English name: Pomegranate
Latin name: Punica granatum
Family: Loostrife - Lythraceae
The pomegranate is a shrub or small tree, 3-5 metres tall. The branches, barbed when young, have a tendency to sag. The leaves grow opposite and are elliptical and are elliptic lanceolate or lanceolate, 3 to 8 cm. long. Their top side is dark green, glossy and smooth-edged. The bright red flowers are bisexual, set one to three at a time in axils at the branch tops. The flowers growing from the current year’s stems are pitcher-shaped and larger, with a normally formed lower ovary, in a pistil surrounded by a stamen. The flowers that grow on the older stems are smaller and underdeveloped (a shorter pistil style), and fall after flowering. The fruits are berries that resemble the shape and size of a large apple. Their skin is tough and leathery, usually purple- or violet- coloured, sometimes brown or pale red. Each fruit contains from 400 to 700 seeds, each surrounded by a sarcotesta, or jelly-like, juicy, edible seed coat. From it, grenadine syrup is produced.
The pomegranate has been cultivated in the Middle East for several thousand years. The oldest written mention of the plant is in cuneiform on clay tablets found in Mesoptamia and dated the middle of the third millennium B.C. The pomegranate is used in such activities as cooking, medicine, tanning and textiles. Its purplish-red juice is at once sweet and tart, and readily quenches one’s thirst. It may be added to drinks and desserts. The acidic juice of wild pomegranates can replace lemon juice (in industry, crystalline citric acid may be obtained from this juice).
Wines are produced from the pomegranate’s sweet varieties. In Persian cuisine, the juice is often used to prepare various dishes, while its dried seeds (anardana) are often used in Indian cuisine. In Meditteranean and Asian medicine, the pomegranate tree’s bark is used as against parasitic worms: a decoction (boiled extraction) of the bark contains the alkaloids pelletierine and isopelletierine, which act to paralyze tapeworms. For the same purpose, Chinese medicine uses the root bark. In Asia, a decoction of the flowers is used as an antidiarrheal medication. The fruit prevents premature aging. The polyphenols that it includes offer protection against diseases of the cardiovascular system and cancers, and reduce inflammation. Furthermore, pomegranate juice works as a hypotonic, lowering blood pressure; as an anti-infective treatment, against viruses and bacteria; and as an anti-oxidant, preventing for example the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, and thus acts to prevent atherosclerosis. Further, pomegranate bark, leaves and wood contain tannins, which are used to tan thin, precious leather (Moroccan leather), and in the production of paint. Pomegranate provides a bright red anthocyanin pigment, punicine, which has uses such as dyeing silk. In warm countries, it is also cultivated as an ornamental plant.
There are over 30 mentions of the pomegranate in the Bible. It was among the seven most important crops that awaited the Jews in the Promised Land, and one of the fruits that scouts, sent by Joshua, brought back after the explored the land that the Jews intended to conquer (Deuteronomy 8: 7-8). A number of places in the Holy Land are named after the pomegranate, as well as Biblical figures and pagan gods. In English and other European languages, the name of the grenade, a weapon, is derived from pomegranate. In Assyrian, Egyptian and Semitic civilizations, flowers and pomegranates were a common decorative motif. The Jews used them to decorate costumes and sculptures; for example, the pomegranate fruit and flower appeared alternately on the garments on Jewish priests. The fruit has symbolized fidelity to the Torah. The capitals of the two bronze pillars in the Temple of Jerusalem were decorated with winding chains of pomegranate fruit. It is said that King Solomon’s crown was fashioned after the pomegranate’s calyx, or “crown”.