By Audrey Stallsmith
The Count is neither sad nor sick, nor merry, nor well;
But civil Count--civil as an orange,
And something of that jealous complexion.
William Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing
In referring to the orange as "civil," Shakespeare was actually making a pun on "Seville." (Groan.) At that time, yellow-tinged colors also symbolized jealousy.
The orange was once so rare in poorer, rural sections of this country that children could expect to receive one only at Christmas. In fact, my rural church continued the tradition of passing out oranges along with the holiday candy, long after the fruit had become inexpensive and widely distributed.
"Orange" derives from the Sanskrit nagaranga through the Arabic narang. Originating in southern Asia, the fruit was carried to the Mediterranean by traders around 1500. In Europe, it was originally grown only be the wealthy in conservatories which they renamed orangeries.
Columbus took orange seeds to his New World and planted them on the island of Hispaniola. Once the orange was introduced into Louisiana by the French, the U.S. was destined to become the leading producer of the fruit.
As one of the most quickly absorbed of foods, it's often used to boost a diabetic's blood sugar rapidly in cases of insulin shock. Like the apple, the orange assists the digestion of more fatty foods with which it is consumed. The fruit is also high in Vitamin C, bioflavanoids, and fiber.
The best neroli (orange flower oil), used in perfumes, comes from the blooms of bitter rather than sweet orange. The bitter variety, citrus vulgaris or "common citrus," is both hardier and more strongly scented than the sweet citrus sinensis or "Chinese citrus." So oil distilled from the latter is called neroli petalae to distinguish it from true neroli. Often used in weddings, the white flowers stand for "bridal purity," and the tree for "generosity" in the Language of Flowers.
The lemon, citrus limon, was introduced into the Mideast considerably earlier than the orange, probably around 700 AD, though it reached Italy from India much sooner--around 200. Its name derives from the Arabic limun or limu.
Although British sailers were called Limeys, some argue that their anti-scurvy fruit was actually the lemon. The fruit can supposedly be kept fresh for months if dipped in melted wax or shellac.
Lemon juice is good as a cooling drink for colds and fevers. It soothes a sore throat and slakes thirst, plus relieving gingivitis and tongue irritations. The juice is antiseptic and also "cools" the itch of insect bites.
Slices or wedges of lemon are frequently served as a garnish with fish or tea. Some cooks stabilize whipped cream or turn milk sour with lemon juice.
Housewives used to rub stains on white linens with a mixture of lemon juice and salt, and spread the cloths in the sun to bleach. They also cleaned copper with a lemon slice dipped in salt. The juice will remove stains from the hands or fingernails as well.
Some beauticians recommend a mixture of cream and lemon juice as a wrinkle remover. Lemon peel oil is also a popular ingredient in furniture polishes and detergents for its refreshing scent. The lemon stands for "zest" and its flowers for "fidelity."
The lime, citrus aurantifolia or "citrus with orange-red leaves," also garnishes cocktails or fish dishes. Its fruits were once pickled for use as appetizers, and its juice relieves nausea and cures diarrhea. Fishermen in the Bahamas drink a lime and salt mixture called "Old Sour."
Grapefruit, citrus paradisii or "citrus of parks or gardens", was once known as the forbidden fruit of Barbados. It's now a common breakfast treat or appetizer, often broiled with sugar or honey and spices. As its juice intensifies the action of some drugs, however, it must still remain forbidden to a few!
Citron, citrus medica or "medicinal citrus," most known these days as one of the candied ingredients of fruitcake, was introduced to the Mediterranean world by Alexander the Great. There, the Jews adopted it for use in their Feast of the Tabernacles ceremony, as a replacement for cedar cones.
The dried fruits perfume clothing and repel moths in the Orient. The candied peel flavors plum pudding, sweet rolls, and candy as well as fruitcake. Citron helps relieve motion sickness, pulmonary troubles, and stomach problems. It stands, strangely enough, for "ill-natured beauty."
There is nothing ill-natured about the citrus fruits, however. They do much, in fact, to brighten winter days, when all we Northerners crave a little sun!
Citrus limonum image is from Kohler's Medizinal Pflanzen, courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Library.