The fascination and love of pomegranates goes back at least to the beginnings of human history. The plant was first domesticated during the Neolithic period about 12,000 years ago and carbonized pomegranate seeds have been excavated at Middle Eastern sites.
Botanically, the pomegranate is classified as a berry. The plants are capable of self-pollination, but cross-pollination produces a significantly higher fruit yield. The trees grow best in arid conditions and underground stems (xylopodes) can store nutrients that are available to replenish the plant following harsh environmental circumstances. The edible parts of the fruit are the seeds, covered with a blood-red, juicy, sweet-sour flesh. When the fruit is ripe, the rinds split open, releasing and distributing seeds. Besides eating, the fruit has other uses. Pomegranate rinds have been used to tan leather; flowers produce a red dye, and roots a black dye. Pomegranate trees are usable for only about 15 years. The author even includes instructions on how to eat a pomegranate.
In folk medicine, pomegranates were used for treating wounds, pain relief, and helping with diabetes, headaches, heart disease, ulcers, depression and many other medical needs.
Today, the juice of the best known pomegranate variety, “Wonderful,” has been shown to be high in anti-oxidants, dietary fiber, and vitamins. It has anti-cancer and anti-HIV properties. It is commonly found in a variety of foods such as ice cream, jellies, salad dressings, soft drinks and many others. The cosmetics industry uses pomegranate in skin care products because of its sun-protection, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Pomegranates are cultivated in many countries including the United States, with California one of the major producers. Interestingly, for many countries the tasty fruit is a source of national pride more as a cultural symbol than for its economic value.
Pomegranates are significant in the mythology of several cultures. The book follows the importance of these fruits in complex, fascinating stories of mythical gods, changing of seasons, secret rituals, masculinity and femininity, and wars. Probably because of the blood red color, the pomegranate often turns up in mentions of blood functions and bloodshed. Pomegranates are found in many of the tales of the Arabian Nights. Other fairy tales from places such as Turkey and Iran feature the fruit in sexually-charged stories of royalty, romance and weddings.
In ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and other near eastern countries, the pomegranate appears in literature in the form of narratives, some of whose texts are sexual allegories. An Egyptian papyrus recommends the use of pomegranates to manage tapeworms. This may have been a fairly effective treatment since the fruit's alkaline quality would paralyze the tapeworm's nervous system. A cuneiform document reveals an account of using pomegranates for paying rent. Pomegranates are also found in much of the region's art. Historical, religious and symbolic activities are seen in seals, friezes, vases, plates, and other creations featuring pomegranates.
Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol of righteousness, knowledge, and wisdom. Torah scrolls are usually decorated with a pair of pomegranate-shaped finials. Islamic tradition teaches that people eating pomegranates have hearts filled with light, making them free from sin and able to resist Satan's temptations.
Many more examples of the pomegranate in history and culture are explained in detail in this book. Even today, pomegranates show up in many cultures. In Azerbaijan, the people hold an annual pomegranate fair that features many events including a pomegranate eating contest. In Iran, the “ruby from paradise” is celebrated with festivities including art displays and pomegranate dances. In American pop culture, singer Katy Perry uses a pomegranate for lipstick in a music video and singer Adam Lambert's video for “Better Than I Know Myself” shows him crushing a pomegranate with spewing juice coming from his hand.
Though limited in the biological features and heavy on the historic and cultural aspects of pomegranates, the short captivating book is fun to read and is beautifully illustrated with colorful photographs. It is part of a large book series called “Edible,” published by Reaktion Books. Special features are an extensive listing of pomegranate cultivars and a selection of historical and modern recipes for the fruit. The narrative is thoroughly researched, featuring a comprehensive list of references. It also contains a list of print and online resources and a modest index.