Lemons - the history, production, trade
The lemon (Citrus x limon) is a fruit tree that belongs to the genus Citrus, Rutaceae family, to which belong also citrus fruit, such as oranges, tangerine, bergamots, citrons, grapefruit.
The common name “lemon” can refer both to the plant and to its fruit: it is an ancient hybrid, native to India and Indochina, typical of warm regions, halfway between the pomelo and the citron, but since centuries an independent species which spreads through scions and grafts.
The lemon is native to India and Indochina: it was first described in Roman times since I century in some paintings from Pompeii, even though it seems that the first citrus fruit of the Roman world was citron, known among Romans as “Persian apple”. Another lemon's description appears in some Indian wrights of the XII century: the word limun in Arab, refers to all citrus fruits. Therefore, it might be possible that in ancient times the lemon and its properties were already known to the Arabs and called, together with the orther citrus fruits, limun .
The lemon arrived in Europe in 1200 b.C.: its first cultivation is known in Sicily (Italy); later in Genova (Italy) and in 1494 in the Azores (Portugal).
The lemon tree can reach the height of 6 metres: it is characterized by oval, alternate leaves that are reddish when still young and become dark green on the upper surface and lighter on the lower surface; the petiole is slightly winged. The flowers, very scented, might be alone or coupled at the axil of leaves. In good climate conditions they grow all year long. The edge of petals is violet.
The fruits of lemon are oval or elongated, with pointed apexes: the skin is usually yellow, but there are also varieties of different colours, such as green or white. The skin is rich in essential oils and can be more or less thin.
The flesh of lemon is divided in eight to ten slices and is generally very bitter and juicy: many varieties of lemons have a seedless flesh. The lemon is a ever-bearing species. There are different season times when the harvesting of lemons is done: “primofiore” lemons, “Bianchetti” and “Verdelli” (the main lemons flowerings are in Spring, with the production of winter lemons, and in September, producing the so-called “verdelli”, which ripen the following summer). To enhance the production of “verdelli”, which have better prices on the world fruit and vegetable market, particular techniques are used, such as the interruption of watering for a certain period of time.
Unlike other citrus fruits, the lemons can ripen also when already taken from the plant. Lemons are very often harvested when still green.
The most suitable areas to cultivated the lemon tree are the coastal areas where the climate is warm and dry and the fruit can flower all year round: therefore the lemon is available on the market twelve months a year.
For the lemon tree the suitable soil should be of medium mixture, together with gravel and sand to allow water to drain. Furthermore it must contain peat and organic fertilizer to make it more fertile. To cultivate the lemon tree in vases, it is suggested to use a soil made of hard garden soil, decomposed leaves, peat, mature manure, rough-grained sand; moreover, it should be avoided the use of vases that are too big compared to the plant.
The lemon is quite sensitive to cold and to temperature differences and it defoliates completely with temperatures of -4/-5°C, while lower temperatures might damage also the wood; flowers and fruits instead bear temperatures up to -2°C. The lemon tree does not need very high summer temperatures for fruit ripening; moreover, the plants are sensitive to wind. In case of long drought periods, it is suggested to water the plants, even though they grow well also in poor soil with an optimal pH of about 5.5-6.5. In good conditions, the plant begins to bear fruits after 4-5 years from the bedding out, and an adult tree of lemons can produce from 600 to 1,000 fruits a year.
Lemons are usually cultivated to produce fruits, but the plant can also be cultivated in vases for ornamental purposes: in fact, the plant of lemon produces white and violet flowers, known all over the world for their intense and enticing scent. These flowers are used in cosmetics for the preparations of perfumes or in the pastry industry to create several cakes.
From the more or less thin and wrinkled skin, rich in essential oils, numerous products for perfumery and liqueurs are extracted.
When used for fresh consumption, the lemon must have a hard, thin, flawless and bright skin: to verify its freshness it is enough to control that the base to which the petiole is connected is still green. A thick and wrinkled skin, green stains, deformity, bruises and scars, due to hail or parasites are considered flaws of the fruit. When purchasing lemons, it is important to be sure that fruits were not treated on the surface with a substance, called diphenyl or diphenyl, that avoids the development of moulds: it is not harmful for the human being, but it can alter the taste of lemons.
The ideal temperature to preserve ripe lemons is between 0 and 4°C, while green lemons can be kept at a temperature between 11 and 14°C. It is suggested to keep ripe lemons in the refrigerator, while green lemons can be left in a fresh place.
The lemon contains the 71% of the daily need of vitamin C for an adult person and the 7% of the potassium requirement, 1% of calcium and 9% of magnesium. The part of the lemon that is used the most is the lemon juice, which represents up to 50% of its weight. It contains 50-80 gr/l of citric acid, which gives to lemons the typical bitter taste, and different organic acids among which malic acid, ascorbic acid or vitamin C (0,5 g/l). In fact, the lemon is the vegetable with the highest content of citric acid, an essential substance for the energy metabolism of cells. Furthermore, it contains sodium and potassium citrate, that have an important depurative power.
The lemon is used in many ways and in all fields: as a food, in the medicine and pharmacology, in canning industry, in the perfume and liqueur industry.
Thelemon has countless beneficial effect on health and it is known for its therapeutic properties since generations: it prevents the development of osteoporosis, counterbalances the body pH, improves digestion, helps rest, prevents colds and flu, cleanses the liver, eliminates uric acids, helps the intestinal activity, dissolves gallstones, kidney stones and calcium deposits in kidneys, prevents urinary calculi, opposes free radicals, prevents the cells’ ageing progress of our body, lowers cholesterol levels, helps digestion, has antibacterial properties, eliminates intestinal parasites, strengthens blood vessels, regulates blood pressure, has anticancer properties, helps the production of energy, it s good in case of constipation, teeth problems, it is good for hair, skin, internal haemorrhage, rheumatisms, burns, overweight, respiratory disorders, cholera and high blood pressure.
Lemons are used a lot for food and drinks: the fresh fruit juice, squeezed from ripe lemons, is used as a drink, to dress food and sometimes instead of vinegar. The high content of citric acid in lemons influences its taste and makes lemons great refreshers and thirst-quenching, apart from being a tasty seasoning in many culinary recipes: it has astringent, anti-scorbutic and refreshing properties.
It is often used in marinates, in particular for game and red meat, such as guinea-fowl, as it eliminates the wild taste. Furthermore, those who do not want to give up raw see food, have to know that few drops of lemon juice eliminate in few minutes, 92% of microbes and bacteria on shellfishes. The lemons help also to avoid that fresh fruit and vegetable blackens and therefore it is widely used in fruit salads. The lemon has depurative and detox properties for our body and a regular consumption, better if taken in the morning before eating anything else, helps to regularize the intestine and fights even cellulite.
The lemon skin, rich in scents and aromas, is grated and used in the preparation of a lot of sweet and savoury dishes and drinks. It is well-known the use of lemons to prepare the famous liqueur Limoncello, a traditional liqueur native to Naples, Caserta and Ischia: it is in fact a spirit produced with the skin of lemons, following an ancient recipe that gives to Limoncello a unique taste that can't be imitate.
Thelemon is rich in essential oils, the main of which is limonene, present above all in the skin. The essential oils of lemons have a high antibiotic and disinfectant power. When employed on the skin, they have also a revulsive action, as they increase blood supply on the surface. They are therefore useful in case of rheumatism and have healing powers: in fact,if necessary, lemons are used as disinfectant for the skin and the oral cavity in case of small wounds and excoriations, foot-and-mouth disease, angina pectoris and stomatitis.
Lemons are widely used in the cosmetic industry: in aromatherapy the lemon is considered refreshing, a tonic for blood circulation, bactericidal and antiseptic.
The lemon is also astringent and therefore useful against sunburn rashes, lightens freckles, cleans and purifies. The lemon softens the skin of hands, strengthens nails, tones up greasy skin, reducing the production of sebum. It is useful to make hair shine and finally it is a great ally against the anaesthetic cellulite: drinking water with lemon juice during the day helps eliminating "orange-peel" skin.
Baking soda and lemon juice will help to obtain bright faucets and sinks. Lemons are also natural moth killers. Finally, the juice of one lemon can be added to one litre of non-drinkable water to make it drinkable.