Thursday 22 March 2018

Health-giving seeds and scarlet berries to fight the 'flu

The stuff of legends: Pomengrantes are sometimes hard to source but are worth it due to their healthy properties
The stuff of legends: Pomengrantes are sometimes hard to source but are worth it due to their healthy properties

Joe Kennedy

The chef was sitting at a table in his open kitchen, carefully picking seeds from a piece of fruit.

It was a quiet time of the day. The globular object sliced in two before him revealed the packed scarlet seeds of a pomengrante, also called a roma, the juice seeping on to a plate as the man patiently prised the contents with the point of his knife.

Were they (the seeds) for a special dessert, I inquired? No, he responded, they are for my wife - a pointed answer from a thoughtful man, indeed.

Pomengrantes are sometimes difficult to source in Ireland, although, around this time of year as Hallowe'en draws near they turn up in exotic fruit displays and in Moore Street, Dublin's famous market, where they are known as wine-apples.

Far Eastern produce shops usually stock them as they do bottles of the juice. The fruit is a significant source of Vitamin-C and also has other useful properties, health- giving for both sexes and all ages.

Pomengrantes originated in what is now Iran and spread throughout the Mediterranean world and thence to South America with the Spanish and Portuguese. The fruit is famously associated, in Greek mythology, with Persephone, a goddess of the Underworld, also called Cora the maiden, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest.

Cicero called Persephone the 'seed and fruits of the fields, the goddess of nature'. Images often show her clasping a sheaf of wheat.

The pomengrante comes into the picture with her abduction by Hades, or Pluto, who dragged her down in the Underworld. He finally heeded the pleadings of her mother to free her but he had a trick up his sleeve having given her some seeds of the fruit to eat while under his care.

And because she tasted food down below she had to henceforth spend one-third of the year - winter - there! When Demeter and her daughter were re-united the earth flowered with vegetation and colour. But each year when Persephone went back down to old Hades the world became barren until she returned. This, the legends have it, explains the seasons.

Now, to consider some fruits nearer home, this is the time to gather some vitamin-packed goodness from our own hedgerows. The gatherers have grown in numbers with the increasing popularity of foraging outstripping any economic necessities of the past looking for a 'flu-fix.

Rose hips and elderberries have been plentiful and the elder (sambucus niger) is especially rich in Vitamin-C with many recipes for wine and cordials, jams and puddings. The legendary Mrs Grieve, in her classic "Modern Herbal" (1931) devotes eleven pages to elder with recipes and treatments for various ailments, especially 'flu.

Elderberry juice, when taken in the early stages of sore throats and shivers, "is one of the best preventatives known against the advance of influenza," she writes. And more contemporary scientific data has shown that 'flu victims taking fruit extract make earlier recoveries.

In weeks to come unpicked fruit will fall to the ground, the elder will die back and its wretched appearance will signify its mystery and magic revealing mature roots and heartwood as hard as ebony. Too big to be a bush, too small to be a tree, the elder remains a special hedgerow opportunist, useful to mankind.

Sunday Independent

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