The Etrog is commonly eaten in jams, marmalades or used in flavoring alcoholic beverages. Other than being called “Goodly” because it can be eaten, the Naturopathic Doctor/Herbalist in me wondered if the Etrog was also “Goodly” medicine.
While digging into my normal reservoir of herbal medicine books, I noticed that the Citron was strangely absent. This is incredibly odd considering the Etrogs latin name is Citrus “medica” clearly indicating that it has a “medical” use---but the question is for what? In order to solve this medical mystery, I had to dig around into more ancient botanical sources and look at ethnic communities around the world to see what medicinal properties might exist, if any. Here’s what I discovered:
Antidote To Poison: Theophrastus, (c. 371 – c.287 BCE), Greek philosopher and considered by some to be the “Father of Botany” described the use of the Etrog as an Emetic (or vomit inducer). “It is useful when one has drunk deadly poison, for when it is administered in wine it upsets the stomach and brings up the poison.”
Halitosis (Bad breath): Theophrastus also notes that “It is also useful to improve the breath if one boils the inner part of the fruit in a dish or squeezes it into the mouth in some other medium, it makes the breath more pleasant.” Studies even show that the Etrog contains an antiseptic and rejuvenating substance that helps rebuild damaged teeth. Could the Etrog be the next big thing to add to toothpastes?
Nausea in Pregnancy: Pliny the Elder, (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79) a roman commander and naturalist commented that “The seeds of this fruit are recommended for pregnant women to chew when affected with nausea.” *Note: The seeds are not recommended by this author to be used in pregnancy - no research exists that states they are safety to be chewed during Pregnancy.
Digestive aid: Pliny the elder also notes that it is good for a weak stomach when mixed with vinegar. In India and Pakistan a decoction (boiling) of the shoots of the wild trees are used for stomach problems.
Chinese medicine - It turns out the citron variety most in use today in medicine is the fingered citron. (Citrus medica L. var. sarcodactylis). It has a fascinating look but is not halachically suitable for use as an Etrog on Sukkot. It is called “Fo Shou” in Chinese. It is used commonly in Chinese medical practice for digestive problems like bloating, belching, belly pain, lack of appetite, and vomiting. It is also used for treating chronic cough. Since I practice Chinese medicine I will make sure to add this to my herbal formulas going forward!
Anti-Inflammatory - A study on the essential oil from these fingered citron peels showed that it possesses powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that inhibit lipopolysaccharides (LPS). LPS are found on gram negative bacterial cell walls and are involved in controlling inflammatory responses in the body that cause septic shock. In the future it may be found that this oil has a special benefit in reducing LPS in patients in hospitals who are undergoing septic shock.
Anti-Diabetic - Another study of Fingered Citron essential oil on rats confirmed that it had insulin secreting effect on pancreas cells. The authors of the study predict that FC fruits may one day be used as an anti-diabetic medicine beneficial to type 2 diabetes mellitus patients. The oil appears to act similar to current insulin secreting medication Sulfonylurea.
Anti-parasitic - In India and Pakistan the seeds from the fruit are used to expel internal parasites.
Antibacterial/Antifungal: The essential oil of Citron is considered to have antibacterial properties. A study of the oil showed that it was effective in the preservation of soft drinks against the bacteria and yeast growth.
Dysmenorrha (Menstrual Cramps): An infusion (tea) made from the leaves is believed to be anti-spasmodic, and good for cramps.
Aside from its current use in Chinese Medicine, the medical properties of the Etrog are either just being discovered in research labs or they have been relegated to the history books. Needless to say, it is clear that that there is a significant number of medical properties found in this “Goodly” fruit. I will certainly look differently at the Etrog while rejoicing during the festivities in Jerusalem this year! Chag Sameach! Happy Sukkot!
Dr. Anders Nerman, N.D. is a Naturopathic Doctor with an Integrative Family Medical practice in Wolfson Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel. For more visit www.drnerman.com or call 054-427-8667.