Plant of the Month


By Charlotte Tenney, Integrative Health Specialist

Punica granatum (Pomegranate)

Punica granatum (Pomegranate)

It is reassuring and marvelous when the world that we live in delivers up exactly what we need when we need it. Pomegranates are now ripe and available fresh, exactly when we are going to need them and enjoy them the most. This unusual fruit, according to researchers who presented study results at the American Society of Nephrology in November of 2010, offers significant protection to our kidney, heart and immune response functions. Often, when a food becomes popular, we  suspect that the health claims are exaggerated and that the marketing team has been considerably creative with the data in order to promote sales. In the case of pomegranate, the benefits have actually been undersold. Consuming this fruit is proving to be particularly beneficial for diabetics who suffer the double jeopardy of damage to the kidney as well as the cardio-vascular system and who are prone to infections and inflammation. In a double blind study, subjects who drank a glass of pomegranate juice prior to dialysis treatment (three times a week for one year), were significantly less likely to be hospitalized for infections and had greatly reduced inflammation, a sign of reduced  oxidative stress. They also had improvement in their cholesterol/lipid profile, lower blood pressure and fewer cardiovascular events. With the dialysis patients, the treatment had to be combined with careful control of potassium in the diet, to avoid complications. Those who with normal kidney function do not need to take this precaution as their bodies will make appropriate use of the mineral. These findings were consistent with a larger number of similar studies.

What does this mean for the rest of us? As the flu season begins, facilitated by the cold dry air, we can enjoy a glass of pomegranate juice to boost our immune response and fight off the virus. We can sprinkle ruby red pomegranate seeds onto salads, mix them into dips and add them to soups and stews as a way counter some of the effects on our HDL/LDL levels when we succumb to the mash potatoes.  As our anxiety about putting on the “perfect” holiday party begins to push our blood pressure up, we can sip a hot cider with pomegranate juice, or simply snack on a handful of seeds, to help keep control of hypertension. Of course, we cannot expect the intake of pomegranate to take the place of medications or make up for not watching our diets. However, including it into our celebrations is a positive step toward self-management of our health.

Many people avoid the pomegranates, finding it a difficult and messy process to get the seeds out.  One suggestion that has proven useful is to peel it while submerged in a bowl of water. Begin by scoring the leathery peel and pulling a piece loose. Proceed by turning the peel inside-out and gently rubbing the seeds. The bitter, astringent membranes and peel will float to the top of the water, making them easy to skim off; the seeds will sink to the bottom. The seeds will keep well in a covered bowl in the refrigerator, making them readily available for inclusion in many dishes. If that is too much work, many grocery stores are now offering containers of pre-peeled seeds. If you are selecting the juice, read the label and make sure that you are getting 100% pomegranate juice and not some blend sweetened with other fruit juices or sugars. Look for Persian and Mediterranean recipes that include pomegranates; you will find them used in lentil soup, beef stew and desserts, adding a tart note to the sauce.