‘Look at all the life in this,’ she said. ‘Every pip could become a tree, and every tree could bear another hundred fruits and every fruit could bear another hundred trees. And so on to infinity.’ ~ David Almond, Skellig.
The pomegranate is said to be the Tree of Life, and there is speculation as to whether it was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden! Its Latin name literally means ‘seeded apple’. It is a symbol of hope, one of the ‘three blessed fruits’ in Buddhism, and a symbol of resurrection in Christianity.
It has an amazing history and features in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings. Numerous papyrus references state that it was used as a medicine and a food, and refer to it as a religious symbol and a symbol of fertility. Thus it became a food recommended for the childless woman, and was grown in early places of worship. Pomegranates were also said to have grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
I have grown pomegranates all my life. In my childhood we had pomegranate hedges between the houses and our mothers and grandmothers made us juice from the jewel-like fruits, and that fed my soul!
The little trees need to be spaced two to three metres apart, closer if you want a hedge. Plant each tree in a large, deep hole filled with good, old compost mixed with topsoil. Add a cup of rock dust, sprinkled around the hole, as you sink the tree into it. Fill the hole with water to wet the roots thoroughly; then build a ‘dam’ around it to retain water. I find that sinking a metre-long, wide plastic pipe into the hole at an angle helps to get water deep down to the roots. Insert a hose into the pipe once a week. Water at least three times a week in the summer and once or twice a week in winter. Dig in a small barrow of compost around each tree, three times a year, to ensure a good fruiting crop. The spring flowers are vividly orange and indicate a rich harvest. We sell the little trees throughout the summer, reminding each buyer of their blessing and symbolism of life, longevity, fertility and wisdom.
Strip off a short twig with a little ‘heel’ and press it carefully into a pot or bag of moist, rich soil. Keep it shaded and protected, and water daily or on alternate days, depending on how well the soil holds moisture. The young tree should be ready for planting in about three years. There is something infinitely satisfying about propagating pomegranates.
HARVESTING AND PROCESSING
Dry the ripe seeds spread out on a tray in a warm place. Shake the tray daily to ensure even drying and, once dry, store the seeds in a glass screw-top jar. It is easier to separate the ruby-coloured seeds from the white internal membranes in a bowl of water, as the seeds sink and the membranes float.
Pressed pomegranate juice, drunk immediately after juicing and with no sugar or preservatives added, is like drinking gold – it is so valuable for all age groups. Eat a teaspoonful or two of the sun-dried seeds daily and add them to seed and spice mixes. In a grinder, mix equal quantities of dried pomegranate seeds, coriander seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Grind this over plain breakfast yoghurt or porridge; in this way you can enjoy pomegranate seeds all year round. The brilliant fresh seeds can be sprinkled on salads and fruit salads, and are used in smoothies and beverages, in baking, and as a food garnish. The taste ranges from sweet to sour, depending on ripeness and cultivar.
Ancient Greek physicians used pomegranate juice and seeds to treat bronchitis, as an anti-inflammatory, as a cough suppressant and for diarrhoea and dysentery. Medical research today confirms all the above uses, as well as pomegranate’s benefit in cases of night sweats, atherosclerosis, asthma, tonsillitis and chest ailments. It also strengthens the capillaries and, surprisingly, activates bone regeneration. I use it in my skin creams to clear acne, to regenerate the skin, to give it a glow, and to soothe sunburn.
Pomegranate is rich in antioxidants and is a superb treatment for prostate problems, particularly prostate cancer, and it slows the rate of tumour formation. The fruit and juice are simply incredible during menopause and post-menopause, and the dried seed contains oestrogen-type compounds. Researchers have found that the ellagic acid in fresh pomegranate seed juice helps to prevent the earliest chemical reactions within the body that may lead to breast cancer, particularly in families where breast cancer is a reality, and scientists and doctors have recorded reduced incidence of breast cancer with pomegranate intake. Pomegranate seeds are rich in antioxidants.
- Plant: Shrub, small tree
- Height: Up to 3 m
- Soil: Thrives in a deep, compost-filled hole
- Exposure: Full sun, light shade
- Propagation: Cuttings, seeds
Roberts M. 100 new herbs. Struik Nature. 2015.