The first use of the lemon tree was probably as an ornamental plant and it certainly found its way to the Americas when Christopher Columbus brought seeds to the new world.
However, the lemon is first mentioned in English in The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Here, it is praised as an ingredient for making an ointment for the head and feet along with other parts of the body. However, snails are also recommended! The fact that the fruit actually found its way to England is attested by a customs document in around 1420 and a little later by the monk Lydgate who refers to various fruits in a poem – oranges, lemons, pomegranates and dates. A Jan von Eyck portrait from 1434 shows lemons in the background perched on a window sill, indicating that they were quite a luxury item.
It took some 300 years before lemons were added to sailor diets, preventing scurvy and until the middle of the 1800s before cultivation began in earnest. Top lemon-producing countries today include China, Mexico and India, which together grow something like 45% of total world production.
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