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Job's tears
Coix lacryma-jobi1.jpg
Scientific classification
  • Coix agrestis Lour.
  • Coix arundinacea Lam.
  • Coix chinensis Tod.
  • Coix chinensis Tod. ex Balansa nom. illeg.
  • Coix exaltata Jacq. ex Spreng.
  • Coix gigantea J.Jacq. nom. illeg.
  • Coix lacryma L. nom. illeg.
  • Coix ma-yuen Rom.Caill.
  • Coix ouwehandii Koord.
  • Coix ovata Stokes nom. illeg.
  • Coix palustris Koord.
  • Coix pendula Salisb. nom. illeg.
  • Coix pumila Roxb.
  • Coix stenocarpa (Oliv.) Balansa
  • Coix stigmatosa K.Koch & Bouché
  • Coix tubulosa Hack.
  • Lithagrostis lacryma-jobi (L.) Gaertn.
  • Sphaerium lacryma (L.) Kuntze nom. illeg.
  • Sphaerium tubulosum (Warb.) Kuntze

Job's tears, scientific name Coix lacryma-jobi, also known as adlay or adlay millet, is a tall grain-bearing perennial tropical plant of the family Poaceae (grass family). It is native to Southeast Asia, but introduced to Northern China and India in remote antiquity, and elsewhere cultivated in gardens as an annual. It has been naturalized in the southern United States and the New World tropics. In its native environment it is grown at higher elevation areas where rice and corn do not grow well. Job's tears are also commonly sold as Chinese pearl barley.

There are two main varieties of the species, one wild and one cultivated. The wild variety, Coix lacryma-jobi var. lacryma-jobi, has hard-shelled pseudocarps—very hard, pearly white, oval structures used as beads for making prayer beads or rosaries, necklaces, and other objects. The cultivated variety Coix lacryma-jobi var. ma-yuen is harvested as a cereal crop, has a soft shell, and used medicinally in parts of Asia.


Job's tears may also be referred to under variant spellings of Job's-tears (US, UK), Jobs-tears, or jobstears.

The crop is also known by other common names in English, such as adlay or adlay millet. Other common names in English include coix seed', gromwell grass, and tear grass.

The seeds are known in Chinese as yiyi ren (Chinese: 薏苡仁; pinyin: yìyǐrén), where ren means "kernel", and also described in Latin as "semen coicis" or "semen coicis lachryma-jobi" in pharmacopoeic literature.


The species, native to Southeast Asia, was named by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 with the epithet as a Latin translation of the metaphorical tear of Job. As of February 2015, four varieties are accepted by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families:

  • Coix lacryma-jobi var. lacryma-jobi
Widely distributed throughout the Indian subcontinent to peninsular Malaysia and Taiwan; naturalized elsewhere.
  • Coix lacryma-jobi var. ma-yuen (Rom.Caill.) Stapf
South China to peninsular Malaysia and the Philippines.
The varietal name is eponymous after General Ma Yuen or Ma Yuan (馬援) who according to legend learned of the plant's use when he was posted in Cochin China (or Tonkin, in what is now Vietnam), and brought the seeds back to China to be cultivated.
  • Coix lacryma-jobi var. puellarum (Balansa) A.Camus
Assam to Yunnan (China) and Indochina.
  • Coix lacryma-jobi var. stenocarpa Oliv.
Eastern Himalayas to Indochina.

Job's tears - along with Coix in general - was formerly placed in the Maydeae, now known to be polyphyletic.


The hardened "shells" covering the seeds are technically the fruit-case or involucre (hardened bract), with the bract also referred to as "capsule-spathe" or "sheathing bract" by some past botanical works.

These shells cover the bases of the flowers (inflorescences) which are male and female racemes/panicles; the male racemes project upright and consist of overlapping scale-like spikelets, with yellow stamens that pop out in-between, and there are one or two yarn-like female racemes drooping from the base.

Proteins and expression

Job's tears - as with Coix in general - produces its own variety of α-zein prolamins. These prolamins have undergone unusually rapid evolutionary divergence from closely related grasses, by way of copy-number changes.


Residue on pottery from a Neolithic (late Yangshao Culture) site in north-central China shows that Job's tears, together with non-native barley and other plants were used to brew beer as early as ca. 3000 BC.

Job's tears were already introduced to Japan (and probably cultivated alongside rice) in the Early Jōmon Period, corroborated by finds in Western Japan (Chūgoku region), e.g., from studies of phytoliths in the Asanebana Shell Midden (朝寝鼻貝塚) (ca. 4000 BC) in Okayama Prefecture. And further east in Japan, the plant has been found at the Toro site, Shizuoka Prefecture dating to the Yayoi Period.

Remains of Job's tears have been found in archaeological sites in northeastern India, dating to around 1000 BC, and a number of scholars support the view it has been in cultivation in India in the 2000–1000 BC period.

In modern times, the shelled grains exported from China were erroneously declared through customs as "pearl barley", and "Chinese pearl barley" remains an alternate common name so that the grains are sold under such label in Asian supermarkets, even though C. lacryma-jobi is not closely related to barley (Hordeum vulgare).



The hard, white grains of Job's tears have historically been used as beads to make necklaces and other objects. The seeds are naturally bored with holes without the need to artificially puncture them.

Strands of Job's tears are used as Buddhist prayer beads in parts of India, Myanmar, Laos, Taiwan, and Korea according to Japanese researcher Yukino Ochiai who has specialized on the ethnobotanic usage of the plant. They are also made into rosaries in countries such as the Philippines and Bolivia.

East Asia


In Japan, the grains growing wild are called juzudama (数珠玉) ‘Buddhist rosary beads’), and children have made playthings out of them by stringing them into necklaces. However, juzu-dama was a corruption of zuzu-dama according to folklorist Kunio Yanagita. A type of Buddhist rosary called irataka no juzu, which were hand-made by the yamabushi ascetics practicing shugendō training, purportedly used a large-grain type known as oni-juzudama (鬼数珠玉) ‘oni(ogre) rosary beads’. Although this was published as a separate variety, C. lacryma jobi var. maxima Makino, it is now regarded as synonymous to C. lacryma jobi var. lacryma-jobi according to taxonomical databases (World Checklist of Selected Plant Families).

It was contended by Edo Period scholar Ono Ranzan that the soft-shelled edible type called shikoku-mugi was not introduced into Japan until the Kyōho era (1716–1736), as opposed to a hard-shelled edible type called chōsen-mugi (lit. ‘Korean wheat’) which needed to be beaten in order to crack and thresh them. This type has been published as a separate species, C. agrestis in the past, but this is now recognized also as a synonym of C. lacryma jobi var. lacryma-jobi. Thus Japanese consumption of the crop attested in pre-Kyōho literature presumably used this hard-shelled type in the recipe.

Yanagita contended that the use of the beads predated the introduction of Buddhism into Japan (552/538 CE). And the plant has not only been found at sites dating to approximately this period at the Kuroimine Site, but in Jomon period sites dating to several millennia BC.

Ocean Road hypothesis

Yanagita in his "Ocean Road" hypothesis argues that the pearly glistening seeds were regarded as simulating or substituting for cowrie shells, which were used as ornaments and currency throughout Southern China and Southeast Asia in antiquity, and he argued both items to be part of cultural transmission into Japan from these areas.

Later scholars have pursued the validity of the thesis. Yanagita had reproduced a distribution map of the usage of ornamental cowries throughout Asia (compiled by J. Wilfrid Jackson), and Japanese ethnologist Keiji Iwata [ja] alluded to a need for a distribution map of ornamental Job's tears, for making comparison therewith.

Mainland Southeast Asia

Thailand and Myanmar

The Akha people and the Karen people who live in the mountainous regions around the Thai-Myanmar border grow several varieties of the plant and use the beads to ornament various handicraft. The beads are used strictly only on women's apparel among the Akha, sewn onto headwear, jackets, handbags, etc.; also, a variety of shapes of beads are used. The beads are used only on the jackets of married women among the Karen, and the oblong seeds are exclusively selected, some example has been shown from the Karen in Chiang Rai Province of Thailand.

Strands of job's tears necklaces have also been collected from Chiang Rai Province, Thailand and it is known the Karen people string the beads into necklaces, such necklaces in use also in the former Karenni States (current Kayah State of Burma), with the crop being known by the name cheik (var. kyeik, kayeik, kyeit) in Burmese. Job's tears necklace has been collected also from Yunnan Province, China, which has a population of Akha-Hani people and other minorities, but the Wa people of Yunnan also used the plant seeds (tɛ kao; lit. ‘fruit-Coix’) sewn onto fabrics and bags, etc.

The Wa people and other minorities like the Taungyo ethnic group use the beads in apparel in Shan State, Myanmar.

Insular Southeast Asia


In Northern Borneo Malay (Dayak group) ethnic tribes such as the Kelabit people of Sarawak state (and North Kalimantan, Indonesia), the Dusun people and Murut people of Sabah state all use the plant beads as ornament. The Kayan of Borneo also use job's tears to decorate clothing and war dress.


Job's tears (Tagalog: [tigbí] Error: {{Lang}}: text has italic markup (help)) are otherwise known by many local names in the Philippines (e.g. Bikol: adlái in Visaya Islands). The beads strung together have sometimes been used as rosaries, or made into bead curtains (e.g. the Tboli people on Mindanao), or woven into baskets and other vessels.


The plant was known as calandula in Spanish, and the hards seeds were strung together as beads or into rosaries in parts of New Spain, e.g., Puerto Rico.

In both the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, the beads of Job's tears are called "corn beads" or "Cherokee corn beads" and have been used for personal adornment.


Throughout East Asia, Job's tears are available in dried form and cooked as a grain. Job's tears grains are widely eaten as a cereal. The cultivated varieties are soft-shelled, and can be easily cooked into gruels, etc.

Some of the soft-shelled types are easily threshed, producing sweet kernels. The threshed (and polished) "kernels" or ren (Chinese: 薏苡仁; pinyin: yiyi ren; Wade–Giles: i i jen) are used in traditional Chinese Medicine (see infra).

The threshed grains are generally spherical, with a groove on one end, and polished white in color. In Japan unpolished grains are also sold, and marketed as yūki hatomugi (‘organic job's tears’).

In Cambodia, where it is known as skuay (ស្គួយ), the seeds are not much used as a grain, but used as part of herbal medicine and as an ingredient in desserts. In Thailand, it is often consumed in teas and other drinks, such as soy milk.

It is also a minor cereal crop and fodder in Northeastern India.

Beverages and soups

In Korean cuisine, 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 Japan, the roasted kernels are brewed into hatomugi cha (ハトムギ茶), literally a "tea". This is drunk for medicinal value and not for enjoyment, as it does not suit the average consumer's taste, but a more palatable brew is obtained by roasting seeds that have been germinated, which reduces the distinctive strong odor.

In southern China, Job's tears are often used in tong sui (糖水), a sweet dessert soup. One variety is called ching bo leung in Cantonese (Chinese: 清補涼; pinyin: qing bu liang), and is also known as sâm bổ lượng in Vietnamese cuisine. There is also a braised chicken dish yimidunji (Chinese: 薏米炖鸡=薏米燉鷄).

Alcoholic beverages

In both Korea and China, distilled liquors are also made from the grain. One Korean liquor is called okroju (옥로주; hanja: ), which is made from rice and Job's tears. The grains are also brewed into beers in northeast India and other parts of southeast Asia.

Traditional medicine

Job's tears are used with other herbs in traditional Chinese medicine or folk medicine.

The plant is noted in an ancient medical text Huangdi Neijing (5th–2nd centuries BCE) attributed to the legendary Huangdi (Yellow Emperor), but fails to be noticed in the standard traditional materia medica reference Bencao Gangmu (16c.).


See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Coix lacryma-jobi para niños

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