Medieval explorers utilized lemons, widely grown throughout history, as protection against scurvy. The Victorians grew them in their homes as status symbols. (What says, “I’m rich” more than a lemon tree in your dining room?) The yellow fruits were also used throughout the ancient world as an antidote for various poisons, a medicine, an all-purpose cleaner, and an insecticide.
In search of cheap, green ways to get things done, I sought to harness the uses for lemons and try some of the go-to citrus’s noncooking powers. Turns out, the ancients were onto something—I ended up with a whole lot more than lemonade.
A combination of honey and lemon can temporarily provide natural relief for throat pain—instead of that sticky syrup. Mix lemon juice and honey to taste in a glass of hot water, then let it cool before sipping. The honey coats and soothes the throat, and the lemon eliminates mucus, says the Mayo Clinic.
The citric acid in lemons helps abolish acne, according to The Lemon Juice Diet, by Theresa Cheung. Cheung writes that anyone suffering from pesky pimples should give this DIY treatment a try: Mix one part lemon juice with one part honey water, then let it sit on the pimple for at least half an hour before rinsing. Repeat twice daily.
Feeling that three o’clock slump? Lemon oil stimulates brain activity, according to a study published in Experimental Biology and Medicine, so rubbing a few drops on your wrists can perk you up enough to make it to 5 p.m.
Colds and Flus
Squeezing some juice into tea or warm water every few hours supplies us with extra vitamin C—like those fancy vitamin packs from the grocery store. The trick is to begin right when you start feeling sick, according to the Mayo Clinic. So add a little immune-boosting juice to that water glass. It can’t hurt.
Smarting from a bee sting or a mosquito bite? Ease the pain with a few drops of lemon oil mixed with a teaspoon of honey and massage it into the bite, writes Cheung.
My cutting board was stained orange after chopping up squash, so I tried rubbing it with half a lemon and baking soda, following some DIY Network advice. Guess what? My board’s white like new. This trick works for Tupperware, too.
Amber Rose, an event planner in San Francisco, recommends using lemons to add a little (cheap) zing to your usual table decorations: “Fill a hurricane vase or whatever you have on hand with lemons, or arrange them with tea candles for a cheerful centerpiece,” she advises.
“If you’re making appetizers like guacamole or chopped apples, you’ve got to keep them from browning during the entire get-together,” says Rose. “Sprinkle lemon juice on them to keep that telltale brown color at bay.”
“Before a dinner party, I’ll boil some lemon rinds with other fragrant spices, like cloves or cinnamon, to create a cozy aroma before guests arrive,” says Rose.
Lemon juice creates an acidic environment that makes it difficult for bacteria to grow (bacteria thrives at a pH of over 4.6, and lemons are about 2.3). Rub a lemon half over counters and stovetops to clean without having to worry about nasty chemicals getting into food.
Smelly Garbage Disposals
Got that icky food smell? Toss some lemon rinds and slices down the hole and grind them up for a fresh, clean kitchen scent. Is the sink itself the problem? Mix some salt with the juice, and scrub away.
My boyfriend and I are always bickering about how he leaves cheese remnants in the grater. Turns out, all it takes is rubbing the pulp of a lemon down the grates to push it out. Relationship saved.
Lemons can work as a natural defense against pests—before you have to shell out big bucks for chemical-filled killers. Squirt the juice into any holes or cracks that the bugs may be coming through, because ants, roaches, and fleas aren’t fans of the fragrance. “At the advice of a natural pest cleaner, I washed my floor with a mixture of lemon juice and water,” says dog owner Keira Ramirez, whose pet had brought some fleas into the house. “It worked, with no icky chemical smell.”
Lemons can work as a gentle alternative to bleach—just mix baking soda and lemon juice with water and soak for thirty minutes before washing.
As someone who recently started painting her fingernails, I’ve noticed that polish tends to leave behind discoloration. Soaking my fingers in some lemon juice is all it takes to get them fresh and clean.
Speaking of hands, chopping onions or garlic can leave them reeking. Rubbing a lemon wedge between your fingers can remove the scent pronto.
Tough Elbows and Heels
Soaking elbows and heels in lemon juice and warm water, followed by rinsing and moisturizing, will slough off dead skin and leave them soft.
Feeling breath-conscious? Rinsing with lemon juice will kill stinky bacteria lingering on your teeth and tongue. Just rinse with water afterward to make sure no acid is left behind.
After giving these tricks a try, I understand (as do my guinea-pig friends) why we’ve used lemons for so long—they may be as close to a one-stop household shop as we can get. From now on, when life gives me lemons, instead of creating a sticky, sugary drink, I’ll be cleaning, beautifying, and healing.