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A member of the Rutaceae family, the botanical name of a lemon is Citrus Limonum. The true lemon tree reaches a height of 10 to 20 feet (three to six meters), and is full of twigs with sharp thorns. The flowers with their mild fragrance can be clustered or solitary, and are white in colour with purplish undersides. Once open, the followers yield four to five petals. The fruit is technically a berry (hesperidium), and can range in size from 2 ¾ inches to 4 ¾ in with the number of seeds inside varying according to variety. The juice of a lemon is 5% to 6% citric acid, giving them their sour taste. Lemon peel is usually of light yellow colouration, although some varieties may be dappled with long green stripes. The peel is aromatic and houses oil glands ranging ¼ to ⅜ inch (6-10 mm) in thickness.

There are three basic types of lemon. The most widely available is the acidic kind, which is easily obtainable at supermarkets. Then there are the primitive lemons used to propagate different types of citrus fruits like oranges and limes. Finally there are the sweet lemons, once a mere curiosity, but now slowly gaining popularity with the development of the Meyer lemon.

Lemons lend themselves well to medicinal and culinary purposes. Lemon juice is a formidable and pleasant antiseptic. Traditionally,the major medicinal use of lemons has been for scurvy or to relieve vomiting.  It the past, lemon juice was also employed to alleviate rheumatic fever, gout and rheumatism. Lemon drops were one of the very first candies ever produced. They were made by boiling down a mixture of sugar and lemon juice, and then pouring the mix into sheet moulds.Once firm, the sheets were simply dropped to shatter the candy into separate pieces.

History of Lemon

The Lemon is said to have originated somewhere in the Indus Valley. This is based on archaeological evidence, among which are lemon-shaped earring dating back to 2500 BCE. Arab traders are credited with bringing lemons to the Middle East and Africa around 100 BCE. From there it was launched into southern Italy around 200 BCE.  The lemon was valued for its medicinal properties in the palaces of Sultan of Egypt and Syria. While rare and costly, lemons can even be seen in a mosaic in Pompeii.

Initially, lemons were more of an ornamental plant, like tomatoes, rather than a source of food. They were used to give red colour to lips by the ladies at King Louis XIV’s court. Cesare Borgia sent lemons as presents to his bride in France, and to flaunt his wealth in front of Louis XII. In the eleventh century, lemons were introduced to Spain by the Arabs, and by 1150 they were a commonly cultivated crop in the Mediterranean. Crusaders going home from Palestine introduced them all over Europe, and lemons gained popularity when cookbooks started to recommend replacing the existing traditions of extreme spiciness with juice from lemons.

It wasn’t until the 15th century that full gastronomic use of lemons started in Europe. The first significant cultivation was in Genoa. Lemons travelled to the New World in 1493 with Christopher Columbus taking the seeds to Hispaniola. While the Spanish conquest helped in proliferating lemons throughout the area, they were still mainly used for ornamental and medicinal purposes. By 1751 lemon cultivation had started in California and by the 1800s in Florida, when their use for culinary purposes picked up.

The origins of the word “lemon” lie in the Middle English word limon, and it first surfaced around the middle to end of the fourteenth century. Limon is actually an Old French word, which shows that lemon came to England through France. Old French has its beginnings in Italian limone, which comes from the Arabic word laymun derived from the Persian limun.

Guatemala and Mexico are among the major lemon producers. Their primary purpose is to extract the oil out of the peel, and the secondary purpose is to dehydrate the juice for preparation of reconstituted juice. Argentina leads the lemon production in South America, while Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, Australia, and South Africa are the world’s foremost lemon producers.

Health Benefits Associated with Lemon

Lemon is beneficial for a wide variety of ailments. In Italy, sweetened lemon juice is used to alleviate stomatitis, gingivitis, and inflammation of the tongue. A drink of warm water and lemon is advocated as a laxative, and it's also believed to avert the common cold.  Warm lemon water is offered in some of the most exclusive spas. Lemon juice with honey or ginger is frequently used as a cold remedy. It is a diuretic (for water loss), anti-scorbutic (scurvy), an astringent (something that draws tissue together), and a febrifuge (to reduce fever). Lemon juice was used by sailors aboard British ships in the 18th Century to help counter scurvy where they became known as “limeys”.

Vitamin C found is found in abundant supply within lemons and acts as a potent antioxidant. As it passes through the body, it neutralizes free radicals that come into its path. Free radicals interfere with healthy cells to render them useless, thus leading to aging, inflammation, and other ailments.  Vitamin C also helps to provide relief from respiratory and breathing problems like asthma.

Being a natural antiseptic, lemon juice spread over the skin can reduce pain caused by sun burn and bee stings. The fruit is also used to treat acne, and eczema. It can behave as an anti-aging solution by removing wrinkles and blackheads. Applying lemon juice on old burns can help to fade scars. Its coagulating properties can help to stop internal bleeding while cotton soaked in lemon juice can help to stop nose bleeds. Being a diuretic, it helps to remove toxins from the body thus aiding people suffering from illnesses like cholera and malaria.

Applying lemon juice to the hair and scalp provide a natural shine to the hair and also helps to eliminate problems like dandruff, and hair loss. Lemon applied to an aching tooth can help to get rid of the pain, and massaging it on gums puts a stop to gum bleeds and bad breath.

More recent claims on the benefits of lemon state that it is a miracle product that is ten thousand times stronger than chemotherapy with the ability to fight off many types of cancers. However, pharmaceutical laboratories interested in creating synthetic versions and pocketing profits do not publicize the fact1. While this claim may be a bit excessive, lemons do provide many benefits.  In a study carried out by Foschi R., Pelucchi C., Dal Maso L., et al., it was found that the chances of developing stomach, throat, mouth, colon, and lung airways cancer was markedly less in individuals with a high intake of lemons, but there was no effect on  breast, endometrial, kidney, ovarian and prostate cancers.

Furthermore, lemons are packed with a variety of phytochemicals like Hesperetin, limonene, naringin, and naringenin. It is the naringenin which is responsible for scavenging free radicals and providing the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties. Minute quantities of vitamin A, and flavonoids like α, and ß-carotenes, ß-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin and lutein are also found in lemons.

The Many Uses of Lemon

Lemons provide a tangy and refreshing flavour to both sweet and savoury dishes, in addition to being good cleaning and refreshing agents. Sprinkled on vegetables, salads, soups, rice, sushi, and to perk up drinks, the list of culinary uses is endless. Both the juice and peel of the lemon can be used. Here are some other unconventional uses of this citrus fruit:

  • Lemon juice is great for brightening up yellowed nails. Squeeze a lemon in a dish and soak your nails in the juice for a few minutes.
  • Applying lemon juice to fruits and vegetables like potatoes, pears, apples, and avocados, prevents them from going brown. Droopy lettuce can be brought back to life by soaking it in a bowl of cold water with the juice of one lemon squeezed into it.
  • Run out of deodorant? Just cut a lemon in half and apply under your arms. The citric acid kills odour producing bacteria and keeps you fresh.
  • Lemons are great as insect deterrents. Bugs like spiders, fleas, ants and even cockroaches are sensitive to the smell. Squirting lemon juice in places where they may enter the house will keep them at bay. Better yet, add a little lemon to your floor wash for greater insect-repelling power.
  • Lemon juice eliminates hard water stains, and other stubborn marks. For tough stains, use straight or dilute and use out of a spray bottle.  Lemon is also great for sparkling transparent windows.
  • Mildew, berries, wine or oil, in fact almost all substances that can leave stains on fabric can be gotten rid of with lemon juice. Tougher fabrics can be rubbed with lemon juice and salt, while more delicate fabrics may require a more gentle treatment.

No part of the lemon should be wasted because the peel of a lemon contains five to ten times more nutrients than the juice. To utilize the whole fruit, just put it in the freezer overnight and freeze it. Once frozen, grate the solidified lemon and discard only the pits. The rest of the lemon may be used to sprinkle as garnish on top of any food desired.

Clinical Trials

There are a number of studies reporting on the medicinal value of lemons. A 2002 report by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, states that compounds like flavanoids, carotenoids, and limonoids have potential antiviral, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties.  Additionally they have the ability to lower cholesterol.

Another study published by the Texas A&M University's Kingsville Citrus Centre, states that limonoids found in lemons seek out neuroblastomas and stops them.  Neuroblastomas are responsible for ten percent of all child cancers.

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About Andy Williams

In a processed food culture, simply eating may not be enough. Dr. Andy Williams is a scientist with a strong interest in Juicing and how it can supply the body with the nutrients it needs to thrive in modern society. You can subscribe to his free daily paper called Juicing The Rainbow and follow him on Facebook orTwitter.

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