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For the Love of Lemons

benefits of lemons
Photo credit: © Ellobo @123rf

I’ll be honest. Whenever I hear someone repeat the old saw, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” I’m not sure whether to smile or shake my head.

On one hand, I’m a huge believer in always looking for the positive in life. On the other, the saying paints lemons in a negative light. And that couldn’t be further from the truth!

So I’m going to set the record straight —not only about lemons, but also lemongrass.

Benefits of Lemons

Vervana organic koroneiki extra virgin olive oil and crushed lemon flavored olive oil, rosemary flavored olive oil and garlic, lemon and basil flavored olive oils with lemonsI don’t know about you, but there’s something about lemons that just makes me feel good. Maybe it’s their eye-catching color, their clean scent, or their refreshing citrus flavor. Or maybe I’m drawn to them because I instinctively know that the vibes lemons give off are just what I need to stay healthy.

One thing is for sure—I love that lemons are loaded with immune-boosting, free-radical-destroying vitamin C. This is a vitamin that, in my opinion, doesn’t get the full credit it deserves.

Sure, it will help take the edge off a cold or the flu—that’s why a little tea with some raw honey and lemon is a go-to remedy for seasonal illness. But vitamin C is also an antioxidant that helps neutralize inflammation-causing free radicals, so it ultimately supports heart health.

Lemons get even more health benefits from the flavonoids they contain. Flavonoids are a type of natural (and potent) antioxidant unique to plant foods. They’re also effective at stopping free radical activity, which means they are anti-inflammatory.

Ready to Experience Lemon Health Benefits?

fresh squeezed lemonade with maple syrup and fresh ginger juice offers more health benefits
Homemade lemonade with fresh ginger juice.

Adding more lemons to your diet is easy. Lemonade is a traditional favorite, but I’d steer clear of store-bought lemonade since most recipes contain too much sugar. You’ll be better off just squeezing some fresh lemon juice into a glass of water.

If you must have some sweetness, try diluting lemonade with filtered water so it’s only half-strength, then add more fresh lemon juice to your glass; you can also make your own lemonade and sweeten it with a very minimal amount of maple syrup. I also like to add a dash of fresh ginger juice for added health benefits.

(Here’s another recipe with ginger juice with directions on how to make it.)

Great for enhancing the flavor of virtually any dish, lemons are particularly good on fish and poultry (check out these Citrus Chicken and No-Mayo Coleslaw Recipes>)

citrus fruits lemons offer health benefits
Photo credit: © Karandaev @123rf

Lemon juice also mixes wonderfully with olive oil – drizzled over some veggies, the combo is amazing! I love it so much, I included lemon in my line of flavored olive oils. My personal favorite lemon-olive oil-veggie combo is asparagus. Try it for yourself!

Finally, there’s zero waste with lemons. Instead of throwing the rinds in the trash, you can put them down the garbage disposal. It’s not exactly a quiet undertaking, but the oils that are released as the rinds get ground up help clean the disposal and get rid of unpleasant odors.

Lemongrass Benefits and Uses

Now let’s look at lemongrass. Despite having a similar scent and flavor, lemons and lemongrass are not actually related at all. Lemons are a tree fruit, while lemongrass is actually a tropical herb from Asia.

You’ll usually come across lemongrass as either an ingredient for cooking or as an essential oil. You can cook with lemongrass that’s fresh, ground, or powdered, and it’s used in many fish, beef, poultry, and curry recipes.

Health-wise, lemongrass has benefits similar to lemons. It’s been shown to help fight inflammation (one study identified lemongrass as a top six essential oil with anti-inflammatory properties), and lemongrass oil—like lemon oil—has antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help fight infections. Lemongrass also supports healthy digestion, which has the dual benefit of supporting nutrient absorption and the removal of toxins.

A few other uses for lemongrass include:

  • Reduce stress. If you are stressed or can’t sleep, put a few drops of lemongrass essential oil in a diffuser and let its refreshing scent calm you. If you don’t have a diffuser or the essential oil, crush enough fresh lemongrass leaves that you can pick up their scent. Place them in your room for a relaxing evening.
  • Make tea. I love lemongrass tea; the taste is refreshing and invigorating. You can make tea by steeping fresh lemongrass in boiling water, or purchase dried tea. If you buy tea, just be sure the brand you choose is 100 percent organic so you’re not getting any health-damaging pesticides and GMOs.
  • Repel insects. Lemongrass makes a great insect repellent. (One species of lemongrass, citronella grass, is a common ingredient in candles and lotions that ward off mosquitoes.) Don’t apply lemongrass oil directly to your skin undiluted, though, because it can cause skin irritation. To be on the safe side, mix lemongrass oil with a carrier oil like jojoba oil or almond oil. Or, you could even use a little olive oil.
  • Repel fleas, ticks, and lice. Like other insects, fleas, ticks and lice hate the scent of lemongrass. You can take advantage of this (and make your dog very happy) by spraying diluted lemongrass oil over his coat and bedding. Don’t try this with your cat, though, because it can be highly toxic to felines.
  • Make massage oil. You can easily make massage oil by mixing three essential oils—lemongrass, sandalwood, and geranium—with almond oil.

There are so many other ways to use lemons and lemongrass for your health and happiness— I’ve really only scratched the surface here. But one thing should be obvious: there’s a lot more good about lemons (and lemongrass) than bad. So the next time you hear someone say “When life gives you lemons…” just smile, look on the bright side, and think how much healthier you’ll be.

From my heart to yours,

Dr. Stephen Sinatra signature
Stephen Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., C.N.S.

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