Seeds of good health

Eat the pomegranate, for it purges the system of envy and hatred.

— Prophet Mohammed

THE POMEGRANATE is native to the hot, dry weather and heavy loam soils of Iran. For centuries, the fruit was the darling of the sun-drenched nations rimming the Mediterranean Sea. The French call the fruit Grenade.

The Israelites, wandering in the wilderness after their Exodus from Egypt, longed for the pomegranates of the land they had left behind. Thirsty desert nomads learned to value it for its juicy, water-rich, flesh-covered seeds.

Trade, not war, brought the fruit from the arid wastes of Iran to the fertile fields of central and southern India by the 1st century AD. Spices made from dry seeds are popular in North India. Throughout the Mediterranean, pomegranate wine and juice are popular beverages. The juice is especially popular in the Middle East.

Grenadine, syrup flavoured with pomegranates, is used in mixed drinks. In North America and Europe, pomegranate jelly, sauce and jam are all popular breakfast items. All parts of the tree are a rich source of tannin, a vital raw material for curing leather and for making black ink.

The tree is drought-resistant and the wood makes for hardy farm implements and resilient furniture. The Japanese use the bark-extract as an insecticide. The high citric acid content of the fruit makes it useful in the pharmaceutical industry.

The fleshy seeds are low in sodium and rich in potassium, and they are rich in Vitamin C, which keeps the gums healthy. Pomegranate juice is an ancient cure for leprosy. Ripe fruits improve the motility of the intestines. The decoction made from the bark and root is rich in isopelletierine and punicine, drugs that cleanses the intestines and expels tapeworms.

A word of caution -- overdose of isopelletierine can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, dilation of pupils and dimness of vision, and weakness and paralysis. The other dangerous compound in pomegranate is tannin: in high doses and with regular use it is a potent carcinogen.

In lower doses, tannin-rich extracts of bark, leaves and rind are astringents to quieten an upset stomach, dysentery, or uncontrollable bleeding; it also has a blood pressure-lowering effect.

Decoction made from dried flower buds can ease the cough and chest discomfort of bronchitis. As a gargle, it is a handy larder remedy for cough and sore throat.


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