Study Title:

Nuts and Pine Nuts History

Study Abstract

Objective To consider historical aspects of nuts in relation to origin and distribution, attributed medicinal benefits, symbolism, legends and superstitions.

Design Review of historical aspects of nuts.

Setting Mediterranean region.

Subjects The varieties reviewed include almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios.

Results and conclusions Like other foods, nuts have a wide variety of cultural connections to the areas where they grow and to the people who live there or eat them. History, symbolism and legends reveal the ancient tradition of nuts and how they are related to the lives of our ancestors. Archaeological excavations in eastern Turkey have uncovered the existence of a non-migratory society whose economy centred on harvesting nuts. This shows that nuts have been a staple in the human diet since the beginnings of history. Moreover, since ancient times nuts have been used for their medicinal properties. They also play a role in many old legends and traditions.

Pine Nuts

Pine nuts are the seeds of the pine tree Pinus pinea, which belongs to the Pinaceae family. Some authors maintain that the species is native to the entire Mediterranean basin, whereas others limit its natural range exclusively to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor(18). Remains of pine nuts from the Mesolithic period have been found in various caves, such as those in Nerja (Ma´laga) and Lattes in southern France, which show the presence of the pine tree and the use of pine nuts, as well as other nuts, in the diet of human groups(19). The Hebrew prophet Hosea (ca. 734–732 b.c.e.), who lived in the Northern Kingdom (ancient Israel), referred to pine nuts in the Old Testament (14:8). The ancient Greeks and Romans appreciated the taste of pine nuts. Archaeologists have found pine nuts among household foodstuffs in the ruins of Pompeii (79 c.e.). The Roman legions carried pine nuts among their provisions, and pine-nut shells have been uncovered in refuse dumps of Roman encampments in Britain from the middle of the first century(20). The current world leader in pine nut production is Spain(7).

Pine nuts were used for medical purposes in the Egyptian culture. In the book The Physicians of Pharaonic Egypt, pine nuts are mentioned as one of the products that the ancient Egyptians used to cure illnesses(37). Both Galen of Pergamum (129–199/217 c.e.), a Roman physician, and Dioscorides believed their properties counteracted cough and chest pain. Galen thought they had clearing properties, and recommended them for patients with expectorant chests and lungs(38). In his book De Materia Me´dica, Dioscorides says that pine nuts are astringent, have some energetic value and relieve cough and chest infections, either on their own or after being mixed with honey(39). Pine nuts were used in the Al-Andalus culture as food, and also as a drug. Abu¯‘Al%ı al-Husayn ibn Sina(40), the doctor, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer born in Persia (980–1037 c.e.), wrote in his most famous work the Kita¯b al-qa¯nu¯n (Canon of Medicine)(40), ‘Pine nuts are useful against rotten fluid in the lungs, bleeding, and chronic cough, particularly with boiled fresh grape juice. If you boil them in a sweet wine, they are very good for cleansing lungs of pus. They also give energy and increase sexual appetite and the amount of semen. If pine nuts are eaten together with honey, they cleanse the kidneys and bladder and also protect the bladder from stones and ulcers’. Averroes (1126–1198 c.e.), a renowned Andalusı´ jurist, philosopher and scholar, also believed that pine nuts, like onions and chickpeas, increased the amount of semen and recommended using their oil as a remedy for stroke and weakness(41).

Study Information

Patricia Casas-Agustencha, Albert Salas-Huetosa and Jordi Salas-Salvadó
Mediterranean nuts: origins, ancient medicinal benefits and symbolism
Public Health Nutrition
2011 December
Human Nutrition Unit, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Departament de Bioquímica i Biotecnologia, IISPV, Hospital Universitari Sant Joan de Reus, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, C/Sant Llorenç 21, 43201 Reus, Spain.


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