Lemons are one of the most versatile fruits on earth, so it’s no wonder a lemon tree is high on every gardeners must-have list. But once you get that wonderful lemon tree fruiting, you may well find yourself blessed with more lemons than you know what to do with!
Luckily, lemons have an enormous array of uses, from the culinary (preserved or fresh) to the medicinal to the household.
The health effects of lemons are significant, with most benefits coming from the peel (zest) and the juice. Lemon peel contains lemon oil, which helps digest fats & cleanse the lymphatic system. It also has immune boosting properties and contains D-limonene, which can help to fight cancer. Lemon juice is one of the best sources of vitamin C and flavonoids, which are known to boost the immune system and fight disease. The juice also helps reduce inflammation, supports heart & digestive health plus aids in controlling weight.
Keeping Lemons for Later
Once you’ve got a lemon tree fruiting well, it’s easy to find yourself with a glut of lemons. If you’re short on time, the quickest way to make sure your harvest doesn’t go to waste is by juicing, zesting and freezing them.
How to Freeze Lemons
Rinse then pat dry whole lemons, then slice them. Place the slices on a plastic wrap-lined baking tray and freeze for at least 4 hours. Once they are frozen solid, transfer the slices to a labelled freezer safe bag and freeze for up to 3 months. These frozen lemon slices can be taken out of the freezer and used as you would fresh lemon slices. You can also preserve lemon slices in sugar, but frozen lemons will last longer. But the quickest solution of all is to simply freeze lemons whole. That’s right- you can simply put a lemon in the freezer, and it will retain it’s juice and flavour for up to 3 months.
Freezing Lemon Zest
It’s always a good idea to keep lemon zest on hand, as it’s useful in so many recipes and freezes well. If you’ve bought lemons from a shop, be sure to wash them well and pat dry before zesting. Avoid buying waxed lemons, as wax removal makes considerable extra work for you. Use a very fine grater for zesting, and only remove the yellow outer skin (not the bitter white pith underneath). Transfer the zest to a labelled freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months.
Freezing Lemon Juice
Freshly-squeezed lemon juice freezes perfectly well, and loses none of its vitamins and minerals in the process. Remember that its overall volume will increase with freezing, so allow for this by leaving some room in the top of the container. Even better, freeze lemon juice in an ice cube tray so that you have small portions which are easy to use.
Preserved lemons are basically lemons that have been pickled in salt and lemon juice- and it might surprise you to learn that it’s the peel that you’ll ultimately be using. These are easy to make, but you’ll need to wait about 3 weeks before they’re ready to use. To make a jar of preserved lemons, wash and scrub 6 lemons then quarter them without cutting all the way through. Line a sterile preserving jar with salt, rub more salt into the lemons, and fill the jar with the lemons, pushing them down firmly as you go. Fill the jar to the brim with lemon juice and add more salt. Store in a cool, dry place for 4-6 weeks before consuming. A variety of spices and flavourings can be added to preserved lemons, either in combination or on their own. These include lavender, cardamom, vanilla, cloves, coriander seeds, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and peppercorns. To use preserved lemon, simply take a piece out of the jar and rinse the salt off it. Preserved lemon can be added to pasta sauce, dressings, yoghurt sauce, couscous, salads and seafood dishes.
Using Fresh Lemons
Naturally, the amount of juice yielded by a single lemon will vary according to its size. A large lemon will give 3-4 tablespoons of juice, while a medium-sized fruit will provide about 2 tablespoons worth. Freshly-squeezed lemon juice will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, and is best kept in a glass container.
The traditional lemon water (taken first thing in the morning) is as good for you as it ever was. As the name suggests, it’s a simple mix of lemon juice and tepid water, and provides excellent hydration, a vitamin C hit, plus promotes digestive health. These benefits are a great way to start the day, but if plain lemon water isn’t your thing, you can add lemon juice to breakfast smoothies and mixed fruit juices. All of these drinks can be made with either fresh or frozen lemon juice. Other drinks that make use of lemon juice include home-made lemonade (check out our version with lemon balm) & lemon cordial. You can even add lemon juice to spirits like vodka for an interesting flavour twist.
The list of foods and dishes that can incorporate lemon juice is almost inexhaustible- here are just a few of our own. From salads to sauces, stews to soups, dressings to preserves & jams, lemon juice adds depth & flavour without adding calories. Lemons are traditionally paired with fish and seafood, but in fact go well with all other meats and most vegetables. You might be surprised to learn how good lemon juice & zest is in a creamy pasta sauce like this one, or as a flavouring in a vinaigrette.
Lemon Zest & Peel
Just like lemon juice, lemon zest can be used fresh in a wide variety of food and drink recipes. Zest contains lemon oil, which is more concentrated than lemon juice, so it’s perfect for occasions where you want to add the flavour of lemon without the liquid. It has the additional benefit of adding colour and texture which is perfect for dressings and garnishes (see it here on our no-bake lemon cheesecake).
Cakes, biscuits and slices often call for lemon zest, as do drinks such as cocktails and juices. Lemon zest can be added to a whole host of savoury dishes like salads, breadcrumbs for meat, dressings, marinades, and even on breakfasts like yoghurt, scrambled eggs and porridge.
Household Uses for Lemons
For centuries lemons have been a key ingredient in home-made cold & flu remedies, domestic cleaning solutions and body products. While the exact benefits are yet to be defined, the detoxifying combination of lemon and honey is commonly believed to both soothe inflammation and give a quick vitamin boost. All you need to do to make this cold-&-flu-brew is fill a cup with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of honey and hot water. You can even use this classic lemon & honey combo as the base for a face mask– who knew?!
In fact, there are a plethora of lemon-based skin care and beauty products that you can make at home. Used in combination with other ingredients, lemon juice aids in exfoliation and whitening. You can mix equal part aloe, water, honey and lemon juice together to make a face wash. Lemon halves can be dipped in salt and used as a body scrub in the shower. Fingernails, too, can benefit from lemons. Regularly applying a mix of lemon juice & olive oil to the hands at night time will result in stronger nails with whiter tips.
Household cleaning products based on lemon are highly effective. This is due to lemons citric acid content (which has powerful antibacterial properties), and acidity, which removes stains and neutralises odours. With the ever-increasing cost of living, making your own cleaning products is a smart move, and costs even less when you can use the produce from your own garden.
A citrus-infused vinegar is one of the simplest products you can make at home and is a great basic cleaner. Add the peels of several lemons to a large jar, and fill with plain white vinegar. Allow the solution to steep for a few weeks. Strain out the peels, and use the vinegar solution as a great lemon-scented all-purpose cleaner…perfect for degreasing, disinfecting, and leaving things smelling fresh. Decant the citrus-infused vinegar into a spray bottle and use it to clean the kitchen bench, sinks, toilets, stovetops, or other hard surfaces.
If you have lingering odours on your hands from chopping things like garlic, turmeric or onions, rub lemon rinds on your fingers, nails, and hands to leave them whiter & smelling fresher.
The acid in lemons helps remove rust stains, like those left by pots or metal cans in the bathroom or kitchen. Sprinkle salt on the rust stain then rub it with half a lemon. Allow the salt and lemon to sit for several hours, and scrub it periodically if needed. Allow the lemon to rest on the surface overnight if the stain has not yet disappeared, then rinse well with water.