Some biblical scholars argue that Eve pulled down the suggestive pomegranate, not an apple, in the Garden of Eden. In the Koran, as in Persian iconography and poetry, images of pomegranates symbolized fertility, and in China, a bride and groom went to bed with seeds scattered on their covers to assure conception. In the early sixteenth century, the Spanish carried crateloads of them across the sea because the vitamin C-rich fruit guarded sailors against scurvy. The friars on board, meanwhile, brought roots to plant in the New World, where the fruit flourishes four hundred years later in California’s Mediterranean climate.
Folk healers have long used every part of the fruit to staunch wounds and treat illnesses like dyspepsia and leprosy. And these days, scientists in Israel have been actively researching the fruit’s pharmaceutical properties (the country harvests three thousand tons annually) to battle everything from viruses to breast cancer and aging skin.
The pomegranate contains a flavonoid that is a powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant. The fruit is also rich in estrogen, and one company is now marketing pomegranate-derived EstraGranate as an alternative to hormone-replacement therapy. In the works is a condom coated with pomegranate juice that will reportedly fend off HIV. In rural Sonoma County, California, where I live, stores now carry pomegranates from fall through winter, but we are offered only one variety, called Wonderful, grown by Paramount Farms, the corporate farm giant. Our nurseries carry only Wonderful seedlings, so when I wanted to plant a pomegranate, it had to be Wonderful.