In today’s article, we delve into how to cultivate pomegranate and explore the properties of this fruit, also known as pomegranate or granatum. This fruit, cherished for its sweet taste and diverse healing properties, holds a significant place in autumn harvests. We will not only cover the organic methods of pomegranate cultivation, but also dive into the fruit’s history, including its legendary origins. Additionally, we will unravel the numerous health benefits of its pulp.
Pomegranate cultivation is remarkably resilient, requiring minimal care. This makes it a favorite choice for home gardens and orchards.
Pomegranate Cultivation: Blending History and Legend
The pomegranate plant, Punica granatum, belongs to the Punicaceae family and exhibits both shrubby and tree-like behavior. Pomegranate cultivation traces its roots back to ancient times and is believed to have originated in southwestern Asia. The Phoenicians were the pioneers in appreciating pomegranate juice and spreading the plant throughout the Mediterranean. The Romans, during the Punic Wars, began importing it. The scientific nomenclature has Roman origins, derived from the Latin “punicum” (Carthaginian), combining the words “malum” (apple) and “granatum” (full of seeds).
The Myth of Persephone
Even before the Romans, the Greeks were well-acquainted with **pomegranate cultivation**. The fruit is intricately linked to the legend of Persephone, a pivotal figure in Greek mythology. Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld, who had fallen in love with her. Deceptive Hades fed Persephone pomegranate fruit. Oblivious to the consequences of consuming fruits from the Underworld, she ate six seeds. Unbeknownst to her, this act bound her to the Underworld for eternity. Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, vented her fury, leading to prolonged winter. Zeus intervened to end the winter, deciding that Persephone would spend six months in the underworld and the rest of the year with her mother, leading to the changing seasons. The succulent pomegranate thus became the quintessential fruit of the gods.
Main Varieties of Pomegranate
There are several varieties of pomegranate cultivation, distinguished mainly by the quality of their fruits. The pomegranate juice can range from sweet to acidic, and the texture of the pomegranate varies, with some being harder and others softer. Preference is given to varieties with sweeter and softer seeds. In our country, the prominent varieties known for these characteristics are:
- Dente di Cavallo
- Profeta Partanna
- Wonderful, an American variety characterized by large fruits and incredibly sweet juice. Wonderful pomegranate cultivation has gained popularity, especially in Sicily.
Pomegranate Pulp and Juice: Nutritional Properties and Beneficial Virtues
Pomegranate juice is contained within its seeds, also known as arils. These represent the edible part of the fruit and are exceptionally fleshy, typically red in color. However, in some varieties, they can be lighter.
It’s essential to note that, for certain varieties, the color of the arils can be even lighter. The seed consists of this juicy and pulpy part, which encases woody membranes, appearing white.
As seen in the table provided here, the edible part, i.e., the seeds, constitutes only 60% of the entire fruit. The pomegranate pulp and **juice** provide a substantial amount of carbohydrates, primarily in the form of sugars (15.9 grams per 100 grams of edible part). The fruit also contains 63 kcal per 100 grams, indicating a high energy value. Pomegranate is rich in potassium (290 mg), vitamin A retinol eq. (µg) 15, and vitamin C (8 mg).
In addition to its primary components, pomegranate pulp and juice (or pomegranate, referring more specifically to the fruit) contain around 100 other substances. Among these are tannins, polyphenols, anthocyanins, flavonoids, and organic acids, all of which are antioxidants. In essence, it is rich in beneficial properties. These attributes make it an ideal food for individuals dealing with intestinal issues, typically caused by immune system malfunctions.
The antioxidants in pomegranate pulp and juice withstand the stomach’s acidic environment, reaching the intestines intact. Here, they activate molecular mechanisms that reduce the presence of substances causing inflammation. In essence, pomegranate acts as a natural antibacterial agent. The woody membranes inside the arils have diuretic and astringent properties. While pomegranate is commonly consumed fresh, its juice has gained popularity in recent times, as have other derivatives such as syrups and jams. Particularly, the juice is obtained from crushed pomegranate seeds. Through a filtration process, the woody membranes are ideally removed. The resulting juice is highly concentrated, enhancing all the aforementioned characteristics. Finally, pomegranate liqueur has excellent digestive properties.
As mentioned, this plant can grow in two different forms: as a bushy shrub or as a tree. This choice depends on the pruning techniques applied. Since the pomegranate naturally tends to form a shrubby bush, it is usually allowed to grow in this manner. This tendency is due to its intrinsic characteristics. The tree’s roots are strong, extending both vertically and horizontally, producing numerous shoots that grow rapidly, forming the bush. A pomegranate shrub can reach up to 5 meters in height, while if grown as a tree, it can reach up to 7 meters.
The branches are numerous, jagged, thin, and sometimes spiny at the tips.
The leaves come in varying sizes, ranging from 2 to 7 cm. Abundant during the growing season, they are wavy, oblong-lanceolate, and numerous. Initially deep green in spring, they tend to lighten during summer and yellow as the autumn harvest approaches. From November onwards, the tree is entirely devoid of leaves.
Pomegranate flowers are beautiful and striking, measuring between 3 to 5 cm. They have a fleshy and enduring calyx, red in color. The corolla consists of five to eight rounded and slightly wavy petals, colored in shades of orange-red.
We have already discussed the pomegranate pulp and **juice** in the previous section. More generally, the fruit appears as a large, spherical berry, usually similar in size to an apple. It has a very tough, dark-colored, coriaceous peel, initially green, later turning red as it matures. Such a hard peel serves to protect the delicate seeds.
Ripening and Harvesting Pomegranates
Pomegranates typically ripen in October. Generally, not all fruits on the same plant mature simultaneously; their development is staggered. The tree usually prioritizes fruits on its outer and upper branches. Consequently, harvesting can extend until mid-November. In the image below, you can see the pomegranate tree in our garden (the same tree photographed in July), laden with juicy pomegranates, nearly ready for harvest.
Note how the appearance of the tree has completely transformed. The heavy fruits have lowered the branches, seemingly doubling in size. Also, observe the yellowing leaves on branches bearing more fruits. The pomegranates on the outer branches will be the first to be harvested. Their vibrant color is an initial indicator of their ripeness. Another sign of proper ripening is the fruit splitting on the tree. This indicates complete ripening, urging prompt harvesting. However, sometimes fruits split before reaching full maturity due to irregular weather patterns. For instance, after a very dry season, abundant rainfall in September causes sudden swelling of the seeds, leading to premature splitting before complete ripening. Even in such cases, it is advisable to harvest as soon as possible, perhaps settling for slightly whiter seeds. During harvesting, it’s essential to use pruning shears (pruning shears).
Properly cleaning pomegranates, once harvested, is a slow and meticulous process.
Follow these steps:
- Split the fruit in half,
- Gradually remove the tough outer skin by hand,
- De-seed it, separating the compact seeds from each other.
The riper the fruit, the easier the operation.
Be mindful of the stains this process can cause: pomegranate juice can stain significantly.
So, use wooden shelves or old towels as support.
Now, onto pomegranate cultivation. This ancient plant, whose beauty and value need to be rediscovered, has always been accustomed to growing in our lands.
How to Cultivate a Pomegranate, Steps to Follow
To cultivate pomegranate effectively, follow these steps:
- Plant the tree in a sheltered location,
- Avoid clayey soils,
- Water only in the first two years of life,
- Fertilize the soil appropriately,
- Opt for suitable pruning,
- Preventively use macerates for biological pest defense.
Climate and Soil for Pomegranate Cultivation
Pomegranate cultivation is very robust. The plant adapts to almost all climates. Although it prefers a mild climate, it can also withstand northern latitudes well. The only precaution is to cultivate the plant in a sheltered area, protecting it from prolonged cold. This tree species does not need supplementary irrigation except in the first two years of growth. Moreover, it withstands periods of drought very well; in fact, dry weather allows for more balanced ripening. Hence, it’s best to avoid clayey soils that lead to water stagnation.
Ideal for pomegranate cultivation would be nutrient-rich and deep soil. This way, the root system has more space to propagate. However, lacking these features, the plant can adapt well to dry and hard soils.
The pruning of pomegranate varies depending on whether you choose to grow the plant as a shrub or a tree.
In the usual case of a shrub, interventions should be limited to shortening the longer and outer branches. However, it’s important to note that fruit formation occurs at the vegetative apices, so pruning should be minimal. Another necessary pruning, in this case, is the removal of dry, broken, or weather-damaged branches.
If you opt for a pomegranate tree, pruning is formative and begins in the early years. It is essential, from the start, to identify one or more main trunks, from which all basal shoots that naturally emerge over time should be removed.
In both cases, the taste of pomegranate juice remains unchanged.
Honestly, given pomegranate’s natural tendency to grow as a shrub, the best option, in our opinion, is to follow the plant’s nature and let it develop as a bushy shrub.
This type of growth can also serve a secondary function in the garden by placing the pomegranate in an outdoor border area to delimit or enclose an area.
The pruning period, regardless of the chosen technique, is from November to January when the plant is in vegetative rest.
Pomegranate can be propagated in several ways. The most common method is using cuttings from at least a well-developed one-year-old branch.
Another widely used method for propagation, which allows for bush expansion, is burying basal shoots. In this case, simply choose a young shoot in spring, bend it to the ground, and bury it lightly. This buried shoot will give rise to new branches that will further expand the shrub.
Biological Pest Defense
Pomegranate cultivation is robust and resistant. Common pests find it challenging to attack the plant and prevail. However, especially in spring, the plant can suffer attacks from aphids. These pests can be biologically controlled using various natural preparations, including nettle macerate and garlic infusion.
Pomegranate juice, with its countless virtues, takes us back to an ancient period, also filled with mythology. The plant, rugged, resilient, decorative, is easy to manage even for inexperienced gardeners and is highly recommended in every garden. For family consumption, a single bush is sufficient, which can yield many fruits.
At this point, all that’s left is to wish you successful pomegranate cultivation!