Mythology attributes to Hesperis and Atlas the progeny of three daughters who hold the patronage of the Citrus: Arethusa, the lemon tree; Aeglen, the citron, and Hespertusa, the orange tree.
From the most remote antiquity, citrus fruit trees have been admired for their different qualities, reaching abundant legends and fables, described to enhance the properties attributed to them. When referring to the lemon, it is worth mentioning the fable told by Athenaios, in relation to the tortures applied by Clearco of Heraclea, who imposed death by snake bite on his victims, and who was surprised and amazed to see that some of the condemned had escaped death by ingesting lemon juice, obtained from some fruits that were offered to them by a charitable soul when they went to the place of the torture.
Although there are serious doubts as to the exact place of origin of the lemon tree, the general idea is to designate its origin in Southeast Asian countries and Malaysia.
In wall paintings from Pompeii and in elements from Roman tombs there is confirmation that the lemon was already known in the Roman Empire. However, the first allusion to the lemon tree in a literary text is found in Ibn Washshiyah’s “Nabataean Agriculture” from the beginning of the 10th century, where it is referred to with the Persian word “limun”. Quotations from the Arab geographers Istakhrí and Ibn Haukal date from this same period, mentioning the existence in India of a very sour fruit which they identify with the name ‘limunah’.
Despite its eastern origin, according to Laufer, the first reference to the lemon in China was made by Fan Ch’eng-ta, who describes the fruit in his ‘Kwei hay yü heng’, in the second half of the 12th century. At the same time, in 1178, Chou K’ü-fei, in “Ling waitai ta”, reported that it was known by the population of Canton, indicating that it came from South Asian countries and, of course, was of foreign origin to China, since the word with which it was known, “li-mung”, did not correspond to the language of the country.
Lemon in Spain
The introduction of the lemon tree and its cultivation in Spain is due to the Arabs, as witnessed by the treatises of two important Andalusian authors. Ibn-al-Awam, in his “Libro de Agricultura”, written in the second half of the 12th century, gives a detailed description of the procedures for the multiplication and cultivation of the lemon tree and other citrus fruits, so it can be deduced that these were perfectly known fruit trees at that time. Ibn-el-Beithar, around the same time, offers us his “Dictionary of Simple Remedies”, in which he reflects the most outstanding properties with reference to lemon juice, exalting its healing properties in the form of an embrocation, and offering different formulas for its application and use.
At the beginning of the Modern Age, it was already important to spread it throughout the Levant, the Southeast and Andalusia; although it was used as an ornamental tree, it is precisely at this time that the use of its fruits began. And it was in the 19th century, when transport became easier, that production began to increase sharply, encouraging the transformation of dry land into irrigated land.