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10/1/2009
A beautiful life
A beautiful life

A pomegranate’s organic journey

Little has changed in the last 5,000 years, at least when it comes to a particular hardy, dark-red fruit. From Greek goddesses like Aphrodite, to today’s beauty mavens and top chefs, people have revered the pomegranate as a prized symbol of life and beauty.

And it’s had quite the life. Enthroned Greeks, biblical royalty and artists such as Leonardo da Vinci all upheld this fruit as a crown jewel. Their ancient insight has carried throughout millennia. While the fruit’s variegated, crimson skin is modestly appealing from the outside, when cut open, a vibrant beauty reveals itself. Within the tough outer skin lies the glistening, juicy gems—tiny yet valuable seeds.

A trip along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey to the heart of the country in the Anatolian highlands brings you on a journey back in time to a humble yet imaginatively inventive era. It is here, after all—spanning the Persian Empire in what is today Iran, Iraq, Greece and Turkey, among other countries—that the first pomegranates were discovered.

From sea to mountaintop

As the Turkish winter melts away into March, the pomegranate trees—standing 5 to 16 feet from roots to top—begin to blossom. Bright-red, star-like flowers shoot from the branches. The rows of trees rise from the sea and climb up the mountaintops.

Turkish agricultural engineer Dr. Cenap Yilmaz knows a lot about pomegranates. The young scientist did his doctorate on pomegranates and studies the unique plant at the Alata Horticulture Research Institute, located along the southern Mediterranean coastline in Turkey’s Mersin Province. Here, among this center of biodiversity, he studies 3,000 pomegranate plants sprawled over two acres. Despite working by the sea, Dr. Yilmaz knows that “the best conditions [for pomegranates in Turkey] are found in the mountains. The plant needs extreme temperature differences,” he explains.

Dr. Yilmaz has studied 300 types of pomegranates. “I know the acidity, the growing conditions and the particularities of each variety from California, to Pakistan, to Israel and beyond,” he says. Some species are small and pale yellow but as sweet as sugar, while others are plump and deep burgundy yet sour like a lemon. And vice versa. The variety, the time of harvest and the growing conditions all affect the end result.

Regeneration begins here

In Turkey, where more than 100,000 tons of pomegranates are grown each year, the main harvest starts in late September. Spring and summer sun transforms the cheerful pomegranate blossoms into crimson fruits—ripe for picking with juice that is just right, not too sour and not too sweet. “The first blossoms produce large fruits with many seeds, and the last to bloom bear smaller fruits,” says Dr. Yilmaz. The harvest lasts for four weeks.

One especially pristine orchard is owned by Hakan Copur, a lively agricultural engineer. It is here, during this special time of year, that the entire village comes together. Everyone who is good on their feet, as Copur describes the dedicated group, assists in the pomegranate harvest.

But before this process can begin, Copur must give special care to his plants to ensure the best-quality fruits. He pumps water up the mountain from the river below in order to irrigate his land. When the trees are heavy with fruit, 1,000 residents gather with scissors and knives to carefully cut the fruits from the trees by hand. Each tree yields about a half-ton of pomegranates, totalling 5,000 tons from his entire orchard. This harvest yields just 350 ounces of rich pomegranate oil. The freshly picked fruits are then carried down to the village and sent to be washed and sorted.

As we follow the pomegranate harvest throughout the countryside, we meet another team of farmers cultivating organic pomegranates for Weleda: Remzi Genç and his wife Ülkü. They pick the ripe fruits under the early-morning sun, because at this time of day the precious red spheres contain the highest content of valuable ingredients like flavonoids, vitamins and essential fatty acids. The Gençs are convinced organic pomegranates are the best. “I am so healthy and happy because I eat organic pomegranates six months out of the year,” Remzi says with a smile.

Long live the pomegranate

Of the pomegranates grown in Turkey, some are sold whole, while others are processed into juice or marmalade. The organic seeds used by Weleda are dried in a special facility and sent to Gustav Heess, an oil mill just 30 miles from Weleda’s production facilities in southern Germany. Here the tiny seeds are cold-pressed to release their valuable oil, which is then filtered (see p24 to discover the renowned benefits of pomegranate). The fine, rich oil is sent to Weleda’s production centers in Germany and Switzerland, where it is blended with other potent, natural ingredients for use in Weleda’s new Pomegranate Regenerating Body Care for your health and timeless beauty.

Back in central Turkey, as the autumn sun sets over the mountains and the leaves of the pomegranate trees float to the ground, the community of friends and family who have come together for the harvest continue to enjoy the fruits of their labor with sweet marmalades and teas made from the seeds. As the days pass, the resilient and powerful pomegranate trees slowly become dormant, patiently settling in for a cold winter. There they remain, waiting for a new season of beauty to reawaken them in spring. ir and jb