Growing Job's Tears

Job's Tears, a variety of grass, produces beautiful seeds that come complete with a hole in the center for stringing as beads.

As a gardener with a preference for practical plants, I expect most of my garden to earn its keep. Fortunately most plants meet this expectation, whether they may do so by providing food or seasoning it, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, smelling sweet, or decorating my house with cut flowers. But I have recently re-discovered one plant that has benefits for years past its growing season.

Job's Tears (coix lachryma jobi), a variety of grass that goes by many names such as "bead plant", "Mary's Tears", or "Tear Drops", grows wild in tropical regions. It resembles a miniature corn plant, as it should since it is related to corn. It produces teardrop shaped, light/dark gray shiny beads - complete with a hole in the center for easy stringing! The beads can either be used in their attractive natural state, or colored with wood stain or enamel.

Job's Tears have been cultivated for centuries, often in or near Asian rice fields, and have been an important source of food for certain civilizations. Today, the seeds are used as herbal supplements and as an ingredient in some foods and beverages, including Japanese sake. It has a mystical background as well, with recommendations to carry three beads for luck, throw seven beads in a well to get your wish, and to place a string of beads around a baby's neck to help with teething pain. Job's Tears beads are beautiful, and are also used often in making rosaries.

Cultivation of Job's Tears is easy. They are annuals, raised from seeds, though the seeds should be soaked for 24 hours before planting. Grow them in full sun or partial shade. Job's Tears should do well in any climate in which corn thrives, and can tolerate wet areas with poor drainage though it's not necessary. The only difficulty may be in finding the seeds, as they aren't usually available from local stores or even from catalogs. I had to write to an obscure seed company in California to find mine; perhaps seed exchanges might be helpful.

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