The scientific name for the apricot is Prunus armeniaca L., which puts it in the same subgenus as the plum (Prunophora).
- Plant: Small to medium sized tree with spreading, dense canopy; leaves are shaped somewhat like a heart, with pointed tips, about 8 cm (1/3 inch) wide.
- Flowers: Flowers are white to pinkish in color.
- Fruit: The fruit has only one seed; the color runs from yellow to orange and may have a red cast; the surface of the fruit is smooth and nearly hairless.
The apricot originated in northeastern China near the Russian border, not in Armenia as the scientific name suggests. It did arrive in Armenia after moving through central Asia, which took about 3,000 years. The Romans brought it into Europe through Anatolia about 70 BC. While English settlers brought the apricot to the English colonies in the New World, most of modern American production of apricots comes from the seedlings carried to the west coast by Spanish Missionaries. Turkey provides 85 percent of the world's dried apricot and apricot kernels today.
Medicinal and non-food uses
Cyanogenic glycosides (found in most stone fruit seeds, bark, and leaves) are found in high concentration in apricot seeds. The drug laetrile, a purported treatment for cancer, is extracted from apricot seeds. As early as AD 502 apricot seeds were used to treat tumors and in the 17th century apricot oil was used in England against tumors and ulcers. Seeds of the apricot grown in central Asia and around the Mediterranean are so sweet that they may be substituted for almonds. Oil expressed from these varieties has been used as cooking oil.
Most people may think that Apricots are grown from seeds but they are most often grafted on root stock. A cutting of an existing Apricot plant provides the fruit characteristics such as flavor, size etc. but the root stock provides the growth and disease fighting characteristics of the plant.
In Europe, apricots were long considered an aphrodisiac, and is used in this context in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. Dreaming of apricots, in English folklore, is said to be good luck, though the Chinese believe the fruit is a symbol of cowardice.
- www.apricotseeds.org (includes information on medicinal uses of apricot seeds)