Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
The apricot, Prunus armeniaca syn. Amygdalus armeniaca, Armeniaca ansu, Armeniaca vulgaris and Prunus ansu, really has no other English names, although there are a few varieties: the Tibetan apricot (P.a. var armeniaca) and the ansu apricot (P.a. var ansu). The regular apricot is also sometimes called the Siberian apricot. It is native to China, Japan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Tibet but cultivated almost all over the world.
Some people believe that the “apple” eaten by Adam and Eve was actually an apricot. The original Hebrew word means “fragrant fruit”, and since apples are not native to Israel, whereas apricots are, it is at least possible that apricots were the forbidden fruit. It also has to be said that a good apricot definitely tastes good enough to be sinful.
Apricots are closely related to almonds, plums and peaches.
The apricot is a deciduous tree which reaches a height of around 30 feet (9m). It does not like heavy clay, but is otherwise unfussy about soil, so long as it is well drained. It will not grow in full shade.
Apricots are amazingly versatile. The fruit can be eaten fresh, cooked or made into juice or jam/jelly, and dried apricots are available in most good food stores. Canned apricots are also sometimes offered, though in my experience these are not as readily found as they once were. The fresh fruit is sometimes used in green salad or you can add slices of apricot to your morning cereal. Dried apricots make a good snack. When chopped they make a great addition to muesli and can also be used in Middle Eastern savory dishes.
Note: dried apricots are often treated with sulphur dioxide as an aid to preservation. Unfortunately, even though only 1% of the general population and 5% of asthmatics get an obvious bad reaction to this chemical, it’s not very good for you. If you can’t find any information on the pack, I’d advise you to stick to certified organic dried apricots, as the organic code does not permit the use of sulphur dioxide. They’ll probably be brown rather than bright orange. This is a good sign, though they may look a little odd until you are used to them.
Alternatively, you can dry apricots at home. This article on eHow gives excellent instructions on how to do this.
Standard infusion: 3 handfuls of fresh or 30g (1 ounce) dried flowers to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, strain off and discard flowers before drinking. Dose: 1 cup a day, sipped slowly warm or cold.
Decoction: 15g (a half ounce) shredded bark to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and continue heating until liquid is reduced by half.
An infusion of apricot flowers can be used as a tonic.
A decoction of apricot bark can be used to soothe irritated or inflamed skin.
If you remove the flesh and crack open the stone in the middle, the nut-like kernel (called xing ren in Chinese herbalism) can be used to lower high temperatures (antipyretic), aid breathing, particularly in asthmatics, as an expectorant and cough reliever and to treat internal parasites.
Apricot kernels have also received a lot of attention as a cancer cure, because they contain large quantities of amygdalin (sometimes called laetrile or vitamin B17 – although strictly speaking, it isn’t a vitamin). This is a revival of an old experiment, abandoned in 1892 because it was not only ineffective but also highly toxic! According to Cancer Research UK: “If simply eating apricot seeds could cure cancer, no one would be more delighted than us.”
When amygdalin breaks down in the gut, it produces cyanide, which as most people know is absolutely deadly in quite small amounts. For this reason, the US Government and UK Food Standards Authority recommend that no more than two apricot kernels are eaten a day (although sites offering them for sale say 6-10 a day is the right amount, thus increasing potential profit by 300-500%). Personally, I would go with the authorities on this one! There have been some quite nasty health problems reported in people who had been snacking on them ad lib.
On the other hand, cooked apricot kernels lose much of their toxicity, so snacking on amaretti cookies (the main ingredient of which is ground apricot kernels) or the occasional nip of Amaretto liqueur will probably not do you any harm.
If you grow an apricot tree which you wish to use for medicinal purposes, use organic methods to avoid contaminating the crop with foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.
Apricot kernel oil is used in aromatherapy as a carrier oil or carrier oil additive recommended for dehydrated and mature skin.