Guilty Pleasure: the case for lemons
A picture of lemons in a basket

Sick this week with flu and a stabby throat, I am once again reminded of the joys of fresh organic lemons. Not only is the smell and colour enough to lift the mood, but they also pack a hefty health punch.

With more vitamin C than oranges, one lemon provides a whopping 64% of our daily vitamin C needs. And that’s not the only healthful benefits of the humble lemon; it also has compounds that lower cholesterol, a remedy for digestion, respiratory and skin health support, as well as antibacterial and cleansing qualities.

Although their specific origin has always been a mystery, a 2018 study on the genome and origins of citrus fruit analysed over 50 varieties of citrus fruit, from the Chinese mandarin to the Seville orange. The study found that modern citrus trees derive from several natural species found in a region that includes the eastern area of Assam, northern Myanmar, and western Yunnan (China).

When the climate changed millions of years ago, bringing weaker monsoons and drier weather, citrus plants were then able to spread throughout southeast Asia. From there, they spread to the rest of the world, including to Australia about four million years ago.

Popular as both ornamental and medicinal plants, lemons spread to Europe through Ancient Rome around 200AD, then to Persia, Iraq and Egypt in 700AD, followed by serious cultivation in Genoa, Italy in the 1500s.

Christopher Columbus traveled with lemon seeds on his voyages, and introduced it to the Americas at the end of the 15th Century, followed by a general spread throughout the ‘New World’ and then a major planting in Florida and California in the 1800s.

Prized by the Ancient Romans as a symbol of privilege because of their rarity, there is power in lemons. Perhaps the proverb should be ‘A lemon a day keeps the doctor away’.