CITRON ( CITRUS MEDICA) - AMAZING FRUIT: HEALTH BENEFITS, USES AND HISTORY OF CITRON
CITRON, CITRUS MEDICA
Citron is not a citrus fruit that you may be familiar with as it is seldom seen in its fresh state. It is grown commercially for its peel which is candied and used in cakes, puddings, biscuits and sold as candied peel to home bakers. It looks generally like an overgrown lumpy-skinned lemon, although the strange “fingered” citron is like a hand. This variety has only a little pulp and is grown for its peel alone. There are three basic types of citron, the ones which have purplish flowers and are very acid, the sweet variety which has white flowers and the third kind which is bitter but pulpless. The green immature fruits are picked for candying purposes, not the yellow-skinned ripe fruits which take three months to ripen.
It has a long history and is believed to have originated in the Indian subcontinent where wild ones still grow, but it was cultivated in Medea, in the Persian Empire in 4,000 BC as seeds have been discovered in Nippur and ancient Babylonian city which dates from that time. It is thought that the citron is the oldest of the cultivated citrus fruits, and is in the orange sub-class of the Rutaceae family, although it does seem to the untrained eye and nose to be more of a lemon.
The citron has a very long and somewhat complicated history as it is connected to the Jewish ritual of the Feast of the Tabernacle, during which Moses ruled that the cedar cone should be used, in Greek this was kedros. The Greeks called the citron they grew in their colonies in Palestine kedromelon, and so when the cedar cone fell out of favour for use during the Feast, the citron was used in its place. The Romans called the fruit the Malus medica, meaning apple of the Medes and later Malum citreum, citrus apple and we know that it was cultivated in Medea between 700 and 500 BC. This Greek cultivar is and was known as the Etrog citron and this was the variety best known in Europe in the Middle Ages. It was used to quell seasickness, for stomach disorders and other intestinal disorders, as well as the juice with wine being used as a purgative and an antidote to poison.
Dioscorides knew about it in the 1st century AD and so did Pliny although it is also mentioned by Theophrastus around 346 BC. This gives rise to the belief that Alexander the Great and his army introduced it to Greece and the Mediterranean. In AD 300 it appears in Chinese writings which describe a gift of 40 Chinese bushels of the fruit being received as a gift from the Roman Empire. It has been described in writings of 301 AD as being a commercial food item in Rome and a staple.
Most of the citron trees have evergreen, long leathery leaves and the trees grow from 8 feet to 15 feet high. The fruit can be oblong or oval and it is fragrant. However it can vary in size and shape even when grown on the same branch.
The Spaniards are thought to have taken the citron to Florida and it was introduced into Puerto Rico in 1640. Commercial citron producing began in California in the 1880s but was abandoned after cold weather damaged crops, so the industry only lasted for around 30 years. The fruit is still commercially produced in Puerto Rico, where it is pulped and sent in brine to Europe and the USA to be candied. It can be seen in Florida, where it is grown as a curiosity. It is not the hardiest of citrus trees and is susceptible to fungus and cold.
It still grows in the Greek islands, particularly in Crete, Naxos and Corfu. The old citron factory in Halki, Naxos, has been turned into a citron museum and visitors can see how the fruit is processed. It also grows on the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily and the French island of Corsica, where it has a long history of cultivation. It is also grown in the Caribbean and South America, and in the Indian subcontinent, although it is not extensively cultivated in these regions.
In India the fruit is pickled, while the peel flavours rice in Indonesia, where the peel is also eaten raw. The fruits are made into jams, marmalades and fruit bars, and in Spain the peel is used to flavour otherwise unpalatable medicines. In China and Japan the whole fruit is used to perfume the air of a room and may be carried around by people. Dried fruits act as moth repellants in clothes and household linen. (They smell better than moth balls.)In some of the Pacific Islands oil is distilled from the twigs and leaves of the citron trees, which is called “Cedrat Petitgrain oil” and is used in the perfume industry. The flowers also yield an oil after distillation which is also used in this industry to a more limited extent. Citron is also used to flavour some vodka. In India the wood from the trees is used for agricultural implements and walking sticks as it is hard and durable.
It has been used in traditional medicine systems for centuries and the essential oil from the peel is thought to have antibiotic properties. In India and Pakistan the seeds from the fruit are used to expel internal parasites, and a decoction of the shoots of the wild trees are used for stomach problems and in Malaysia, the decoction is sprinkled around homes to get rid of evil spirits. The fresh peel is eaten to stop bad breathe and used in cases of dysentery, while in China, the candied peel is used to improve digestion, as an expectorant and tonic.
An infusion made from the leaves is believed to be anti-spasmodic, and good for cramps.
Citron contain ascorbic acid which converts to vitamin C in the body and three of the B-complex vitamins, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, iron, and also carotene.
In Iran a tisane is made from the leaves and the fruit is used to flavour fruit salads, and it can also be found in marinades for meat. The Musk citron may be a cross between a lemon and a citron, as it has very thin peel and very acid juice. This one is also known as the Bajana, but there are many varieties of this fruit which is not as widely known as other citrus fruits such as the grapefruit, pomelo, lemon and orange.