The Ancient Health Benefits of Pomegranates
The humble pomegranate has such rich historical significance that some Biblical scholars think it might have been a bite of this forbidden fruit — and not an apple — that got Eve banished from the Garden of Eden in shame.
After all, apples don’t naturally grow in the Middle East and pomegranates had been widely used in pagan cultures for many generations as a symbol of fertility and wealth.
The pomegranate (Punica granatum) was cultivated in Egypt before the time of Moses, and it appeared often in ancient Egyptian art and texts. From there, it spread across Arab countries and to China, then to Rome and eventually to Europe and the United States.
In ayurvedic medicine, the pomegranate is known as “a pharmacy unto itself” because of its wide variety of applications and healing powers.
It has natural antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative properties that prevent unhealthy or damaged cells from growing, and has been shown to be more effective in treating certain bacterial infections than common pharmaceutical treatments.
Pomegranates are also an excellent source of Vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, potassium and folate, which is a B Vitamin that’s crucial for producing and synthesizing DNA.
Dose of Health
Pomegranate juice has more than 100 phytochemicals, which are beneficial biological compounds found in plants.
Scientists and doctors believe the unique combination of naturally occurring phytochemicals in pomegranates gives the fruit unusually powerful healing properties that other fruits and vegetables don’t have.
For example, they are full of antioxidants, which help our bodies fight free radicals that can damage cells and cause cancer.
The fruit also has strong anti-inflammation properties, which can prevent damaged or harmful cells from multiplying or activating, and may help reduce the advancement of Alzheimer’s Disease, arthritis and heart disease.
Pomegranate juice is also rich in polyphenols, which give the fruit its vibrant red color and are being studied for their ability to stop cells from multiplying and metastasizing.
Cure for Cancer?
Scientists are studying whether pomegranates can inhibit or slow certain kinds of cancer.
Early research suggests that drinking pomegranate juice may slow the progression of prostate cancer by inhibiting the rise of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels that indicate the rate of advancement.
The early prostate cancer studies didn’t use a placebo or a control group, and scientists cautioned that more research is needed before a causal link can be established.
Scientists suspect that the natural anti-inflammatory properties of pomegranates play an important role, along with numerous other naturally occurring compounds in the fruit that somehow work together to reduce the rate of growth of cancer cells.
Researchers at the University of Bologna’s Department of Life Quality Studies have published papers hypothesizing on other compounds in pomegranates that may work with the polyphenols and antioxidants to halt the progression of cancer.
Where They Grow
In ancient times, native pomegranate shrubs and trees grew from Iran to the Himlayas in Northern India and in Mediterranean climates across Europe, Africa and Asia.
Artifacts dating back thousands of years B.C. attest to the fruit’s importance. A silver vase in the shape of a pomegranate was found in the tomb of Egyptian King Tutankhamun. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has pomegranate-shaped Egyptian jars dating to 1070 B.C. that are believed to have held juice for medicinal purposes and for drinking.
In ancient times, pomegranate juice was used as an astringent and wound cleaner because it has natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The pomegranate’s blossoms were crushed and used to make red dyes, while the thick peels were used to dye leather.
Arab caravans crossing the desert would carry the thick-skinned fruit as a source of juice and hydration to combat the punishing heat of weeks-long desert crossings, which also helped spread the fruit to more regions.
Nowadays, India, Iran and Egypt are among the largest growers and exporters of pomegranates.
In the United States, where the pomegranate was introduced by Spanish Conquistadors, California is the largest grower of pomegranates because of its mild climate and fertile land. The fruits are harvested in late summer through early winter, and appear on many holiday dinner tables at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Grow Your Own
If you live in an area with a relatively dry and warm climate, you can experiment with planting a pomegranate tree in your yard. They’re pretty low maintenance, and bear fruit after about three years.
Many gardeners say it’s best to grow a pomegranate tree from the propagated clippings of an existing tree to ensure the fruit is the best quality.
Choose a location that gets full sun, and has a clear 20-foot radius of available space between other trees and bushes. Pomegranates prefer loamy soil with good drainage, and they don’t require much water, making them an excellent choice for drought-prone regions.
Make sure to give it small amounts of water on a regular schedule, and be sure to avoid overwatering it because they don’t like soggy feet. Too much water can cause the pomegranates to crack or rot.
Pomegranates naturally want to grow into a bush or hedge form with lots of suckers, and they can be pruned into a tree shape. Professional orchardists recommend keeping about six trunks to encourage a tree shape, and to help the tree recover faster if it gets damaged by frost.
The Seeded Apple
The word pomegranate is believed to be derived from the Middle French words “pomme garnete,” which translates as “seeded apple.”
Inside the tough outer protective skin are hundreds of seeds called arils that are surrounded by the juicy pulp that consumers love.
Getting them out without bursting the aril into a squirty staining mess can be challenging, and there are dozens of tutorials — each with many detractors who claim their method is better — on YouTube and other social media channels.
Many chefs and how-to experts agree that you should begin by cutting the pomegranate in half, peeling the fruit into manageable sections and then whacking it with a wooden spoon until the seeds fall into a bowl while peeling back the white pith to reveal new sections of the fruit as you go.
Some companies have taken the hassle out of it by selling the peeled arils on their own as a convenient snack.
Pomegranate seeds are also versatile in hundreds of recipes, from entrees such as roasted salmon with avocado pomegranate salsa and pomegranate-marinated rack of lamb, to desserts like pomegranate ginger poached pears.
To preserve the fruit for use during the late winter months when it’s out of season, consider making pomegranate jelly, pomegranate grapefruit lemon marmalade or pomegranate syrup.
Symbol of Fertility, Religion
Beyond the medicinal and health benefits, pomegranates have long been a symbol of fertility, prosperity and religion.
Ancient pagan worshippers believed the fruit was an omen of fertility, and it was used in rituals and ceremonies.
It also features in Greek mythology, when Persephone was bound to Hades after eating four pomegranate seeds and condemning herself to spending four months of every year for eternity in the underworld. The myth is associated with the changing of the seasons, as her four months in the underworld represents winter and her emergence from the underworld marks the start of spring.
There are dozens of references to pomegranates in the Bible, and the fruits were also featured in ancient Indian weddings, celebrations and religious ceremonies.
In China, Buddha statues were often depicted holding a pomegranate. In Turkey, brides would smash a pomegranate on the floor and legend had it that the number of expelled seeds would indicate how many children she would have.
Pomegranates are also an important feature in Jewish culture. The fruit is one of the “seven spices of Israel,” along with barley, figs and dates. It symbolizes fertility and love, and is mentioned by the poet who wrote Song of Songs 4:3: “Your lips are like a crimson thread; your mouth is lovely. Your brow behind your veil gleams like a pomegranate split open.”
Pomegranates are one of the symbolic foods eaten by Sephardic Jews at the Rosh Hashanah Seder dinner, the New Year celebration that’s full of ritual. Before eating the pomegranate seeds, Jews traditionally say: “May we be as full of mitzvot (commandments) as the pomegranate is full of seeds.”
By rabbinic tradition, some Jews believed the pomegranate was also special because it contained 613 seeds, which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot (commandments) derived from the Bible. While this isn’t true — the number of seeds varies from fruit to fruit — the tradition stuck and helped elevate the fruit’s importance in Jewish culture over the centuries.
As pomegranates continue to gain popularity worldwide, the fruit is showing up on more menus, cocktail lists and in home kitchens as people experiment with incorporating the healthy superfruit into their diets.
A couple years ago, high-end cooking magazine Bon Appetit published an entire article featuring 21 recipes made with pomegranates, including pomegranate molasses chicken with bulgar wheat salad, and a radicchio salad with pomegranate, pear and turkey.
Some orchardists are even experimenting with new varieties that have softer seeds, which makes them more appealing for the elderly and for children.
We like pomegranates in any form, and we especially love the way the luscious tart taste of pomegranate complements the delicate floral taste of rosehip in our new NADI Wild Rosehip Pomegranate drink.
With just 75 calories per bottle and no added sugars or artificial ingredients, NADI Wild Rosehip Pomegranate combines the delicious flavors of two superfruits — rosehip berries and pomegranate — that have been used for many generations to improve health.
For a little fun, try this tasty rosehip pomegranate cocktail that delivers a dose of Vitamin C and will impress your guests.
NADI Rosehip Pomegranate Cosmopolitan
1 bottle of NADI Wild Rosehip Pomegranate drink
6 ounces of vodka
½ ounce of Cointreau or triple sec
½ ounce lime juice
4 slices of lime for garnish
Fill a large cocktail shaker with ice, and add NADI Rosehip Pomegranate, vodka, Cointreau and lime juice. Shake vigorously and strain into chilled martini glasses. Makes four cocktails.