Load up on luscious lemons

The lemon is undoubtedly the most widely grown fruit and has the greatest number of uses, including therapeutic, medicinal and cosmetic. At one time, most backyards in Australia featured a lemon tree. Many of these are now veterans, as a carefully tended lemon tree can live for up to 150 years.


From China to California

Early varieties of lemon probably originated in southern China or northern India about 3000 to 4000 years ago. Arab traders in Asia took citrus fruit to the Middle East some time between 400 and 600 BC. During the Arab occupation of Spain, citrus fruits arrived in southern Europe. The Crusaders, who found the fruit growing in Palestine, distributed the lemon throughout Europe. The lemon did not become commonplace until the 16th century, when the fruit was taken from Europe to the New World by Christopher Columbus and Portuguese and Spanish explorers. By the 1800s, citrus fruits had been distributed worldwide by explorers and missionaries. Today, California is probably the largest citrus producer in the world.

The demand for citrus fruits increased greatly after the 1890s when physicians found that drinking the juice of lemons, oranges or other citrus fruits could cure people suffering from scurvy, a vitamin-deficiency disease. Fresh off the tree, the lemon yields juice that is rich in vitamin C (40 per cent), calcium (two per cent), potassium (three per cent) and has smaller amounts of the B vitamins, particularly B1, B2 and B3 (niacin).

The white, spongy inner part of the lemon peel is the chief source of commercial grades of pectin. The pulp yields juice containing citric acid, which might amount to five per cent or more, but this decreases as the lemon becomes overripe.


Growing your own

Depending on the variety, the lemon can be a small tree or straggling bush of the rue family (Rutaceae). It is without the compact, dense foliage of the orange tree. The scent of the purple-ish lemon flower is very pleasant. In a mild climate not subject to frosts, some lemon trees flower continuously and have fruit in all stages of development most of the year. A tree might bear as many as 1500 to 3000 lemons annually.

Many varieties of lemon tree can be recommended for your garden (for example, Eureka, Lisbon, Meyer and Lemonade), but consult your nursery about your particular conditions and requirements.

Citrus trees need a rich, well-drained soil, maximum sun and minimum wind. Plant your tree in late spring when the danger of frost has passed. To prepare the ground for planting, dig about 1.5 kilograms of blood and bone into the site and work it in well. If the tree comes in a container, water it well and leave it for an hour or so before planting. After lowering the plant into the hole you have prepared, fill the hole with soil, pressing down firmly to remove air pockets and ensuring that the soil around the tree is a few centimetres lower than the surrounding soil, in order to hold water. Water the tree every day for a few weeks until the tree is established. Fertilise with a kilogram of blood and bone a few weeks after planting and then use two to three kilograms in spring and autumn once the tree has begun to bear fruit.


To keep your tree looking attractive and bushy, prune it in spring by cutting back the long laterals that bore fruit the previous year. Old, neglected trees can be brought back to their former vitality by cutting them back hard in spring (to 6-8 main limbs) and protecting the exposed limbs from sunburn by painting them with whitewash until the protective leaves begin to grow.

Insect pests and fungus diseases can attack the tree. Among the pests that attack lemon trees are various scale insects. The ladybird beetle eats these pests, so collect these beetles to colonise your garden. A heavy infestation of scale (a soot-like coating on the leaves and fruit) can be dealt with by spraying with white oil during summer (choose a day when the temperature is less than 35° Celsius). Mites are too small to be seen but cause fruit to be misshapen and leaves to be bunched and deformed. Treat them in the same way as scale. Black aphids can create a sticky substance that attracts a soot-like fungus to grow. Spray the tree liberally with soapy water to deter further growth.

Young lemon trees reach fruit-bearing age as early as the third year after planting, and good-sized crops can be expected during the fifth year. (The average orchard yield per tree is 1500 lemons a year.) Because lemons bruise easily, take great care when picking and handling the fruit. Cut through the stem rather than pull the fruit off the tree. If you want the maximum amount of citric acid in the lemons, pick them when fully grown before they become overripe.

Slightly underripe fruit will keep for several months in the crisper compartment of the refrigerator. If the crop is very heavy you can juice the fruit and freeze it in blocks to suit your needs. The peel can also be preserved by drying or candying.


Juicing the benefits

One of the most important properties of the lemon is its ability to stimulate the production of white corpuscles and thereby protect the body from infection. This is immensely valuable for boosting the immune system, protecting the body from disease and also in treating (internally and externally) wounds and infectious diseases. Lemons are also anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

Lemon juice aids digestion by stimulating the production of hydrochloric acid and enzymes in the stomach. Lemon also has a beneficial effect on the liver and gall bladder. The juice (which can be taken with olive oil) is reputed to reduce the size of kidney stones and gallstones.

Taking whole lemon has a beneficial effect on the circulatory system and can be helpful in the treatment of varicose veins and arteriosclerosis. If you drink the following blend first thing every morning, your immunity to disease will also become very strong. Mix together half a chopped lemon (peel, pith and all), a teaspoon of honey and a cup of water in a blender until very fine. Alternatively, you can chew the chopped lemon without making it into a drink.

Acids for arthritis

Drinking lemon juice can ease arthritis, rheumatism and gout, conditions where a buildup of excess uric acid as crystals can cause pain and inflammation in the joints. Despite its acidic nature, lemon can counteract acidity in the body. During digestion the citric acid is neutralised and converted to carbonates and bicarbonate of potassium and calcium; these, in turn, help to create and maintain alkalinity in the body.

To make a lemon rub for arthritis, rheumatism and other joint and muscle pains, chop two to three whole lemons and place them in a jam jar. Top up the jar with rubbing alcohol (available from pharmacies) until the lemons are covered, then fasten the lid firmly. Stand for two weeks, shaking several times a day. Leave the lemons in the jar and use the liquid as a massage rub on sore joints.

Bitter sweet tonic for fever

Fever will be reduced and recovery hastened by drinking lemon juice sweetened with Ginger Honey (see recipe) in hot water during feverish colds or flu or whenever fever is present.

Lemon compress for bleeding

Bleeding can be reduced or stopped by a lemon compress. Fold a piece of cloth into a pad a little bigger than the wound. Put a cup of cold water in a bowl, stir in two tablespoons of lemon juice (or eight drops of lemon essential oil) and dip the cloth into the water. Squeeze until the pad is still wet (but not dripping) and bandage the pad firmly but not too tightly to the wound. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, reapply the compress and seek professional help.

Dental care

As a mouthwash for bleeding gums and tooth sockets after extraction, lemon juice can help to stop excessive bleeding. Hold the juice in your mouth without moving it around and then expel it. This mouthwash will also help to prevent infection. Sore throats can be treated with gargles of lemon juice. Add the juice of one lemon to half a glass of water, then gargle and expel. Repeat hourly.

Caution: When taking lemon juice regularly for any condition, remember that the acid in it will erode tooth enamel, so teeth need to be cleaned thoroughly after using lemon juice.

Boost for skin and hair

Discoloured skin can be lightened by the application of lemon juice in water. Remember that it will also dry the oil from your skin, so use a moisturiser after lemon treatments. Discoloured elbows rested in half lemon shells will become white. Nicotine and other stains can be removed from teeth, fingers and nails by rubbing with lemon juice. Garlic and onion smells will disappear from your hands if a little lemon juice or a cut lemon is rubbed onto them.

Fair hair will be brightened if a lemon juice rinse is used. Remember, though, that the juice also has a drying effect.

The essential oil

Lemon essential oil (Citrus limon), which is among the least expensive oils, is extracted by cold-pressing the fresh peel. The tangy, sweet and refreshing fragrance of a freshly peeled lemon is the hallmark of authentic, cold-pressed lemon essential oil. Among the active constituents of lemon oil are limonene, which is responsible for the oil’s tangy/fruity aroma, and citral, which is responsible for what we recognise as the lemon ‘note’ in the aroma.


Lemon oil is a great moderator for medicinal aromatic oils like tea-tree and eucalyptus. Like many essential oils, the constituents of lemon oil have antiseptic properties. What is noteworthy about lemon oil is that these properties are combined with an aesthetic and delightful aroma, in contrast to some of the strongly antiseptic oils such as tea-tree. Lemon oil is reputed to kill staphylococcus, streptococcus, typhoid and meningitis bacteria.

The aroma of lemon increases concentration and awareness. A Japanese study found that after diffusing lemon oil through a busy office building, typing errors decreased by 54 per cent. Because lemon oil is clarifying and aids the decision-making process, it’s called the ‘rational oil’.

Zest for life

Lemon works on a therapeutic, aesthetic, emotional level. It is associated with the cheerful colour yellow and with warm, penetrating energy. The bright, fresh scent of lemon can always be counted on to help cheer a weary heart. Lemon oil can clear your mind of sluggishness and apathy and brighten your outlook, leaving your mind alert and sharp. Lemon oil is stimulating, uplifting and cleansing. It can dispel negative emotions, mental fatigue and psychological heaviness by creating a cheerful atmosphere of freshness and purity.

The deliciously clean, sharp, fresh fragrance of lemon blends well with benzoin, chamomile, eucalyptus, frankincense, grapefruit, lavender, orange, rosemary, sandalwood, neroli and ylang ylang. By using a blend of all the citrus oils, such as lemon, orange, bergamot, lime and grapefruit, you can obtain the marvellous and irresistible aroma of a citrus orchard in full bloom.

Caution: Aromatherapy oil blends containing strongly medicinal oil s might have a tendency to produce a negative aesthetic or emotional effect in aroma-sensitive people.

Clearing the air

The air in a heated room can become very dry, which in turn can dry your skin. Humidify and freshen the air by putting a few drops of lemon oil blend in a small bowl of water and placing the bowl near the heat source. Lemon oil is also a great deodoriser that can leave a room feeling clean, fresh and bright.

For warts and all

Warts and verrucae can be successfully removed by applying one drop of lemon oil directly onto the wart (avoid the surrounding skin) using a cotton bud. Put a sticking plaster over the wart. Repeat this treatment twice a day until the wart has gone. If the skin is very dry after the treatment is complete, massage gently with a little calendula oil or the contents of a capsule of vitamin E.

Insect bites and stings can be soothed and infection prevented by applying a mixture of four drops of lemon oil in one teaspoon of vegetable oil.

Inflammation can be reduced and pain alleviated by using lemon oil in massage and bath blends.

Beating colds and flu

As an immune system booster and stimulant, lemon oil has traditionally been used to help guard the body against susceptibility to colds and build up resistance to influenza. Sore throats, bronchitis, coughs, throat infections and the symptoms of colds and influenza can be eased if lemon oil is used in inhalations, baths and massage oils for its antibacterial and fever-lowering action. It can energise an aching body and stimulate circulation. Lemon oil clears the head, whether you are suffering from a cold or mental fatigue. Cold sores can be stopped in their tracks by applying one drop of lemon oil directly to the affected site.

Rejuvenating skin and hair

Oily skin and hair will benefit greatly from the astringent and detoxifying action of lemon, which is great for treating blemishes associated with oily skin and for smoothing, toning and contracting skin tissue. Lemon oil also has rejuvenating properties and will brighten dull skin by its bleaching action.

Caution: Lemon oil is powerfully astringent and antiseptic. Because it can cause skin irritation if used by sensitive individuals in dilutions exceeding three per cent, it should not be applied undiluted to skin. Four drops or less of lemon oil should be added to one teaspoon of a carrier oil. Lemon oil can contain up to two per cent furanocoumarin compounds, including bergaptene. These compounds act as photosensitising agents that can increase the skin’s sensitivity to ultraviolet light, causing accelerated burning and skin damage. Do not use lemon oil on your skin in sunlight or under sun lamps.

Ginger honey

1½ cups unprocessed honey
5cm piece ginger root
2 tsp powdered lemon peel (optional)

Cut the ginger root into paper-thin slices and add to the honey in a jar. Add the lemon powder, stir and cover loosely with a lid. Stand the jar in a pan of water and heat until the honey is hot but not boiling. Keep at this temperature for an hour or so. Lift the ginger out of the honey and squeeze to extract as much juice and essential oil as possible.

To use, add one to two teaspoons of ginger honey and the juice of one lemon to a glass of hot water. Drink this tasty brew when you feel a cold coming on or when you have no appetite.

Mood-lifting citrus blend

Essential oils of lemon, mandarin, bergamot and lavender

This balanced blend of inspiring and relaxing oils can have a gently uplifting effect on the emotions. Place a few drops on a handkerchief whenever a ‘boost’ is needed or use the blend in an oil burner or air spray.

Pulse-point blend for ‘brain fatigue’

2 tbsp sweet almond oil
20 drops lemon essential oil
10 drops rosemary essential oil

Place all the ingredients in a bottle and shake to blend. Massage into your temples and forehead and on the pulse points inside your wrists and throat. Alternatively, put a few drops on a tissue and inhale as often as needed.

Lemon mineral bath (4 baths)

8 tbsp sea salt
4 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
8 tbsp Epsom salts
24 drops lemon essential oil
8 drops ylang ylang essential oil
8 drops lavender essential oil

This is the bath to enjoy when you are tense and need to relax but want to stay alert. The blend of oils is a delight, awakening your senses with a clean, sweet fragrance.

Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly. Add the oils one drop at a time until well blended. Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid. To use, pour five tablespoons of the mixture into a bath under running water, making sure the salts are completely dissolved and the oils evenly dispersed.

Lemon moisturising oil for oily skin

4 tbsp grapeseed oil
30 drops evening primrose oil
10 drops carrot essential oil
20 drops lemon essential oil
5 drops juniper essential oil

Place all the ingredients in a bottle and shake to blend. Store in a dark, cool place. Shake before use.

Lemon & lavender hand softener

35g beeswax
4 tbsp almond oil
½ cup olive oil
2 tbsp glycerine
4 drops lemon essential oil

If your hands are really rough, dry and work-worn, use this rich cream during the evening or massage a good amount into your hands before bedtime (wear cotton gloves to protect bedclothes). This hand softener can also be used as a barrier cream if you massage it into your hands before doing dirty jobs.

Melt the first three ingredients gently in a double boiler. Stir in the glycerine until completely blended. Drip the lemon oil into the slightly cooled mixture. Stir the mixture very well, then put in a container.

Brandy lemon conditioner for oily hair

2 tbsp brandy
1 tsp runny honey
1 egg, beaten
3 drops lemon essential oil
skim milk powder

Beat all the ingredients together with enough milk powder to form a soft paste. To use, massage into the hair after shampooing; leave on the hair for a few minutes then rinse lightly with lukewarm water.

Lemon & mint toothpowder

½ teacup bicarbonate of soda
¼ teacup finely ground sea salt
1 tbsp dried lemon rind (yellow part only), finely ground to a powder
1 tbsp dried sage leaves, finely ground to a powder
3 drops lemon essential oil
2 drops peppermint essential oil

The lemon oil in this recipe gives sweet-smelling breath and white teeth. To make, mix all the ingredients except the oils and pass through a fine sieve. Add the oils one drop at a time, stirring constantly. Store in small airtight jars. (Make a separate jar for each member of the family to prevent the spread of mouth infections.)

Information provided by this article is not designed to diagnose or prescribe treatment for any illness or injury. Always consult a medical doctor or complementary health practitioner when suffering a disease, illness or injury or before attempting to self-treat. Keep all the abovementioned products, which can be toxic if misused, out of reach of children.

Nerys Purchon is the author of the Handbook of Aromatherapy (Hodder Headline, 1999) and the Handbook of Natural Healing (Allen & Unwin, 1998).

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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