Pomegranate…When opened, doesn’t it remind you of a woman’s ovaries?
You either love it and know exactly what to do with it, or you have no freaking idea and won’t even attempt to get the darn seeds out (more on that below).
I didn’t grow up with them so I only started incorporating them into my cooking about seven years ago when nutrition and hormonal health became my passion.
A Bit on the Origins, History and Religious Significance
As much as there is an increased interest in pomegranate’s medical value, we must never forget how it’s been used in the various cultures and cuisines.
Pomegranate has been a sacred fruit in most religions. In Greek mythology, the seeds symbolized life, regeneration, and marriage.
The pomegranate probably originated in Iran and Afghanistan and in Persian mythology eating a pomegranate was believed to help you become invincible.
In Judaism – a pomegranate is said to contain 613 seeds – one for each of the Bible’s 613 commandments. The pomegranate was revered for the beauty of its shrub, flowers, and fruit—symbolizing sanctity, fertility, and abundance.
In Christianity, in medieval representations, the pomegranate tree, a fertility symbol, is associated with the end of a unicorn hunt.
In Islamic culture, pomegranates have had a special role as a fertility symbol in weddings among the Bedouins of the Middle East. A fine specimen is secured and split open by the groom as he and his bride open the flap of their tent or enter the door of their house. Abundant seeds ensure that the couple who eats it will have many children.
In India, pomegranate juice is squeezed freshly on the sides of the street (often using manual pressing machines from 1940-ties) as a refreshing elixir which is often given for young wives to ensure fertility.
You can tell the common theme here: fertility, wellbeing, strength, abundance. I always feel that when a food has gained a strong place in so many disparate cultures, it must be for some very good reason.
The science and medical value of pomegranates
I first became interested in pomegranates when my Persian friend told me that in her native home, Iran, women use pomegranates for both fertility but also to treat and prevent breast cancer. And then, when I got to cook with it, my fascination and appreciation only grew.
Antioxidant, anti-cancer and estrogenic effect
Pomegranate seeds are rich in lignans which provide antioxidant, anti-cancer and estrogenic effects.
Quote from “Pomegranate: The Most Medicinal Fruit” book:
“Today, most references to phytoestrogens in the popular media refer primarily to isoflavones found in soy and the lignin’s in flax, but the pomegranate’s phytoestrogenic properties are just as impressive, perhaps even more so. In our investigations, we also discovered a large store of 17-alfa-estradiol in pomegranate seed oil. This compound is a mirror image version of the estrogen produced in the highest quantities in the female body. To the best of our knowledge, this was the first time it has ever been found in plant sources.“
This explains the centuries of fascination with this fruit and its use as a fertility elixir.
Effects on estrogenic cancers (breast, uterine, thyroid), fibroids and endometriosis
Does this mean that pomegranates are only good for women with low estrogen?
Estrogen is a much-needed hormone in any woman’s body – each of us needs it to stay strong, sharp, slim, juicy, energetic and with a healthy cycle.
If you have followed me for a while, you know that, in certain conditions like ER+ breast cancer, fibroids, endometriosis, estrogen is responsible for the proliferation of the malignant tissue.
But it’s not just any estrogen. It’s the 17β-estradiol that is the key culprit. It is often raised in women who use commercial skincare products, are toxic (due poor digestion and liver function), live a highly stressful life (and create what is called “progesterone steal” – more on that another time) and a have genetic disposition to be poor estrogen metabolizer (like me..).
Some plants including pomegranates are what is called Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs). SERM is a compound that attached itself to an estrogen receptor so there is no room for the antagonistic estrogen to attach itself to the cell. If estrogen isn’t attached to a breast cell, the cell doesn’t receive estrogen’s signals to grow and multiply.
Once again, the genius of mother nature.
It’s nature’s gift to us, women, that pomegranates are great for both women low in estrogen (such as in perimenopause and menopause) but also women who experience estrogen dominance (hence ER+ breast cancer, endometriosis, fibroids, PMS, thyroid nodules).
Interestingly, Tamoxifen ( a drug prescribed to ER+ breast cancer patients), is a SERM as well except that it has a long list of side effects and is therefore not recommended to be used in the long term.
For the geek in you, here is some of the research:
“In conclusion, our findings suggest that PME displays a SERM profile and may have the potential for prevention of estrogen-dependent breast cancers with beneficial effects in other hormone-dependent tissues.”
“Pomegranate extract has been shown to inhibit reproduction of breast cancer cells, and may even kill some of them.”
About 18% of the pomegranate seeds contain punicic acid which highly valued by the skin care industry due to its potent skin regenerative properties.
I’m currently using a pomegranate seed oil (I get this one) and helichrysum essential oil blend on my incisions. (In case you missed it, 6 weeks ago I underwent a bilateral hip replacement surgery and documented how I prepared for it here.)
It is not only great for scars but also wrinkles, dry, inflamed or sun-damaged skin.
How to eat pomegranates
Once you know how to deseed them (see below), you can:
- Juice them (don’t buy ready-made juices, they get oxidized and lose their potency)
- Add to salads
- Serve with some nut or seed butter as an afternoon snack
- Make a fruit pie or crumble (I typically mix them with other fruit)
- Get an Iranian cookbook and learn to make the most divine lamb pomegranate stews
- How about a Persimmon and Pomegranate Cobbler to warm up your belly?
If you have any favorite ways of cooking or eating them fresh, email me!
How to get the darn seeds out?!
I hope I’ve given you enough reasons to try a pomegranate and especially now that they are coming to season if you live in the northern hemisphere.
The most common reason why people shy away from trying pomegranates is the time and effort it takes to get the seeds out. Check out my video below and I will show you exactly how to get those seeds out. And no, I won’t be using the “water method” which takes all the juice away. It’s far simpler than that and for some strange reason, nobody has been using this method the last time I looked on YouTube!