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Jobs tears

Category: Food



Introduction and description


Job's tears (US) or Job's-tears (UK), scientific name Coix lacryma-jobi, also known as coixseed, tear grass, hato mugi, adlay or adlai, and with the added botanical names of

  • Coix agrestis Lour.
  • Coix arundinacea Lam.
  • Coix exaltata Jacq.
  • Coix lacryma L.

is a tall grain-bearing perennial tropical plant of the family Poaceae (grass family).   Job's tears are also commonly sold as Chinese pearl barley in Asian supermarkets, although C. lacryma-jobi is not related to barley (Hordeum vulgare). The species was named by Carl Linnaeus in 1753.


Job’s tears is an annual in the temperate zone, but perennial where frost is absent or mild. 


Ranging from Cool Temperate Moist to Wet through Tropical Very Dry to Wet Forest Life Zones, Job's Tears is reported to tolerate:

  - annual precipitation of 6.1 to 42.9 dm (mean of 31 cases = 17.9)

 - annual temperature of 9.6 to 27.8°C (mean of 31 cases = 21.5) and

- pH of 4.5 to 8.4 (mean of 23 cases = 6.2).

(Duke, 1978, 1979)

It is a freely branching upright or ascending herb 1-2 m tall, the cordate clasping leaf blades 20-50 cm long, 1-5 cm broad. Spikelets terminal, and in the upper axils, unisexual, staminate spikelets two-flowered, in twos or threes on the continuous rachis; pistillate spikelets three together, one fertile, and two sterile; glumes of the fertile spikelet several-nerved, all enclosed finally in a bony beadlike involucre, the grain, white to bluish white, or black, globular orvoid, 6-12 mm long.



Coix Lachryma (Job's Tears) is native to Southeast Asia but has been introduced to a number of other countries as a decorative garden plant.

Pink, A. (2004). Gardening for the Million

A half-hardy, annual, ornamental grass bearing clusters of beautiful pearl-like seeds. Sow in a warm spot in April, barely covering the seed with fine soil, and keep the surface of the ground moist till germination is ensured. Height, 1-1/2 ft

 It has been naturalized in the southern United States and the New World tropics. In its native environment it is grown in higher areas where rice and corn do not grow well.

James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops.
Native perhaps to southeast Asia, but now rather pantropical as cultigen and weed. Listed as a serious weed in Polynesia, a principle weed in Italy and Korea, a common weed in Hawaii, Iran, Japan, Micronesia, and Puerto Rico, also in Australia, Borneo, Burma, Cambodia, China, Congo, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Iraq, Melanesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Rhodesia, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Thailand, United States, and Venezuela (Holm et al, 1979).


As of February 2015, four varieties are accepted by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families:

  • The wild variety Coix lacryma-jobi var. lacryma-jobi has hard-shelled pseudocarps which are very hard, pearly white, oval structures used as beads for making rosaries, necklaces, and other objects.  This is widely distributed throughout the Asian subcontinent to peninsular Malaysia and Taiwan; and naturalized elsewhere
  • The cultivated variety Coix lacryma-jobi var. ma-yuen (Rom.Caill.) Stapf. is harvested as a cereal crop, has a soft shell, and is used medicinally.  It can be found from South China to peninsular Malaysia and the Philippines
  • Coix lacryma-jobi var. puellarum (Balansa) A.Camus. is found from  Assam to Yunnan (China) and Indochina.
  • Coix lacryma-jobi var. stenocarpa Oliv.. is found from the Eastern Himalayas to Indochina.

Medicinal uses


Job’s tears is used in traditional Chinese medicine. The cultivated variety - Coix lacryma-jobi var. ma-yuen has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to “invigorate the spleen function and promote urination, alleviate arthritis, arrest diarrhoea, remove heat and facilitate the drainage of pus.”


There are more and more interesting and absolutely key uses for Job’s tears starting to emerge from relatively recent research.  The wholegrain has rather extensive antiviral activity and possibly anti-bacterial activity, but this is not all. 

James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops.
According to Hartwell (1967-1971), the fruits are used in folk remedies for abdominal tumors, esophageal, gastrointestinal, and lung cancers, various tumors, as well as excrescences, warts, and whitlows. This folk reputation is all the more interesting when reading that coixenolide has antitumor activity (List and Horhammer, 1969-1979). Job's tear is also a folk remedy for abscess, anodyne, anthrax, appendicitis, arthritis, beriberi, bronchitis, catarrh, diabetes, dysentery, dysuria, edema, fever, goiter, halitosis, headache, hydrothorax, metroxenia, phthisis, pleurisy, pneumonia, puerperium, rheumatism, small-pox, splenitis, strangury, tenesmus, and worms (Duke and Wain, 1981). Walker (1971) cites other medicinal uses.

We have included a large number of observations to help show that many of these uses have been researched and found to be true.

chicken and job's tears stew

One interesting chemical that the seed contains is adenosine, which is a relaxant, analgesic, an antihypertensive and vasodilator, and a hypoglaecemic, along with a host of other positive activity.  The seed also has chemicals that are natural anti-inflammatories, but one of the easily missed activities is that associated with a chemical called COIXENOLIDE, of which the seed has quite a lot.

 It is what is called an Immunotherapy chemical.  Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is a type of cancer treatment designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer. It normally uses plants to improve, target, or restore immune system function.  The plants this time don’t directly fight the virus, they help the immune system to fight the virus. 

In other words, the use of the seed in folk remedies for “abdominal tumors, esophageal, gastrointestinal, and lung cancers, various tumors, as well as excrescences, warts, and whitlows” is well founded.


Nutritionally the grain is quite a good supplier of energy and amino acids

James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops.
Per 100 g, the seed is reported to contain 380 calories, 11.2 g H2O, 15.4 g protein, 6.2 g fat, 65.3 g total carbohydrate, 0.8 g fiber, 1.9 g ash,

  • Minerals -  25 mg Ca, 435 mg P, 5.0 mg Fe,
  • Vitamins - 0 ug beta-carotene equivalent, 0.28 mg thiamine, 0.19 mg riboflavin, 4.3 mg niacin, and 0 mg ascorbic acid.

According to Hager's Handbook (List and Horhammer, 1969-1979), there is 50-60% starch, 18.7% protein (with glutamic-acid, leucine, tyrosine, arginine, histidine, and lysine) and 5-10% fatty oil with glycerides of myristic- and palmitic-acids.



Coix was once widely cultivated as a cereal in India. Still taken as a minor cereal, it is pounded, threshed and winnowed, as a cereal or breadstuff. The pounded flour is sometimes mixed with water like barley for barley water. The pounded kernel is also made into a sweet dish by frying and coating with sugar. It is also husked and eaten out of hand like a peanut.

Beers and wines are made from the fermented grain.

The Chinese use the grain, like barley, in soups and broths, as such all the recipes we have for barley could be used with Job’s tears.


In Korea, a thick drink called yulmu cha (율무차, literally "Job's tears tea") is made from powdered Job's tears. A similar drink, called Yi Ren Jiang (薏仁漿), also appears in Chinese cuisine, and is made by simmering whole polished Job's Tears in water and sweetening the resulting thin, cloudy liquid with sugar. The grains are usually strained from the liquid but may also be consumed separately or together.

In both Korea and China, distilled liquors are also made from the grain. One such example is the South Korean liquor called okroju (옥로주; hanja: 玉露酒), which is made from rice and Job's tears. In Japan, an aged vinegar is made from the grain.

In southern Vietnam, a sweet, cold soup called sâm bổ lượng has Job's Tears as one of its ingredients. This dish derives from the southern Chinese tong sui called qīng bǔ liáng (清補涼; Cantonese: ching1 bou2 leung4).

In Thailand, it is often consumed in teas and other drinks, such as soy milk.

 with swiss chard

References and further reading

We have not included Dr Duke's analysis in the observations simply because it would be out of date very quickly.

If you go to his site Dr Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical database and type Job's tears into the search box, it will take you to the entry showing both chemicals in the plant and their activities

Related observations