Pomegranate (botanical name Punica granatum) is an undersized deciduous tree or a shrub that grows up to a height of 6 meters or 20 feet. The bark of the tree is light brown in color, while the branches are willowy having terminal spikes. The lead buds as well as young shoots borne by the pomegranate tree have a red hue, while oval-shaped, broad and glossy leaves grow opposite to each other on the branches. The tree bears big, waxy, orange-red hued flowers that develop into reddish-yellow fruits. As far as the size of the fruits of pomegranates is concerned, they are akin to orange, but having a hard outer peel. The fruits enclose numerous seeds and a pulp that is pinkish-red.
Pomegranate is indigenous to the area extending from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and this tree has also been cultivated all over the Mediterranean region of Asia, Europe and Africa ever since the primeval periods. People in those days used the pomegranate fruit in several ways as it is done even these days. In effect, the fruit was included in Egyptian mythology and art and extolled in the Old Testament of the Bible. On the other hand, the fruit was carried by desert caravans in the Babylonian Talmud for its juice which helped in quenching thirst. Approximately during the first century A.D., the pomegranate traveled from Iran to the southern and central regions of India. According to available documents, even the people in Indonesia cultivated the tree way back in 1416. In addition, the pomegranate tree has been extremely cultivated all over India and also in the other arid regions of south-east Asia, Malaya, the East Indies as well as the tropical climatic regions of Africa. Today, the pomegranate tree is primarily cultivated in several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, India, China, Bangladesh and Burma. In addition, you will also find a number of commercial orchards on the costal plains in Israel growing pomegranate. The tree is also widely cultivated in the Jordan Valley.
The pomegranate tree is to a certain extent regularly planted in Bermuda, where the tree was reportedly first planted in 1621 and has become naturalized over the years. However, the pomegranate tree is only seen occasionally in the West Indies, Bahamas as well as the warm regions of South and Central America. In the interior regions of Honduras, several people cultivate this plant at cool heights. Then again, while people in Mexico often plant this tree for its succulent fruits, it is only grown occasionally in Hawaii. The Spanish settlers in California are credited with introducing the pomegranate tree in that region in 1769. In the arid areas of California as well as Arizona, this tree is primarily cultivated for its fruit. In fact, pomegranate is cultivated commercially in a number of counties of California, including Fresno, Tulare and Kern, while in the Riverside and Imperial counties, people grow less pomegranate trees.
Pomegranate, or the common name of this succulent fruit, is actually an altered form of the Latin term ‘poma granata’ denoting a ‘many seeded apple‘. On the other hand, the botanical name of the plant denotes its numerous seeds as well as the source of the fruit during the time of the Romans – Punicus or Carthage, a Roman colony located in North Africa. The Egyptian Ebers Papyrus that was documented around 2,000 B.C. also makes note of the fruit. Similarly, the Old Testament also has mention regarding the pomegranate. In effect, the prominent red color of the fruit inside as well as the arrangement of its seeds made the fruit one of the original as well as most significant symbols of fertility – the fruit is also a primeval design theme. According to some ancient documents, it is the pomegranate and not apple which is the ‘forbidden fruit’ that was consumed by Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was also believed that the fruits were manifested on the pillars of the temple built by King Solomon. Going by the Greek mythology, Pluto kidnapped Persephone, the daughter of Zeus, to his secretive underground kingdom. In Pluto’s underground kingdom, Persephone was made to eat pomegranate – an emblem of union, making her bound to Pluto forever.
Pomegranate possesses a number of remedial properties and it is said that ancient Roman author, naturalist and philosopher Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny) was aware of the fruit’s therapeutic attributes in the first century A.D. Pliny had suggested the use of the bark of the tree’s root for eliminating tapeworms from the body. In effect, pomegranate root bark is a very useful, but disgusting remedy for this purpose. On the other hand, in the traditional Indian herbal medicine, the bitter fruit covering or rind was used for treating dysentery. Pomegranate possesses potent astringent properties, which are very effective for treating diarrhea. Even the leaves of the tree possess antibacterial attributes and there was a time when they were applied to heal sores.
Pomegranate also has culinary uses. For instance, this fruit is extensively used in cooking in the Middle East. The condensed pomegranate juice is used to add essence to meat dishes, particularly stews, while the dried seeds are used for garnishing. In India, the pomegranate seeds are used for stuffing flavourful breads and pastries. The pomegranate fruit possesses a stimulating flavour and is widely used to prepare drinks and added to desserts. On the other hand, the juice extracted from the fruit forms the basis of the liqueur Grenadine – traditionally prepared red syrup often used in cocktails for flavour.
Good quality pomegranate is usually of medium or large size and its color may vary from pink to vivid red. The rind or peel of excellent quality pomegranate is quite thin, but tough and the fruit encloses plenty of bright red or crimson flesh and having a little amount of pulp. The seeds of the fruit are enclosed by a succulent pulp having a reddish hue. The pulp is sub-acid and is excellent to taste. If the fruit is of superior quality, it should be delicate/ soft and very simple to eat. The seeds enclose very small amount of juice compared to the pulp that encloses them. In addition, good quality pomegranate should contain plenty of juice having a rich flavour.
In fact, there is an assortment of pomegranate and, according to the documentation by a writer of that period, no less than 10 varieties were cultivated in the southern regions of Spain in the 13th century. Pomegranate is basically a fruit from the warm climatic regions. Therefore, it is unlikely that pomegranate will ripen when grown in cooler climatic conditions. Nevertheless, dwarf varieties of the tree are often cultivated in cooler climatic regions and these trees bear very attractive scarlet hued flowers that are sold commercially. While the season of pomegranates begins in September and lasts till December, the trees bear maximum fruits in October.
The juice obtained from pomegranate is primarily used for therapeutic purposes. In effect, the juice is considered to be among the best remedies for disorders of the bladder and it also has a somewhat purgative effect. Especially for the older people, it is an excellent tonic for the kidneys and the bladder. The juice obtained from pomegranates growing in the wild provides citric acid as well as sodium citrate, which are used for pharmaceutical purposes. In effect, pomegranate juice forms an ingredient of medications used for treating dyspepsia (indigestion), while it is also known to be useful for treating leprosy.
On the other hand, the bark of the stem as well as the root of the pomegranate tree enclose numerous alkaloids, such as isopelletierine, which are very effective in getting rid of tapeworms from the body. To eliminate tapeworms, you may use a decoction prepared with the bark of the pomegranate stem or root, but this is a very disgustful treatment as it tastes extremely bitter. Alternately, you may also use a much safer, insoluble pelletierine tannate as a remedy against tapeworms. Here is a word of caution. Taking any preparation with the pomegranate bark in excess may prove to be emetic (any substance that promotes vomiting) and purgative. In addition, it may also result in the faint vision, dilation of pupils, muscular debility and even paralysis.
Since the bark, leaves, unripe pomegranate fruits and the rind of the fruit contain high levels of tannin, extracts from these have been given to patients in the form of astringents to treat diarrhea, dysentery and even hemorrhages. The flower buds of pomegranate are dried, pounded and used as a remedy for bronchitis. In Mexico, people prepare a decoction with the pomegranate flowers and use it as a gargle to alleviate oral and throat inflammations. In addition, the leaves, bark, root and seeds of the pomegranate tree have shown antispasmodic, hypotensive (any substance that causes low blood pressure) and anthelmintic (any substance that eliminates parasitic worms) actions.
As mentioned before, pomegranate is indigenous to Asia, especially Iran, Afghanistan as well as the slopes of the Himalayas. Over the years, the tree has been naturalized in warm, arid climatic regions, such as the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Palestine as well as towards the east in India and Pakistan. Currently, pomegranate is cultivated commercially in most of these regions.
The pomegranate tree flourishes in calcareous (limestone), alkaline soil and also on deep, acidic loam (fertile clay) as well as different other types of soils that exist between these two extremes. In northern India, pomegranate trees are found growing naturally even on gravel scattered with rocks.
Pomegranate is propagated by its seeds and they germinate voluntarily even when they are just strewn on the surface of loose soil, the seedlings come into existence energetically. Nevertheless, if you desire to avert seedling disparity, it is advisable that you sow preferred cultivars that are generally reproduced by hardwood cuttings, each 10 inches to 20 inches (25 cm to 50 cm) in length. Ideally, these cuttings are placed in beds with one or two buds remaining above the soil for approximately a year. Subsequently, they are transplanted into their permanent positions in the field. Propagating the plant through grafting has seldom proved to be successful. However, branches of established trees may be air-layered and suckers from parent plants may be taken before transplanting the grafts.