Lemons. What comes to mind when you hear that word? I think of a delicious lemon meringue pie! The sweet and the tart—yes, that’s the ticket. But what value is there to the simple lemon? Take a look:
Lemons are a citrus fruit, which means, of course, that they are naturally a good source of Vitamin C, and that is something we need every single day. Vitamin C is essential to keeping our immune system healthy, but it isn’t stored in the body. What you take in is used and the rest gets eliminated. So, that’s why we need it every day, in the freshest forms possible.
It seems that the humble lemon was first grown in ancient China and southeast Asia about 4,000 years ago. With time, it was introduced to the middle east and Africa between 400 B.C. and 700 A.D. Christopher Columbus is the one historically responsible for bringing lemon seeds to the New World. Then, the illustrious lemon became well-known in Florida, and into South America.
As the world grew "smaller" through the exploits of sea exploration, sailors suffered from the Vitamin D deficiency known as scurvy, and it was discovered that citrus fruits such as the lemon brought much needed relief. Today, the majority of lemons are grown in the U.S. in California and Florida, and internationally in Italy, Greece, Israel, Turkey, and Spain.
So, what are the benefits they bring us? Lemon juice contains mostly sugars and citric acid, and as was mentioned, Vitamin C is in there along with B6, potassium, folic acid, flavonoids, and phytochemical limonene. Limonene has been showing great results in research lately with dissolving gallstones. There are also preliminary hints to it’s anti-cancer activities, but the drawback is the highest concentration of limonene is found in the white, spongy inner part of the lemon, which is, unfortunately, a bit on the bitter side.
We also have used lemons for a long time as an antiseptic, an antidote for certain poisons, a deodorizer, disinfectant, bleach, de-greaser, non-toxic insecticide, antibacterial, and for aromatherapy. There is nothing like the smell of fresh lemon to perk up the mood. Let’s not forget, of course, its use in those wonderful throat lozenges when we have a sore throat or cold, as well as hot tea, with lovely lemon to soothe a stubborn cough.
Some of the things we use the lemon for in the kitchen include drinks, lemonade, soft drinks, and fruit drinks. As a marinade for fish and meat. We use the grated peel, called zest, in many recipes, and the rind makes delicious marmalades and liqueurs. Additionally, the great lemon gives us a preservative that prevents oxidization of certain foods, that ugly browning that happens when we cut bananas and avocados, for example.
Most lemons are sour to the taste, except the Meyer lemon which is sweet. It is much rounder than the common supermarket lemon, known as the Eureka, and has a yellow/orange color. Lemon trees flower and continuously produce fruit most of the year, however, they are very sensitive to cold, and must be protected if grown in cold winter climates. Most trees will produce somewhere around 3,000 lemons a year. That will make a great deal of lemonade!
Lemons can be stored out of the refrigerator for about 1-2 weeks, and storing at room temperature is preferred for optimum juicing. The juice and zest may be stored in the refrigerator for daily use, or stored in the freezer up to three months for long-term use.
One important thing to remember about lemons—their citrus peels should not be eaten in any significant quantities. This is due to the fact that the oils in the peels can interfere with some body functions such as Vitamin A effects, and the peels contain high levels of oxalates which can cause kidney stones consisting of calcium oxalate. So limit consumption of the peel.
Remember to thoroughly wash all fresh fruits and vegetables that have peels and skins due to pesticide residue or build-up. Of course, it’s always best to buy organic if you can, especially with lemons you will use the peel. Check the websites below for some great recipe ideas that feature or include lemons. Consider using lemons when making salad dressings: mix fresh squeezed lemon juice with olive or flaxseed oil, crushed garlic, and pepper–yum! Also, consider that tart lemon juice makes a good substitute for salt.
So, go ahead and pick up those lemons today. Get your Vitamin C and other helpful nutrients with a fresh salad or delicious thirst-quenching tall, cool, glass of fresh lemonade.
The Encyclopedia of Health Foods by Michael Murray, N.D., Atria Books, New York.