SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) – Pomegranates have existed for 50 million to 70 million years. They were domesticated about 5,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and 2,500 years ago in Armenia and the Crimea.
Pomegranates were first carried beyond those areas by military conquerors who brought them home as booty. Silk Road traders brought the fruit to Egypt, and then to Carthage in the ninth century BCE. They arrived in Italy in the second century BCE. The Phoenicians and later the Moors brought pomegranates to Spain, and the early Conquistadors brought them to the Americas.
About 1 million pomegranate bushes grow wild today in Eurasia, from the Balkans to the Himalayas. About 100,000 are on the territory of the former Soviet Union.
Pomegranate plants live 100 to 150 years in the wild, 300 years or more in cultivated gardens. They bear fruit in their second or third year, and can produce 440 to 660 pounds of fruit annually.
The world’s largest pomegranates grow in Afghanistan’s Kandahar oasis.
Pomegranates were prized by many ancient cultures as symbols of beauty and fertility. King Solomon had a pomegranate orchard, and pomegranate flowers and fruit were embroidered on the robes of the Temple priests. The Torah mentions it as one of the “seven fruits” of the Land of Israel, and its Semitic root was found in many city names in ancient Canaan by the conquering Israelites, such as Rimmon, Gaf-Rimmon and En-Rimmon.
Today it is traditional to have pomegranates on the table at Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot and Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of trees.
(Information taken from “Pomegranate Roads” by Gregory M. Levin)