You know the song, 'lemon tree very pretty ... but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat'. Well, we know that is not true! But what else can we do with this fruit? You may be surprised as to how many uses this little beauty actually has hidden beneath (and within!) that tough exterior. Let's explore, shall we?
It’s no mystery where lemon juice comes from, but the history of the sour, yellow fruit that produces the juice is fascinating. Citrus trees are some of the oldest fruiting trees. Some scientists put their origin at nearly 8 million years ago. They seem to have originated in the foothills of the Himalayas, and lemon itself is a hybrid of other citrus fruits (likely citron, sour orange, and pomelo).(1)
Lemon as a cultivated fruit didn’t start spreading widely until around 1000 AD. It became popular in the Mediterranean region and made its way to the Middle East and China. At first, most cultures viewed lemon trees as an ornamental plant and a novelty. Eventually, they began to use the fruit for culinary purposes and discovered its fresh flavor and health benefits.
Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing lemon seeds to the Americas, specifically Hispaniola, where the trees would eventually be grown on a large scale in California and Florida.
Besides its flavor, lemons are probably most well known for their vitamin C content. It was this vitamin (also known as ascorbic acid) that was famously used in the 1700s to cure scurvy. Scurvy is a nasty disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. It involves symptoms like tooth decay, detached gums, hemorrhaging, and ulcerations. Fortunately for the British Royal Navy, James Lind discovered that fresh lemons and oranges could prevent and treat this sickness that was plaguing sailors.(2)
Lemon juice also contains potassium, magnesium, folate, vitamin B6, and other trace nutrients.
Boosts Your Immunity
Besides preventing scurvy, vitamin C is critical for the overall health of your immune system. Vitamin C strengthens your immune system and can make you more resistant to infectious diseases. It can also help shorten the duration of certain sicknesses, including the common cold. This is one of the reasons vitamin C is frequently recommended when you get sick.(3)
There are other superfruits with a higher content of vitamin C than lemons, but they are still one of the most affordable and available ways to boost your vitamin intake and immune system.
A cup of lemon juice contains more than the recommended daily value of vitamin C. Drinking a cup or two of lemon water daily will boost your intake nicely.
Helps Prevent Kidney Stones
Lemon juice is a secret weapon for preventing kidney stone formation. Kidney stones form when waste products crystallize rather than getting flushed out of your system. They cause symptoms like back pain, nausea, and vomiting. When taken regularly, the citric acid in lemon juice increases urine volume and raises urine pH, which are both factors that can prevent kidney stones from forming.(4)
One long-term study completed over a 4-year period evaluated the effects of lemonade on participants who frequently got kidney stones. The results showed that the lemonade therapy dropped the average kidney stones per year from 1 all the way down to 0.13.(5)
Another study indicated that lemon juice may also help with the symptoms of already formed kidney stones.(6)
From the studies done so far, ½ cup of lemon juice a day may help prevent kidney stone formation. Drink it mixed with water to make the acid less of a problem for your teeth.
Boosts Iron Absorption
Iron is an important nutrient found in the red blood cells in your body. Iron deficiency (anemia) leads to energy loss and other symptoms. Lemons aren’t high in iron themselves, but they can boost the absorption of iron from other foods due to their vitamin C and citric acid content.(7, 8)
Add a squeeze of lemon juice to your food (especially legumes!) to help your body better absorb their iron content.
Anti-Aging Properties and Boosts Heart Health
There are many diseases associated with aging. As we age, our bodies continue to undergo oxidative stress, something that has been linked to things like cancer and
other chronic diseases. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that can prevent and protect against oxidative damage to tissues. Getting enough of it can decrease your chance of getting an age-related disease.(9)
Lemon juice is a great source of both vitamin C and antioxidants and has especially shown an ability to decrease your risk factors for heart disease. Specific plant compounds found in citrus, along with their fiber content, have shown heart-protective properties.(10, 11)
And lemon juice keeps getting better because another compound found in it, hesperidin, has shown an ability to lower cholesterol.(12)
Incorporate lemon juice into your daily diet by squeezing it fresh to make lemon
water or lemonade. Keep the pulp in it to get the added benefit of fiber.
Keeps Your Skin Healthy-Looking
Aging isn’t just something that happens inside your body. Skin is our largest organ, and it’s often where signs of age show up first.
Free radical damage from the sun and pollutants in the environment cause premature aging- things like wrinkles, thin skin, and sun spots.(13)
Antioxidants are thought to be the main line of defense against free radicals that cause skin damage. Vitamin C, specifically, is an antioxidant that works at the cellular level to fight signs of aging and prevent more damage from happening.(14, 15)
If you have an uneven skin tone or hyperpigmentation, vitamin C can reduce pigmentation and redness, and even out your skin. This is the science behind using lemon juice to lighten skin (an old trick).(16)
And though you can apply lemon juice to your skin, studies have shown that it can be just as effective for skin health when taken as part of your diet.(17)
Try a lemon juice face mask by mixing the freshly squeezed juice with soaked, ground chia seed. Leave the mask on for 10-15 minutes before rinsing it completely off. Keep in mind that lemon can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so try the mask in the evening if possible. You can also drink 1-3 cups of lemon water a day or incorporate it into your diet another way.
Supports Digestion and Detoxification
Warm or hot lemon water has become a popular beverage for starting the day. Ayurvedic medicine teaches that the sourness of lemon helps to jump start your digestion and improve the naturally detoxifying processes of your body.
Studies show that the citric acid in lemon juice is a key part of its digestive support because it supports healthy liver function. Bile production happens in the liver and is needed for the breakdown of fats during the digestive process.(18)
Drinking lemon water also encourages your kidneys to keep flushing toxins out through your urine, further helping your body to detox.(19)
Squeeze half of a lemon into a mug and fill it up with warm or hot water. Drink it first thing in the morning or between meals during the day.
May Support Weight Loss
Switching out high calorie drinks for something like lemon juice can certainly help you lose weight, but there may be more to lemons than just fewer calories.
Animal and lab studies have shown that certain compounds in lemon extracts can either prevent or reduce weight gain.
Human studies have yet to be undertaken, but adding lemon to your diet is a simple trick to help manage your weight.(20, 21)
Drink 1-3 cups of lemon water a day
Reduces Nausea and Morning Sickness
Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms during pregnancy and happen to most of us from time to time. Lemon juice is an old remedy that has proven itself to be effective at reducing nausea. Studies have shown that lemon can help with both nausea and vomiting just by inhalation alone.(22)
Drink some lemon and ginger tea to calm nausea, or simply inhale the fragrance
of a freshly cut lemon.
Rinse for Shiny Hair
Rinsing with a lemon juice solution after washing your hair will give it shine and bring life to dull hair. You can also make a lemon juice scrub to massage into your scalp to exfoliate and cleanse.
Mix the juice from one lemon with 8 oz. of water. After shampooing, pour the rinse over your hair and massage it in before rinsing out. Or make a scalp scrub with lemon juice, soaked chia seed and sea salt.
Polish Pots, Pans, and Utensils
The acidic nature of lemon juice makes it a natural cleaner and polisher. It can bring discolored pots and utensils back to shiny newness, even working on chinaware and marble countertops. Lemon juice can also get stains and mineral deposits out of coffee makers, tea kettles, faucets, dishes, and storage containers.
Cut a lemon in half and rub in on aluminum pans, discolored utensils, and chrome faucets. Wipe with a cloth or rinse in cool water. Dip the cut side of the lemon in salt to make a more abrasive “scrub” for tougher stains.
Get Rid of Odors
Lemon juice is particularly helpful for odors that are difficult to get rid, like fish smell or onion odor. It can also help to clean kitchen surfaces and cutting boards while deodorizing them at the same time.
Cut a lemon in half and rub it on your hands, counters, or cutting boards that have a lingering odor. Let wooden cutting boards simply absorb the juice, but wipe or rinse off other surfaces after the lemon juice has sat for about 10 minutes. To freshen the air, simply simmer a pot of water and lemon slices on the stove for a few hours.
Brighten White Laundry
Lemon juice naturally brightens and whitens and is a less harsh choice than bleach when it comes to laundry. The fresh, clean scent of lemon is also a nice addition to wash water.
Add a cup of lemon juice to wash water when you do a load of white clothes that
need brightened. For especially dingy socks, soak them overnight in a solution of lemon slices and just boiled water.
Soften Hardened Paint Brushes
Lemon juice can actually save paint-hardened brushes. Bring a mixture of water and cut lemons or pure lemon juice to a boil in a large pot. Dip the brushes in, then turn off the heat and let the bristles soak for 15 minutes in the lemon juice. Wash with soapy water and let them dry.
Well now, how is that for useful!
Now when life gives you lemons, you will know how to best use them! Enjoy!
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NOTE: This post was originally published on our blog in 2022