The true beginnings of lemon tree oil are a bit mysterious to historians, however there is some documentation of the tree being introduced to new cultures. As common as the fruit and oil are today, it may be surprising to learn that for years the tree was only grown as a decoration and the fruit was left on the tree. But once the fruit’s versatility was discovered, cultivation began and the lemon business has not slowed down since. Lemon oil itself continues to become more popular each year, most likely due to the public’s search for more natural treatments and the support of scientific studies.
Lemon In History
There is no discovery date for lemons but the tree and its fruit pop up often in historical texts, leaving behind a trail as they were introduced to new lands and cultures. It took quite some time for the healing powers of lemon oil to be discovered and the tree remained as a decorative plant for years. Their first mention in historical text is in 90 BC, where lemons were pelted at a high priest during a festival in Jerusalem. Lemons were introduced to southern Italy around the first century AD. By 700 AD they had spread to Persia, Iraq and Egypt. The first mention of lemons in literature was in a 10th century Arabic treatise on farming.
In 1747, James Lind, a Scottish physician, conducted experiments on seamen suffering from scurvy. He took a group of twelve sailors who were ill and divided them into six groups. One group received cider each day while another received twenty five drops of sulfuric acid. The third group was given six spoonfuls of vinegar each day and the fourth drank half a pint of seawater daily. The fifth group was given two oranges and one lemon per day and the last group drank barley water. The experiment was short lived because of a shortage of fruit but within a week, the group with the oranges and lemon were nearly healed while the other groups saw little to no improvement.
In 1931, Maude Grieve, Principal and Founder of The Whins Medicinal and Commercial Herb School and Far in Buckinghamshire, England, wrote in an herbal medicine book, stating, “The lemon is the most valuable of all fruit for preserving health.” This statement was made before aromatherapy was established so knowledge of the oil was very limited. She went on to say, “The oil is not very active, and is used chiefly for flavoring.” This was obviously an incorrect statement, as scientific studies have proven that the oil found in the rind of the fruit is very beneficial, more so than the flesh and juice of the fruit some may argue.
Where Lemon Trees Have Been Grown
Lemon trees are thought to have first been grown in India and slowly traveled throughout the Middle East and Europe through migration and trade. The tree wasn’t widely cultivated for commercial purposes until around 1150 in the Mediterranean region. Even then, Europe didn’t embrace the fruit for culinary uses until the 15th century. When Christopher Columbus reached Hispaniola in 1493, he introduced lemon seeds to the new land, where they were planted for ornamental and medical purposes. By 1751, lemon trees were being grown commercially in California and by the 1800s they were being grown in Florida. Florida ceased its lemon production after a devastating freeze that began in 1894. Florida was importing lemons from Sicily in the 1950s for oil production and frozen lemon concentrate but as the demand for both products rose, Florida began to cultivate lemon trees again. By 1975, nearly nine thousand acres in central Florida were filled with lemon trees. They experienced another freeze in 1980 that destroyed nearly half of the crop but bounced back quickly.
At about the same time that Florida had started producing lemons again, Arizona developed its own lemon orchards after seeing California’s success. From 1956-1957 Arizona produced eleven million gallons of frozen lemon concentrate. At the time, California and Arizona were the top two lemon producing states. California still produces nearly all of the United States’ lemons but in recent years, many lemon orchards have begun to transition to growing oranges due to foreign competition.
In the late 1990s, Guatemala began developing commercial lemon orchards with the goal of selling the produce for essential oil production. Their plans also included dehydrating the fruit and making a juice producing powder with it. Their lemon orchards have had a large impact on their economy.
Today, the top ten countries that produce lemons include, in no particular order, Turkey, Spain, United States, Iran, Italy, India, Mexico, People’s Republic of China, Argentina and Brazil. Lemons are still picked by hand and there is an art to harvesting the fruit. They can’t be picked when they are wet and are usually taken off of the tree when they are still green. The fruit eventually turns yellow and the pulp gets juicier while the produce is in transit to either stores or an oil production facility.
Lemon Oil Today
Lemon essential oil is often referred to as “liquid sunshine” by users today, due to its color and refreshing smell. Many outdoorsmen swear by the oil, since it provides helpful bursts of energy and also can be used to purify water and hands.
More common uses of the oil today are based on aromatherapy. The oil can help with stress, anxiety, mental and physical fatigue, concentration and cognitive function. Many businesses have embraced the practice of diffusing lemon oil throughout the office, especially after a Japanese study showed that the presence of lemon oil via a diffuser cut errors by 54%.
Others use lemon oil for its skin and hair benefits while others use it to treat some serious conditions, such as kidney stones and fungal infections. With each passing year, more success stories and positive studies are told, making lemon oil one of the most used essential oils on the market today.