January – Citrus
Latin name: Citrus spp. – Rutaceae
Common name: Citrus, oranges, lemon, lime, pomelo, grapefruit, mandarins, etc.
Usage: Many of the common citrus fruits we know and love are not only delicious but also beneficial for both their nutritional and medicinal properties. The flesh, juice and rind of many citrus species have been utilized by humans throughout history. We will focus on oranges, lemons and grapefruits. The sweet orange (Citrus x sinensis) is an important crop in the state of Florida, along with grapefruits (Citrus x paradisi). Introduced by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s, citrus crops evolved to become one of the state’s most valuable industries. According to Florida Citrus Mutual, there are presently 4000 citrus growers cultivating 437000 acres of land in Florida. As you can imagine, this makes citrus blossoms a major source of nectar for the state’s honey bees (along with Serenoa repens and Bidens alba).
Nutritionally, citrus fruits are high in Vitamin C, some varieties with more substantial amounts than others. Lemons (Citrus limon) are particularly high in Vitamin C and were historically used to prevent and treat scurvy. Vitamin C is an essential component of our diet, supporting the body’s ability to repair tissues, metabolize proteins, produce collagen, prevent oxidative stress, and fight infection through supporting the immune system. Along with Vitamin C, citrus fruits are also high in other macronutrients such as sugars, dietary fiber, potassium, folate, calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, riboflavin and pantothenic acid (Lv, Xinmiao et al, 2015). There is a plethora of scientific research and reading out there that elaborates on the medicinal applications of citrus fruits if you wish to delve in deeper!
Energetically, citrus is warming and bitter. Citrus is particularly indicated for respiratory congestion,cough, indigestion, flatulence and general digestive upset. In TCM, citrus corrects energy circulation, strengthens the spleen, counteracts excessive moisture and resolves phlegm. Citrus peels are particularly high in antimicrobial properties, making an infusion in white vinegar an excellent cleaning agent for kitchen and other surfaces.
Growth/Habitat: The Citrus genus has a long history of growth, use and consumption and an equally long and convoluted taxonomy. Native to South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Australia, the Citrus genus has historically been cultivated, hybridized and spread all across the world. There are numerous citrus species and varieties growing in much of the tropical and subtropical regions of the planet. If you live in a region of Florida that does not regularly experience freezing temperatures, chances are you can succeed in growing your own citrus fruits. Oranges, lemons, grapefruits and the myriad of other citrus varieties thrive in our well-drained sandy soils and full sun.
Citrus are generally shrub to tree sized, anywhere from about 5 to 30 feet in height. The branches and stems tend to be spiney. Leaves are entire, usually evergreen and arranged alternately. Citrus flowers are small, generally not larger than 2 inches in diameter, almost always white with 5 petals, and generally produce a strong, heavenly scent. The citrus fruits we are familiar with are known botanically as a hesperidium, a type of modified berry with a thick peel.
Update 2024: Citrus greening, first detected in Florida in 2005, is a serious disease affecting citrus trees, of which there is no treatment. It is a bacteria transmitted by the asian citrus psyllid, which weakens the tree, causing it to die within a few years.
January, particularly after the first frost, is an ideal time to harvest many varieties of citrus including navel oranges, grapefruits and tangerines.
The options are limitless!
- Add dried (organic) peel to your tea blend
- Eat some fruit
- Make some juice
- Squeeze some lemon in your water
- Make your favorite jam or marmalade
- Infuse a vinegar or oil for a salad dressing
Try this easy DIY cleaning spray:
- Any citrus peel in a mason jar, cover with white vinegar and let sit for 1 – 2 weeks, strain and pour into a spray bottle. Use this as an all purpose surface cleaner!
A Barefoot Doctor’s Manual. Cloudburst Press, 1977.
“Citrus Industry History.” Citrus Industry History – Florida Citrus Mutual, flcitrusmutual.com/citrus-101/citrushistory.aspx.
Lv, Xinmiao, et al. “Citrus Fruits as a Treasure Trove of Active Natural Metabolites That Potentially Provide Benefits for Human Health.” Chemistry Central Journal, Springer International Publishing, 24 Dec. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4690266/.
“Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin C.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/.