History of Apricot
The apricot, Prunus armeniaca, is a member of the rose family, along with peaches, plums, cherries, and almonds. The word apricot comes from the Latin praecocia meaning “precocious” or “early ripening.” It first appeared in English print in 1551. Alexander the Great is said to have brought apricots from their native home in China to Greece in the fourth century B.C. The Arabs carried apricots to the Mediterranean, and the apricot became a main crop in Italy for centuries. Franciscan friars brought the apricot to America in the late 1800s, where they thrived. Today, the United States produces ninety percent of the world’s apricot crop, with ninety percent of that U.S. crop grown in the state of California. There are hundreds of apricot varieties, but certain ones are more suitable for dried and processed fruits. Apricot trees are perfect for home gardens. They are easy to maintain, take up relatively little space, and the sweet-smelling flowers are an added benefit in spring. In literature there are many different references to the origin of apricots, which makes it very confusing to try and discern their real origin: Loudon (1838) wrote that apricots originated from a wide region including not only Armenia, but also China, Japan, Caucasus and Himalaya. Persians were also aware of apricots, and the dried fruits were a widespread commodity on the Persian markets: today they are known as “Zard-alu”, in Iran, where they make up a very important slice of the fruit market. After the Roman empire, several facts suggest that apricots had disappeared from Europe. They were re-introduced there with the Arab invasion of Spain. In 1542, during the time of Henry 8th, his gardener brought the apricot to England from Italy, and the biggest growing breakthrough was achieved by Lord Anson at Moor Park in Hertfordshire, producing the European favourite variety called Moor Park. Australia is also a fairly large producer: the most prolific region is South Australia, in the zone of Mypolonga, Lower Murray region, as well as the Riverland. Other Australian states where apricots can be found are Tasmania, New South Wales and Western Victoria.
World production occurs generally in two broad bands between about 25° and 45° latitude, often in association with peaches, nectarines and plums. However, apricots are not as climatically adaptable as other stone fruits. Individual varieties which grow well in one area often do not perform in other apricot production districts. Apricots require a warm Mediterranean climate, needing cool to cold winters to break dormancy and warm to hot dry summers to mature fruit with minimal disease problems. Fruit is subject to cracking in wet or humid weather. Apricot trees flower early, exposing them to damage from spring frosts in many of the areas they are grown. The tree is drought resistant (especially on apricot stock) but requires supplementary irrigation to reach its full yield potential.
Apricots grown on apricot rootstock require well drained soils. In soils where drainage is restricted and ponding occurs after irrigation or rainfall (cherry) plum stocks are needed. Apricots seem well adapted to soils of around pH 6–8. The species is fairly tolerant of alkaline conditions but is very sensitive to high salt levels in the soil.
There are more than 40 varieties of apricots almost all of which grow in warm climates. Some apricot hybrids and interspecies hybrids such as peachcots, plumcots, and cherrycots have been adapted to cooler regions, but most apricots grow in the near Mediterranean latitudes that stretch from Italy through Turkey and Iran to the southern Himalayas to southern China, Japan, Australia, and on to California. The apricot tree can grow to more than 30 feet (9 m) tall. Its flowers and fruit develop directly from the tree’s trunk and branches. The apricot is a stone fruit that requires a cold winter for rest and a warm summer to ripen the fruit. Most apricots have a velvety pale orange skin and dry flesh. As the apricot ripens its edible downy skin becomes smooth. A ripe apricot is sweet, fragrant, and delicately flavored with very little juice. Apricot varieties can be divided into early harvest, mid-season harvest, and late harvest. The ‘Blenheim’ is an early harvest apricot beginning in spring and the ‘Moorpark’ is a mid-season harvest fruit ready for picking in late spring and early summer. Late harvest apricots are ready after the middle of summer.
The Chinese associate the apricot with education and medicine. For instance, the classical word 杏壇 (literally: ‘apricot altar’) which means “educational circle”, is still widely used in written language. Chuang Tzu, a Chinese philosopher in 4th century BCE, told a story that Confucius taught his students in a forum surrounded by the wood of apricot trees. The association with medicine in turn comes from the common use of apricot kernels as a component in traditional Chinese medicine, and from the story of Dong Feng (董奉), a physician during the Three Kingdoms period, who required no payment from his patients except that they plant apricot trees in his orchard on recovering from their illnesses, resulting in a large grove of apricot trees and a steady supply of medicinal ingredients. The term “Expert of the Apricot Grove” (杏林高手) is still used as a poetic reference to physicians. The fact that apricot season is very short has given rise to the very common Egyptian Arabic and Palestinian Arabic expression “filmishmish” (“in apricot [season]”) or “bukra filmishmish” (“tomorrow in apricot [season]”), generally uttered as a riposte to an unlikely prediction, or as a rash promise to fulfill a request. Among United States Marine Corps tank-driving Marines, apricots are taboo, by superstition. Marine Corps tankers will not eat apricots, allow apricots onto their vehicles, and often will not even say the word “apricot”. This superstition stems from Marine Sherman tank breakdowns purportedly happening in the presence of cans of apricots. The Turkish idiom “bundan iyisi Şam’da kayısı” (literally, the only thing better than this is an apricot in Damascus) means “it doesn’t get any better than this” and used when something is the very best it can be; like a delicious apricot from Damascus.
The apricot has highly health-building virtues. The fresh fruit is rich in easily-digestible natural sugars, vitamins A and C, riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3). It is also an excellent source of minerals like calcium, phosphorus, iron and traces of sodium, sulphur, manganese, cobalt and bromine. Apricots are often dried, cooked into pastry or eaten as jam. The calories in apricots multiply many times over when dried, but the amount of calcium, phosphorus and iron also increased significantly. The beta-carotene and lycopene in this golden fruit helps protect the LDL cholesterol from oxidation, which in turn helps prevent heart disease. The apricot seed is a nut that is rich in protein and fat like any other nuts. It also has an extremely high content of vitamin B17 which is known as Laetrile. Daily consumption of this seed is claimed to be highly effective in preventing cancer. Cancer patients on Laetrile Cancer Therapy have reported that their tumors have shrunk with high doses of vitamin B17.
The fruit, kernel (inner softer part of the seed), oil and flowers of the apricot have always been used in medicine and medical treatment from ancient days. The kernel yields an oil that is similar to that of the almond and is widely used for their sedative, anti-spasmodic relief to strained muscles. It is also useful for healing of wounds, expelling worms and as a general health tonic. Anemia: The high content of iron in apricot makes it an excellent food for anemia sufferers. The small but essential amount of copper in the fruit makes the iron available to the body. Liberal consumption of apricot can increase the production of hemoglobin in the body. This is ideal for women after their menstrual cycle, especially those with heavy flow. Constipation: The cellulose and pectin content in apricot is a gentle laxative and are effective in the treatment of constipation. The insoluble cellulose acts as a roughage which helps the bowel movement. The pectin absorbs and retains water, thereby increasing bulk to stools, aiding in smooth bowel movement. Digestion: Take an apricot before meal to aid digestion, as it has an alkaline reaction in the digestive system. Eyes/Vision: The high amount of vitamin A (especially when dried) is essential to maintain or improve eyesight. Insufficiency of this vitamin can cause night blindness and impair sight. Fever: Blend some honey and apricots with some mineral water and drink to cool down fevers. It quenches the thirst and effectively eliminates the waste products from the body. Skin Problem: Juice fresh apricot leaves and apply on scabies, eczema, sun-burn or skin itchiness, for that cool, soothing feeling.
The apricot is, as a rule, a very healthy tree. However, there are a few diseases which affect it to some extent. These troubles are practically identical with those of the peach and other stone-fruits. The more important diseases and injuries are: Brown Rot, Frost Injury, scab, Coryneum Fruit Spot, rust and Black Spot. During recent years most attention has been given to the last three. Doubtless Brown Rot is the best – known disease of the apricot