Punica granatum L.

Punica means red while granatum signifies having many seeds. In the English name, pome derives from the medieval Latin for apple. Thus, the name means ‘apple having many seeds’. In Arabic, the name is derived from the ancient Egyptian word ramen. However, the word glennar, which refers to the flower of the pomegranate is taken from Persian; originally, the word was klennar. The Phoenicians introduced the pomegranate to Carthage, whence the Romans acquired it. Since the Carthaginians were known as Punici, a corrupt form of the Latin Poenis (Phoenicians), some believe that this explains the term punica.

Pomegranate is a deciduous tree. The leaves are opposite and red at first, later turning green. The floral clusters grow both at the tip of the branch and laterally. The beautiful flowers have attractive red petals. Blossoms were sometimes placed in the glass base of the shisha (waterpipe) to swirl about in the bubbling water. Pomegranate trees blossom between March and May depending on their location. The fruit has a leathery skin with eight seed segments within. The seeds are either red or white and either sweet or sour. The differences in taste depend on the particular varieties and their degree of ripeness.

In Palestine, the pomegranate does not grow in the wild. However, it is widespread, especially in gardens and the countryside. The original home of the plant is believed to be Iran. Pomegranate seeds, juice, and molasses contain exceptionally high levels of antioxidants and other natural substances thought to have a significant role in the prevention of many serious diseases such as cancer, cardiac disorders, and aging-associated diseases like dementia. In the past, the root bark was used against tapeworm. Other uses include incorporating the skin of the fruit with other plant products in tanning. The rind also contains astringent substances, so it was used to treat diarrhoea.

The pomegranate has been known since ancient times and is mentioned in Assyrian and Egyptian literature. In many ancient civilizations, it was a symbol of fertility because of its abundant seeds. One of the tales and superstitions associated with pomegranate is the belief that one can safely sleep under the tree because it keeps away evil spirits. Thus, its flowers would be strung into garlands to hang around children’s necks to protect them from diseases. The twigs of the tree were once sadly used to beat the insane in the belief that doing so would drive out the evil spirits presumed to be the cause of insanity.

A story is told about some madmen who submerged their legs in a pool of water to wash them, and when they finished, their legs had become so intertwined that they could no longer find their own feet. Eventually, an old man came by and solved their problem by hitting their feet with a twig of pomegranate. As they felt the pain of this beating, they recognised their feet and thus pulled them out of the water, giving thanks to the pomegranate twig!

There is much concerning the pomegranate in Palestinian folklore. One traditional saying is, ‘The pomegranate fills the heart with faith.’ People also believed it to be forbidden to leave any seed uneaten, because one of the seeds had come from paradise.

Palestinians celebrate the pomegranate in songs like these:

Scatter round... pomegranate seeds... so I can gather you... Scatter round, Borazani pomegranate
Your name is embroidered on my shawl, my heart calls out to yours, and yours to mine
Hurry you little sprig of basil, to push off your folks got designs
My heart loves you, and no one else, you dark-skinned one so fine
My darling, your pomegranate, you my heart’s desire who’s to be mine, The pomegranate on your chest opened up, I wish it were mine

Your pomegranate in the basket is a gain, no cause for pain
Christians! Muslims! Fast in the name of my love

Your pomegranate’s smooth like lemon balm I bought with my own palm
By the church I swear, my love I won’t betray you, won’t do you no harm

Your pomegranate, my drink, did me wrong, made me suffer
All the girls say I wish he were my lover


Source: A Garden Among the Hills: The Floral Heritage of Palestine. © The Palestinian Museum 2019