Lemons first grew in India

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A Letter From Grandpa
Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached at nshah32@hotmail.com

By Niranjan Shah
My dear Nikita and Sanjna:

William Harten Gilbert wrote in Peoples of India: “In the history of human culture, the contribution of the Indian people in all fields  has been  of the greatest importance. From India we are said to  have derived domestic poultry, shellac, lemons, cotton, jute, rice, sugar, indigo, the buffalo, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, sugarcane, the game of chess, Pachisi, Polo, the zero concept, the decimal system, the basis of certain philological concepts, a wealth of fables with moral import, an astonishing variety of artistic products, and innumerable ideas in philosophy and religion such as asceticism and monasticism.”

The exact origin of the lemon has remained a mystery, though it is widely presumed that lemons first grew in India. In South Asia and South East Asia, it was known for its antiseptic properties and it was used as an antidote for various poisons. Lemons entered Europe (near southern Italy) no later than the first century AD, during the time of ancient Rome. However, they were not widely cultivated. It was later introduced to Persia and then to Iraq and Egypt around 700 AD. The lemon was first recorded in literature in a 10th century Arabic treatise on farming, and was  also  used as an ornamental plant in early Islamic gardens. It was distributed widely throughout the Arab world and the Mediterranean region between 1000 AD and  1150 AD. The genetic origin of the lemon, however, was reported to be hybrid  between sour orange and citron.

Julia F. Morton writes in Lemon: Fruits of warm climates. pages 160-168: “The exact origin of the lemon is unclear but it is thought to have originated in Southeast Asia (known as Greater India before World War II) where they have been cultivated for around 4,000 years as some old Oriental writings would testify. The citron was carried to the Middle East between 400 BC and 600 BC but it was the Arab traders in Asia, who introduced lemons to eastern Africa and the Middle East between 100 AD and 700 AD.” 

Muna wa Wanjiru writes in The True Origin Of The Lemon Tree Remains A Mystery: “The true origin of the lemon tree remains a mystery, though speculations are possible. Presently, it is known for its wide spread in the Mediter-ranean area, but scientists claim it may have been brought from India. One thing is for sure, the lemon tree was already cultivated by the Romans as early as 200 AD, then it reached the north of Africa, the Arab world and it extended across the Atlantic from the middle of the 18th century. In the United States, Florida is known for its large lemon tree orchards, this area being responsible for most of the lemon exports the country makes.”

The first real lemon cultivation in Europe began in Genoa in the middle of the 15th century. It was later introduced to the Americas in 1493 when Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds to Hispaniola along his voyages. Spanish conquest throughout the New World helped spread lemon seeds. It was mainly used as ornament and medicine. In 1700s and late 1800s, lemons were increasingly planted in Florida and California when lemons began to be used in cooking and flavoring.

The etymological path of the word lemon suggests that the word came to Europe from Middle East. One of the earliest occurrences of lemon is found in a Middle English customs document of 1420-1421, which draws from the Old French limon, thence the Italian limone, from the Arabic laymun or Persian limun came from Indian word Limbu. Thus, India is the origin of word lemon. It is like Arabic numbers, eventhough they are called Arabic, to Arabs they came from India. Arabs were always the middle men.

India tops the production    list with 16 percent of the world’s overall lemon and lime output followed by Mexico 14.5 percent, Argen-tina 10 percent, Brazil 8 percent and Spain 7 percent. Of the overall world production of  13,032,388 tons, India produces 2,060,000  tons, Mexico 1,880,000 tons, Argentina 1,260,000 tons, Brazil 1,060,000 tons, Spain 880,000 tons, China 745,000 tons, USA 722,000  tons, Turkey 706,652 tons, Iran 615,000 tons, and Italy 546,584 tons.
— Grandpa’s blessing

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