bush for sale at your local plant nursery – and you’re probably not going to find the fruit at the grocery store. The good news is you can get a 24″-36″ tall tree delivered straight to your door from Sheila’s Tropicals via Amazon.
If you do start growing your own citrus, we highly recommend using organic methods.
- Fertilizer – We only fertilize with compost, compost tea, liquid gold, or kelp emulsion.
- Pest Control – In the winter when our plants are indoors and predatory insects aren’t around, we sometimes get spider mites or scales. If/when that happens, we use organic, OMRI listed products: neem oil, or mineral horticultural oil.
Oh, and if you want to pick up a candy thermometer to help with this recipe or others like it, here’s a good one!