Bioflavonoids – A Time for Lime

Image: Nigel Carboon

Indigenous to the South East of Asia, this warm climate fruit is most famous for keeping the British Navy alive on their voyages to the tropics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The rich vitamin C content of limes provided essential nutrients to ward off the deficiency disease, Scurvy.  Thus the sailors were nicknamed “Limeys”.  Limes were brought to the Western World with Arabian traders and in 1493, Christopher Columbus transported them to the Americas on his second voyage.

Limes (citrus aurantifolia) are a small, sour citrus fruit with a season that extends from March through to August, making them an appropriate remedial fruit to enjoy throughout the colder months.  Smooth limes have stronger skin than their zesty relatives and can therefore survive the severity of hot tropical climes.  However, they will not sustain frost and are quite fussy about thriving within a cooler climate.

Two main varieties, Mexican and Tahitian, are available in Australia. The Tahitian variety is the most popular of the small, shrublike citrus trees, with its season peaking in autumn.  The Kaffir or Makrut lime (also known as Wild lime) is an essential ingredient of Thai cuisine and will grow in tropical parts of Australia. The minced leaves are used extensively in certain Javanese food and in Filipino dishes, where the chopped peel is made into a sweetmeat with milk and coconut. The pickled fruit may be applied as a poultice to allay neuralgia and is eaten to relieve indigestion.  Therefore it often accompanies spiced curries such as those featured in Indian cuisine to facilitate digestion.

This sour fruit just might be a tropical traveller’s saviour as its juice has the ability to dispel the irritation and swelling of mosquito bites and may be taken as a tonic for the digestive system to relieve stomach ailments and stimulate digestion. Limes have a cooling nature with an astringent flavour and antiseptic properties.  They are particularly beneficial to counteract diets high in saturated fats and protein by encouraging the formation of bile, which is essential for the catabolic process of food breakdown.  A squeeze of lime with hot water in the morning may facilitate a mild liver-cleansing action for some, while others may find it helps to soothe convulsive coughs and headaches. Primitively, the leaves were used as a poultice for skin diseases and applied to the abdomen of new mothers after childbirth.

Limes are grown with fewer chemicals than lemons and may yield at least four times the citric acid content than oranges, therefore they should not be used in conjunction with ailments such as excessive stomach acid or ulcers.  They can destroy putrefactive bacteria in both the intestine and mouth and have long been used to purify the breath.  A useful remedy to treat dysentery, colds, flu and parasite infestation due to their powerful antiseptic, antimicrobial, and mucus-resolving actions.  In addition, limes may cleanse the blood, help to lower hypertension, enhance blood circulation and strengthen blood vessels.

Other citrus fruits may also yield abundant nutrients such as grapefruit (named for the way they grow in grape-like clusters). The pectin that forms the cell membrane of this fruit can help to lower LDL cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease, aid digestion and assist alcohol detoxification.

The medicinal benefits of grapefruit seed extract are many. It may be diluted with water to act as a bactericide and fungicide when washing salad vegetables and sterilising laundry.  It may be useful for travellers as it can be added to filtered drinking water to kill unwanted parasites, and if taken daily, will help to prevent diarrhoea. The extract is also particularly beneficial in the treatment of Candida, drying the Chinese condition known as dampness, and other fungus-related conditions due to its ability to inhibit bacterial growth.

Being rich in vitamin C and bioflavonoids, grapefruit also possesses potassium, calcium, magnesium and lycopene, which are found in the pink variety. After oranges, they are the second most grown fruit, and their heritage traces to the West Indies.  Citric acid is mildly astringent, an antioxidant and is used throughout the food industry as a preserving antioxidant to prevent foods oxidising.

The contraindications associated with excessive citrus intake is that it can interfere with calcium levels and too much may calcify the system, drawing calcium from teeth and bones. Those who enjoy a dairy-free life might need to increase their intake of calcium-rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole sardines. It is also important to note that when using aluminum foil for baking, citrus juice should never be added as citric acid may leach the aluminum from the foil, elevating toxicity risks.

The abundance of vitamin C found in citrus fruits is well documented, yet they also contain a lesser-known vital ingredient called bioflavonoids.  Also known as vitamin P because of their permeability factor, bioflavonoids improve the integrity of the cell membrane, and facilitate the smooth passage of oxygen, carbon dioxide and other nutrients through the capillary walls. Thus they help to prevent hemorrhage and rupturing of capillaries and may be used in the treatment of bleeding gums, bruising and weak capillaries.

Vitamin P works synergistically with vitamin C by enhancing its utilisation within the body and protecting against loss of vitamin C when it encounters oxygen.  It is found in the pith and rind of citrus fruits.  Dark red fruit such as cherries, grapes, blackcurrants and blackberries all contain rich bioflavonoids, as do apricots, papaya and tomatoes.  The bioflavonoid activity lies in the skin of fruits and generally the darker the fruit the better.  It is comprised of harmonious components including catechin and quercetin, flavones, and flavanols – powerful antioxidants.

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