When is a lemon not a lemon? When it is a lemon but called a Key lime (Citrus aurantifolia). Confused? So was I when I encountered this citrus fruit in Pakistan, as it was definitely yellow and a lemon, but small, round and the size of a tennis ball. There are other kinds of lemons in Pakistan too, all native, the paper lemon, (or kagzi nimboo in Urdu) one with a lumpy skin called a rough lemon (Citrus jambhiri or desi nimboo in Urdu) and others, which I have yet to come across, allegedly. I have picked and eaten a lemon the size of a grapefruit in southern Turkey, and know now that they come in all shapes and sizes; so the lemon that is most common in Europe, with nodules at both ends, may not be recognizable as a lemon in all countries and cultures. The lemon tree is a member of the Rutaceae family along with the curry leaf plant.
   It was the juice of the key lime that was taken by the British sailors on long voyages to Australia in the 18th century and perhaps why the Brits were (and still are) known as Limeys in Oz. Another possible reason given for this nickname is that the British sailors used lime twigs to clean their teeth.
   The history of the lemon tree is a little complicated as all lemons are thought to have originated in Asia, and probably in the Indian subcontinent and what was then the Persian Empire. Whatever the case, they made their way into Europe via the Arab traders and were cultivated in Italy from around 200 AD when they were introduced. They were also cultivated in Greece and so in Asia Minor (Turkey and its neighbouring countries) around the same time. Lemons made their way to the American continent and the Caribbean by means of the Portuguese and Spanish explorers in the 16th century, with Christopher Columbus taking seeds to the island of Hispaniola in 1495.
   Like other citrus fruits including mandarins and the kinow , Satsuma’s, tangerines, limes, oranges, pommelo, grapefruit and kumquats they have great health benefits. They contain more vitamin C than other fruits and a chef once informed me that the vitamin C from lemons was more easily retained by the body than from other citrus fruits. They also contain a whole host of other vitamins and minerals and in lab tests extracts of lemons were shown to kill the HIV virus. However studies are still continuing into this area of research. It is also suggested that they are a potential anti-cancer food, but again this has yet to be proved beyond a shadow of doubt. In history lemon juice has been used as a contraceptive and in lab tests conducted in Australia in 2002 it was found that the juice could kill sperm, although it is not clear what effects long-term use of lemon juice would have on the uterus and vagina. Gargling with lemon juice and hot water relieves sore throats and lemon juice rubbed on the skin keeps biting insects away. (It smells better than some repellants too.)
  The essential oil of lemon comes from the skin and this is also an insect repellant and a few drops in water can be substituted for fresh lemon juice. If a recipe calls for a few drops of lemon juice you can prick a lemon with a toothpick and squeeze a few drops out of it and the lemon will stay fresh for use later. Oil can also be expressed from lemon seeds. Some lemon oil is distilled from the twigs and immature fruits for the perfume industry in some parts of the world.
  Lemons are antiscorbutic and were carried onboard early sailing ships to prevent scurvy. They also have astringent qualities as well as being anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, good for getting rid of internal worms and parasites, and good for the skin and complexion. They are also believed to be an antidepressant and I suppose this makes sense as the smell of lemons would raise anyone’s spirits. They are also said to be good for nervous disorders and to regulate blood pressure. The problem with lemon juice is that it can take the enamel off the teeth, and although it is good for gingivitis (bleeding gums) it should not be used for a prolonged period of time. The sweetened juice is believed to be a good remedy for upset stomachs in Italy, and hot water, honey and lemon juice is good for colds, especially if a little finely grated ginger root is added. In Italy lemon juice in water is taken as a mild laxative.
  A decoction of the root of the lemon tree has been used in Cuba to treat fevers and in West Africa is prescribed for gonorrhea.
  Lemon juice is good for the skin, and will remove bacteria from wounds and prevent infection. If you have sallow skin, lemon juice will help the skin look fresher. It is a wonderful natural skin toner and will help stop sunburn too. It is reputed to remove freckles and other skin blemishes too.
  Lemon juice is also a stain remover; to remove stains from material, rub salt into a slice of lemon and then rub this on the stain you want to remove. This will also clean copper-bottomed pans. If you have lemons in the house you can use them to disinfect chopping boards, and to clean ovens. To do the latter you need to mix the juice from 2 lemons with ½ a cup of bicarbonate of soda and a little water so that you have a paste. Then spread this paste onto the oven walls and heat the oven at a low temperature for 10 minutes. When it is cool, scrape the paste off the walls, and you’ll have an amazingly clean oven. You can entertain children with lemon juice too as it makes invisible ink. Dip a quill in lemon juice and write on the paper. Leave to dry and then heat the paper (try an iron) and the brown writing will appear. Add lemon juice to washing up or rinsing water to give glasses and plates etc an extra gleam.
  Buy lemons in bulk when they are in season and squeeze out the juice and freeze it in ice-cube trays. When it is frozen, seal in bags and keep in the freezer so that you have a year’s supply of fresh lemon juice. Lemon juice quenches your thirst and you could try our recipe for a cooling drink skanjveen.
  The University of Maryland’s Greenebaum Cancer Center recommends fruits, especially those with dark colours for people with cancer and as they have strong antioxidant properties, they can be used by everyone for the health benefits they give. They particularly mention avocados, berry fruits, grapes, pomegranates, citrus fruits and dried fruits such as dates and apricots.
   Why not try this healthy Greek recipe for potatoes in the oven with lemon juice?

4 lbs potatoes peeled and quartered or cut into 6 pieces depending on the size
1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup of lemon juice
2 tbsps fresh oregano (2 tsps dried)
6-8 cloves garlic finely chopped
chicken stock (see our recipe)
salt and pepper to taste

Par boil the potatoes for 10 minutes, then drain thoroughly and toss in olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper and lemon juice in the baking pan.
Put enough chicken stock in the pan to half cover the potatoes.
Cover the pan with aluminium foil and place in the oven which has been preheated to 350˚ F.
Cook for 40 mins and then test to see if the potatoes are almost done. If they, are add a little more chicken stock so that they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan and cook uncovered for 20 mins to brown them.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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