Lemons are thought to have originated at the base of the Himalayan Mountains, as a natural cross between the lime and the citron. Cultivation spread throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, and, like many other plant-derived foods, were introduced to the Americas when Columbus made his second voyage in 1493. Lemons have been a major food crop in Florida since the 16th century.
Arguably one of the world’s most widely consumed tropical fruits, lemons thrive in moderately warm and tropical climates, but suffer if temperatures dip below frost conditions. Fully grown plants bear fragrant white flowers, with thorns on the branches of some varieties. The sectioned fruit is actually a modified berry with a resilient, leathery rind.
Lemons are best when bright yellow and thin-skinned. Famous as a refreshing drink bearing its name, lemon slices or wedges are often added to cold and hot tea for an extra punch of vitamin C. They make a great garnish for salads and can be squeezed over other raw fruits to add flavor while preventing them from turning brown.
Lemon juice is also a great foundation for salad dressing, and adds a tantalizing piquancy when sprinkled over fish. And the zest – just the yellow part, as the white part is bitter – is a lovely addition to many recipes. Whatever the use, wash lemons thoroughly beforehand.
Health Benefits of Lemons
It’s probably no surprise that lemons provide a lot of vitamin C, but the amount per serving is pretty impressive at 187% of the daily value, making it a super infection fighter. Teamed with flavonoid glycosides called esperetin and naringenin (found in most citrus fruits), the combination provides radical free-radical zapping activity. Free radicals can do serious damage to blood vessels and can contribute to cholesterol build up in artery walls, atherosclerosis, and even heart disease.
Lemons are also a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, iron, and magnesium, and are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, and copper, as well as folate and potassium.
If you’ve ever wondered about the difference in raw lemons compared to bottled lemon juice, the vitamin C goes from 139% to about 100% of the daily value per serving, with the calcium from 7% diminished to 3%. In addition, bottled lemon juice and other processed fruit juices are not as healthy as they seem, and contain very high amounts of fructose and potentially dangerous additives.
The citric acid in lemons aids in digestion and helps to dissolve kidney stones, while the ascorbic acid is a natural antioxidant that prevents the sailor’s dread – scurvy. Other antioxidants in lemons include ß-carotenes, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, lutein, and vitamin A, which promotes healthy mucus membranes, skin, and vision. Pantothenic acid and folates, provided by lemons, are compounds needed by the body, but can only be derived from sources outside the body.
Lemons and limes are great for juicing, too! They have virtually none of the offending sugar – fructose – that causes most of the metabolic complications. Additionally, there are amazing at eliminating the occasional bitter taste of some dark, deep green leafy vegetables that provide most of the benefits of juicing.