Apricots are beautifully colored orange fruits full of beta carotene and fiber that are one of the first signs of summer.
This fruit was long thought to have originated in Armenia—note the Latin name—but now is known to have originated in China, the Himalayas, and other parts of temperate Asia. The people of Hunza who live in the Himalayas, with their very limited diet, rely a great deal on dried apricots and edible apricot kernels. These people are world renowned for their unusual longevity. Apricot trees are cultivated all around the world, mostly for their fruit but also for their kernels, which are edible in several varieties.
Apricots are very delicate during their brief season, so most of the time they are eaten dried. The fruit is dried easily and retains nutrients well, including goodly amounts of vitamins A and B2, niacin, magnesium, potassium, sodium and iron.
The kernel of the apricot is the part that most interests herbalists and cosmetic manufacturers. Oil, called Persic Oil, is pressed from the kernels for use in cosmetic preparations and is similar to Oil of Almonds, though not as expensive, and is very softening to the skin, being a smooth, light, richly emollient oil. It can be purchased in health food stores and used for making homemade cosmetic preparations.
Of the most interest to herbalists, however, is the use of apricot kernels to provide a cancer drug called Laetrile which is now available only in Mexico because of restrictions in the United States. It is distributed worldwide, and there are many reports of success in treating cancer with it. Laetrile is said to have antitumor properties and is claimed to be effective in preventing as well as treating cancer. As early as A.D. 502, apricot seeds were used to treat tumors, and in the 17th century, apricot oil was used in England against tumors and ulcers.
Laetrile is present in the seeds of various fruits, such as almonds, cherries and plums, but is most abundant in certain varieties of apricots. Laetrile consists of amygdalin, the bitter-tasting factor in the seeds, chemically known as mandelic nitrile beta-gluruconide, a cyanogenic glycoside. This means that the seeds contain cyanide. The theory goes that small amounts given over a long period will accumulate in cancer tissue and prevent oxygen from reaching the unhealthy tissue. Since cancer tissue is said to have greater beta-glucosidase activity, it cannot detoxify the cyanide in Laetrile very easily. Cyanide is extremely toxic to human beings, and can cause death by asphyxiation even in very small doses, so taking a concentrated extract such as Laetrile even if from a natural substance like apricot seeds seems unwise. Many natural practitioners recommend eating apricot kernels from tree varieties that produce edible kernels as a cancer preventative. This seems to be a safer course than taking the extract, which is reported to have caused hydrocyanic acid poisoning, with symptoms of severe headaches, stupor, convulsions, collapse and respiratory paralysis.
In Chinese medicine, apricot fruits are thought to relate to the heart and are therefore utilized in heart disease. The kernels are crushed and combined with licorice and ginger to act as a cough medicine and expectorant. They are also used particularly as an asthma remedy. The crushed kernels are taken as a remedy for tumors, as we suggest above. Apricot flowers are considered a tonic women’s remedy, used to help in fertility.
The Japanese folk remedy bainiku-ekisu (concentrated Japanese apricot juice) has been used for the treatment of gastritis (stomach inflammation) and enteritis (bowel inflammation) since ancient times, and has recently been studied as a bacteriostatic (stops the growth/reproduction of bacteria) agent.
Apricot kernels are used to treat asthma in various localities around the world; research shows that chemicals in the kernels possess the anti-asthma activity.
In Turkey and Iraq, the oil is pressed and used to soften skin. The seeds are used in various countries against parasites, taken as a vermifuge.
If you are growing apricot trees, select varieties that are suitable for your area. For those in northern areas with short growing seasons, imported varieties from China or the Himalayas can produce well. Do not grow oats near apricots; the root excretions inhibit the growth of young apricot trees.
Right now 97% of the commercial apricot crop is grown in California. Only about 21% of those grown commercially are sold as fresh fruit. The majority are canned, dried or frozen.
For the best flavor, eat tree-ripened fruit. These are rarely available in stores, even those close to the orchard. The next best thing to a well matured apricot is one that is orange-yellow in color, and plump and juicy. Immature apricots never attain the right sweetness or flavor. There are far too many immature apricots on the market. They are greenish-yellow; the flesh is firm with a sour taste. Avoid green and shriveled apricots.
More Benefits of Apricot
Apricots may be eaten raw in a soft diet. Ripe apricots are especially good for very young children and for older people. This fruit is quite laxative, and rates high in alkalinity. Apricots also contain cobalt, which is necessary in the treatment of anemic conditions.
Apricots may be pureed for children who are just beginning to eat solid foods. Blend some apricots for a wonderful desert. They make good afternoon and evening snacks.
The sugar content in dried apricots is six times higher than that of the fresh fruit. Therefore, persons with diabetic conditions must be careful not to eat too many dried apricots. On the other hand, because of its sugar content it is good when an energy boost is needed.
Dried fruit should be put in cold water and brought to a boil the night before, or permitted to soak all night, before eating. Bringing the water to a boil kills any germ life that may be on the fruit. Sweeten only with honey, maple syrup, or natural sugars.