The pomegranate is one of civilization’s oldest cultivated foods, dating as far back as 4,000 BC Hailing from Persia—modern day Iran—and the Western Himalayas, the pomegranate has been an integral part of the human diet since ancient times. The name pomegranate comes from a Medieval Latin term meaning “seeded apple.” It has been mentioned in many ancient texts such as the Quran, the Book of Exodus in the Torah, and the Mesopotamian records; remnants of pomegranates were even “taken to the afterlife” by ancient Egyptians including famous royals like King Tut.
Pomegranates were adored in ancient Egypt and served many uses. Not only were pomegranates one of the ancients’ major sources of food, but they also used its juice to kill parasites in the body—such as intestinal worms. They used the blossom to make red dye and the peel to dye leather. This is only one example of a civilization from millennia ago that demonstrates the pomegranate’s reputation as a highly regarded superfruit. Pomegranates also played a major role in the story of Persephone (daughter of Zeus, in Greek mythology), and in the Bible it has been speculated that the forbidden fruit eaten by Eve was, in fact, a pomegranate. The pomegranate is considered a blessed fruit in Buddhism, and it represents sanctity, fertility, and abundance in Judaism. Indeed, pomegranates have truly proven to spread their wealth of benefits to people and places throughout the world.
As the fruit started to migrate, it found its way further east to places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Russia. Settlers and traders then introduced poms to Korea, Japan, and Latin and North America, where they’re still grown extensively today.
Pomegranates in Traditional Medicine
You can trace the history of the pomegranate’s use for medicinal purposes back four millennia. Since then, traditional healers have experimented with all parts of the plant: seeds, leaves, juice, flowers, bark, roots, and skin. Ancient Indian ayurvedic medicine used pomegranates to lower fever, and the Greeks used the flowers to treat diabetes. The Greeks also used the root and bark to stop bleeding, treat dysentery, and heal ulcers.
Modern Pomegranate Perks
Although the healing power of the pomegranate goes back ages, its extensive list of health properties is only now truly beginning to be discovered.
The fruit of the pomegranate grows from a deciduous shrub. The fruit, slightly larger than a lemon, contains hundreds of juicy, edible seeds—also known as arils—which are encapsulated in a white pith. Consumed raw, the sweet—but tart—seeds are the most desired part of the pomegranate, and contain an abundance of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. You can also enjoy the perks of poms through juice, syrup, paste, supplements, and nectar.
Low in calories and rich in both soluble and insoluble dietary fibers, the seeds are thought to aid in weight management. Like any other food rich in dietary fiber, such as whole wheat, the seeds could help reduce the risk of chronic disease development and manage weight issues. Along with fiber, the fruit contains many other essential vitamins and minerals including vitamins K, B6, and C; and copper, magnesium, and potassium.
Pomegranates also contain a compound found only within its fruit called punicalagin. By drinking the juice of pomegranates regularly, this antioxidant compound has been shown to have positive effects on the heart and blood vessels because it helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure. In addition, it acts as a natural blood thinner, thus increasing the speed of dissolve for heart blockages and blood clots. Pomegranates also supply iron to the blood, which in turn reduces anemia and other iron-deficiency symptoms. Another gain to consuming pom juice is dental hygiene: The fruit has the ability to reduce dental plaque, and its antioxidant and antibacterial properties help protect against many oral diseases.
Apigenin, another compound found within the pom, acts similarly to progesterone and helps counterbalance estrogen. By maintaining progesterone levels, this compound supports cholesterol health, healthy fat metabolism, a good libido, and strong bones.
Thought that was all? The list of benefits goes on. Along with positive effects on the blood and heart, animal studies have shown the pom contains phytochemicals that restrain certain types of cancer such as breast, prostate, and colon by preventing vascular changes that promote tumor growth. Tests are currently taking place to discover the extensive effects of pomegranates on cancer in humans.
For older generations, pomegranates can aid in age-related ailments. The fruit can help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, control wrinkles, and can even help women overcome post-menopausal depression.
The Safe Fruit
The possibility for a negative reaction to consuming the seeds or juice of the pom are very low. It is deemed mostly safe for just about everyone. Those who should consider avoiding the fruit include diabetics, whose blood sugar could spike if juice with added sugar is consumed. Pregnant women should also take caution because juices and supplements may contain traces of the fruit’s rind. And lastly, people who take statins while also consuming pomegranate juice may experience muscle-deteriorating side effects. Avoid using them together until you’ve spoken with your doctor.
The next time you’re in the produce aisle, channel your inner goddess and reach for a pomegranate. You might even find the fruit tastes a little better now that you know the truth about its world-class health benefits.