BY BARBARA STORZ
In recent years, research into the health benefits of pomegranate has spurred interest in cultivating the fruit.
Pomegranate (Punica granatum) is native to the Middle East and has been cultivated in the Mediterranean and North Africa for more than 5,000 years.
Pomegranate does best in a Mediterranean-type climate with mild winters and long, hot and dry growing seasons. In the United States, areas of California and Arizona have been the primary commercial production areas, but Texas A&M University has been running research trials on cultivars suitable for parts of Texas.
Pomegranate trees are long-lived (upwards to 200 years); however, prime production is between three to 15 years. The fruit is used both fresh and both in juice mixtures and in cooking. Some varieties do not produce fruit or produce only small quantities. Still, these varieties have desirable flowers and the cultivars are grown for ornamental use. The Jesuit missionaries introduced pomegranate to Mexico and it is likely that the first pomegranate in our area were grown from cultivars south of the border.
Pomegranate flowers and fruit come in a variety of colors, ranging from white to red with many shades of orange and pink in between. The fruit contains a white, spongy tissue with sacs filled with edible, sweetly tart and juicy pulp called arils. Each sac contains a soft or hard seed, depending on the cultivator.
The health benefits of pomegranate are numerous and many consider it a “super food.” Pomegranate is very high in Vitamin C and Vitamin K and is rich in fiber, minerals and bio active plant compounds with powerful medicinal properties. Most of the Vitamin B complex is also in pomegranate. It has impressive anti-inflammatory properties that are especially active in the digestive tract. Pomegranate may help fight several cancers, including breast cancer.
Pomegranate also is believed to be active in reducing high blood pressure and in blocking inflammation that damages joints in people with osteoarthritis. While researchers have just begun to discover the many benefits of pomegranate, residents of South Texas can enjoy locally grown, freshly harvested pomegranate.
Producers at the Growing Growers Farmers Market will have fresh pomegranate today along with a full array of vegetables, herbs and summer fruits, including dragon fruit and grassfed lamb, goat’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses, eggs and baked goods. This market is open 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays in Firemen’s Park, on the corner of 1st Street and Business 83 in McAllen.
Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can listen to her garden show at 7 a.m. Saturdays on 710 KURV Radio. Contact her through email at [email protected]