By Audrey Stallsmith
Or from Browning some "Pomegranate," which, if cut deep down the middle,
Shows a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning—“Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”
For the New Year, pomegranate is one of those super foods which we should all resolve to eat more often, but probably won’t. As I like tart fruits myself, my problem isn’t with this one’s flavor but its squishy interior, which makes it awkward to consume.
Its common name means “seeded apple.” For this “apple,” however, you eat the seeds and discard the leathery rind! Its scientific name, Punica granatum, derives from puniceus ("reddish-purple") and granatum ('seeded").
An ancient food, which originated in Iran and the western Himalayas, the pomegranate is mentioned at least 25 times in the Old Testament. It appeared in embroidered form on the ephods of Israeli priests as well as in bronze on the pillars of Solomon’s temple and in flowery prose in his love poem, The Song of Solomon. “Let us get up early to the vineyard; let us see if the vines flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth. . .” (Song of Solomon 7:12)
Seldom surpassing 20 feet in height, fruiting pomegranate trees produce orange-red, trumpet-shaped blossoms, which stand for “mature elegance” in the language of flowers. Some ornamental types bloom in other colors, such as white and apricot.
Pomegranate leaves are less remarkable, oval and two to four inches long. The fruits grow to about five inches across, filled with the red edible seeds which made those fruits a symbol of fertility in ancient cultures. Although the trees can be hardy in USDA zones as low as 7, they usually will only fruit in relatively frost-free areas—those higher than Zone 8.
Rich in antioxidants, pomegranate fruits lower blood pressure and help clear plaque from arteries. They reportedly also inhibit the growth of cancers. Being somewhat astringent, they also make a pleasant cure for diarrhea, and the bark of their trees has been used to tan leather.
People like me who find the fruit a pain to eat can buy pomegranate juice instead. We also can second the sentiment in an old Jewish blessing “May it be thy will, O Creator, that our year be as rich and replete with blessings as the pomegranate is rich and replete with seeds.”
Punica granatum image is from Kohler's Medizinal-Pflanzen, courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden.