Lemon (Citrus limon) is one of the best-known members of the citrus family. Interestingly, the line for what makes a “real” lemon is often blurry — flavoring often comes from lemon balm or lemongrass, and some varieties called “lemon” aren’t related at all.
Grown from the Americas to Asia, these yellow or greenish fruits have a rich culinary, medicinal, and magical history.
Magical Properties of Lemon
Lemons are most often used as a cleansing herb. Their high acid content makes them suitable for removing physical grime, they’re useful for lightening stained fabric, and their strong smell covers up unpleasant odors.
All of these attributes link to its use as an energetic cleanser. Adding lemon juice to ritual baths, floor washes, or asperging water is used for purification.
This plant (particularly the blossoms) is also used in love magic. In this respect, lemon is a bit contradictory. On one hand, it’s often used to attract. On the other, its sour nature also makes it suitable for banishing and repelling. Recipes tend to use the fragrant, pleasant-smelling lemon blossoms in attraction spells, and the sour juice to repel.
Lemons are ruled by the Moon and the element of water.
Benefits & Uses
Like other members of the Citrus genus, lemon is high in vitamin C. This vitamin is important for preventing scurvy, acts as an antioxidant, and, in large doses, has been shown to have mild relaxant and anti-stress effects.
The citric acid in lemons may help reduce the incidence of kidney stones.
Since lemons are so acidic, they’re actually helpful for treating anemia. Their low pH increases iron uptake in the body. While their iron content is fairly low, they make the minerals in high-iron foods easier to absorb.
This acidity can also help digestion in general. For people who don’t produce enough stomach acid, drinking lemon juice can help make food easier to break down.
Some compounds in lemons — like the d-limonene in lemon oil — have been shown to have anti-cancer effects. These are all in vitro studies, so more research is needed.
In aromatherapy, the scent of lemon oil is purported to help elevate mood, promote relaxation, relieve pain, increase weight loss, and stimulate the immune system.
Lemon is added to hair rinses to emphasize blond highlights. It can also be used to wash white laundry to brighten fabric and remove stains.
Possible Risks & Side Effects
Citrus allergies aren’t particularly uncommon. If you experience rashes, itching or swelling of the lips or tongue, or difficulty breathing after eating or using lemons, you are very likely allergic. Some allergies are mild, but others can rapidly progress to anaphylaxis. If you’re allergic to lemons, please substitute another herb.
Lemon oil is phototoxic. This means that it increases the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight. This can manifest as skin darkening, burning, or blistering. If you use lemon oil topically, avoid exposing that area to sunlight for at least 48 hours.
Some sources state that only cold-pressed lemon oil exhibits these properties, and steam-distilled oil is safe. Out of an abundance of caution, it’s probably best to avoid using either type on skin that will be exposed to the sun.
Some recipes online call for adding a drop or two of lemon oil to water bottles or other water-based beverages. This isn’t safe. Water and essential oils will not mix without some kind of emulsifying agent, so adding straight essential oil to a water-based recipe runs the risk of causing burns to the mouth and throat.
For the most part, lemons are safe. People have been drinking lemonade, eating lemon on fish, and squeezing lemon over salads for ages. In food amounts, this fruit poses very little risk. Most of the risks come from using highly concentrated forms, like lemon essential oil.
History & Folklore
Nobody’s really sure where lemons come from, though it’s thought to be native to northeast India. Citrus fruits hybridize very easily, and a genetic analysis of the fruit indicated that it’s a mixture of bitter orange and citron.
Lemons reached Europe via ancient Rome, then spread to Persia, Iraq, and Egypt.
In ancient Greece, the fruits were used for culinary, medicinal, and magical purposes. Placing dried lemon leaves in your pillow was believed to lead to sweet dreams, preserved lemon peels were used as digestive aids, and lemons are still a major component of Greek cuisine.
Though lemons reached Rome in the 2nd century CE, it wasn’t cultivated on any real scale until the 15th. It spread to the Americas during the Spanish conquest.
Getting Started With Lemon
Growing lemons is possible, but can be a little problematic. They aren’t cold hardy — young lemons can’t tolerate temperatures below 45°F (7°C), though they toughen up a bit as they mature. You can attempt to grow lemons as a small indoor tree or bonsai, but they require a lot of light and may not set fruit.
Fortunately, lemons are pretty easy to start. You can even begin with seeds from a grocery store lemon — just choose the plumpest, healthiest-looking seeds, and clean them well.
Give them a soak them in water overnight, then place on a wet paper towel within a clear plastic bag. Keep this in a warm, shady spot for a few weeks, until you notice sprouts with roots over an inch long. Plant each sprout in its own 3″ wide pot filled with citrus soil mix. Keep them moist until a few leaves appear.
At this point, keep the plants in a sunny, warm location, and water when the first inch of soil dries out. If you live in a suitable climate, you can transplant the saplings outside once they’re large enough. Otherwise, keep them in a sunny spot and prune them well to give them a compact shape.
Magically, lemons are one of the easiest herbs to work with. If you have a room to cleanse, one lemon and some sea salt can do the trick.
Simply slice the lemon (thin slices work better than quarters) and sprinkle with the sea salt. Place the sliced lemon in a safe spot, and keep an eye on it for a few days. If it dries out, the cleansing was successful. If it gets mushy or moldy, there’s still more to do. Start again with a fresh lemon.
Some witches keep whole lemons around for the same purpose. If the whole lemon dries out, everything is fine. If it gets moldy or goes soft, then a cleansing is necessary to remove the excess negative energy the lemon wasn’t able to absorb.
Few scents are as recognizable as the bright smell of lemon. Whether you choose to work with it as an oil, leaves, flowers, or the fruit itself, it’s a wonderful ingredient for repelling evil, cleansing energy, and attracting good things.