Lemon trees were first grown in China and India about 4,000 years ago and found their way to Europe with a little help from merchants and Crusaders.

Christopher Columbus was the first to introduce lemons to America, yet was unaware it could prevent scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency disease, common on long sea voyages due to the lack of fresh food.

Lemons are an abundant source of vitamin C as well as bioflavonoids which have strong immune-boosting and antioxidant properties and help to strengthen skin and blood vessels.

The Royal Navy finally rationed lemon juice to all sailors in 1795 on the recommendation of James Lind.

The juice of a lemon, diluted with water, is also anti-bacterial and can be used as an emergency disinfectant for minor wounds.

It makes an ideal gargle for sore throats. Heating the mixture and adding a teaspoon of honey and grated ginger produces a classic remedy for coughs and colds.

If you want to detox after a period of indulgence, this fruit is the mother of all detox cures.

Many people start their day with a glass of water and a slice of lemon or a splash of freshly-squeezed lemon juice to cleanse the colon and kidneys.

Handy tip: You can do the same for the internal plumbing of your dishwasher by filling the detergent cup with neat lemon juice and running the machine through its normal cycle to clean away all the grunge.

If you have any spare lemons, squeeze the juice and freeze in ice-cube trays.

Defrost when needed and add to chilled mineral water or use to flavour food, salad dressings and sauces.

It is an excellent preservative, lifts the flavour of vegetable juices and inhibits the discolouration of fresh fruit.

When using the rind to flavour and garnish, take care to scrub the lemon thoroughly to remove any fungicide residues and wax before grating.

Lemon's role in the ancient art of contraception is less well known. Throughout the ages, women have relied on dubious suppository mixtures, of which lemon juice is the least unpleasant.

One tried-and-tested method was to insert a sea sponge soaked in lemon juice as an effective spermicide.

The 18th-Century seducer Casanova was thought to have invented a primitive version of the cervical cap -

he recommended using half a scooped-out lemon (although it would be unwise to try this at home).

Casanova's crude methods of birth control were not completely misguided because recent lab tests show that lemon juice antagonises sperm.

It has the same effect on the AIDS virus.

Only last year, Australian scientists caused controversy by suggesting that lemons could act as a safe alternative to contraceptives and costly HIV-drugs.

Some researchers, however, are worried that, although the acidity of lemon juice helps to inactivate and kill HIV, it could damage the fragile inner lining of the skin, allowing the virus free entry.

With experts predicting a 50 per cent increase in the number of people infected with the disease over the next five years, the humble lemon may yet have a vital role to play.

Martina is a qualified nutritionist at the Crescent Clinic of Complementary Medicine, 37 Vernon Terrace, Brighton. Tel: 01273 202221 or email: martina@thehealthbank.co.uk