Armenian Plum, Damasco, Abricot and Amygdalus armeniaca
Fruit and Seeds
The humble Apricot has a fascinating and extremely long history, with archaeologists dating their first cultivation to around 3,000 BCE in China, where this succulent fruit is thought to have originated. However it is also thought to be a native fruit to Armenia, having been cultivated there too since ancient times.
Apricots were revered not only for their delicious taste and juiciness, they were also known as a highly nutritious food. The seeds or kernels are to this day important in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, where the oil is used topically to clear lung congestion and to help dry skin conditions. Internally it is used to treat constipation, as an anti-inflammatory and to flush toxins, salt and uric acid out of the body.
With more beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A) than carrots, Apricots are the superfruit for your eyes. They are also high in vitamin C, and together these two antioxidant nutrients can powerfully protect the eye lenses from harmful free radicals.
Apricots are rich in carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin, which help to absorb blue light and act as strong antioxidants for the eyes. They also raise the optical density of the macular pigment. Macular pigment gives protection against macular degeneration and age-related macular degeneration. Furthermore, in a 1994 study published in the "Journal of American Medical Association", Dr Johanna M. Seddon and associates at Harvard University found that just 6mg per day of lutein led to a 43% lower risk for macular degeneration.
Apricots contain many heart supportive nutrients including; potassium, vitamin C, dietary fibre and the little known yet mighty compound pangamic acid (otherwise known as vitamin B15). Pangamic acid (found in the kernels of Apricots), has been shown to lower blood cholesterol, improve circulation and general oxygenation of cells and tissues, and is helpful for arteriosclerosis and hypertension.
Potassium has vasodilating properties that work to relieve the tension of blood vessels which is one of the main causes of high blood pressure. Hypertension is a well known contributor to ischemic heart disease. High in vitamin C and fibre, Apricots and their kernels are an excellent food to support cardiovascular health.
Apricots contain many potent antioxidants, including lycopene, which is said to be the most powerful antioxidant that is found in food. Lycopene is the carotenoid that gives fruit and vegetables their deep orange to red colour. Substantial scientific and clinical research has been devoted to a possible correlation between lycopene consumption and enhanced health. Numerous studies have found that a high intake of foods that are rich in this compound correlates with a reduction in life threatening diseases.
Other antioxidant compound found in the flesh and kernels of Apricots include; quercetin, proanthocyanidins, catechins, epicatechins, hydroxycinnamics, gallic acid, caffeic acid, coumaric acid and ferulic acid. Catechins are more commonly associated with green tea, however just one Apricot will provide 4 – 5 grams of these phytonutrients. They have been particularly studied for their anti-inflammatory effects, with research showing that catechins can inhibit the activity of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), one of the critical steps in the process of inflammation.
Sweet Apricot Kernels contain little to no amygdalin, a substance is otherwise known as vitamin B17 that has caused much controversy ever since it was discovered by Dr Eugene Krebs Jr. Bitter Apricot Kernels contain high amounts of this compound and there are many arguments for and against their health benefits.
Sweet Apricot Kernels on the other hand provide many benefits. They are rich in healthy fats, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. The oil of the kernels is high in gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is a potent anti-inflammatory and female hormone balancer. Apricot Seed Oil is also a popular ingredient in many anti-aging skin products, the healthy nutrient and vitamin content of the oil helps to nourish skin and the blood vessels that feed the skin.
Apricots can be eaten fresh or dried and make a lovely addition to smoothies.
Apricot Kernels can be eaten straight, added to nut and seed mixes or enjoyed as a nut butter.
In the 3rd century CE, the renowned physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Dong Feng, is said to have treated his patients for free. His only stipulation was that five Apricot trees must be planted when one was cured of a serious illness, and one Apricot tree if one was cured of a minor disease. Several years later, a forest of 100,000 Apricot trees appeared. Each year, Apricots were exchanged for grains which were distributed to the poverty-stricken. Over 20,000 people benefitted from his generosity each year. The phrase "warm spring in the apricot wood" has since been used to praise the noble moral character of a physician in China. It is also said that Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, taught his students in a place encircled with Apricot woods.
Apricots were first grown in England by none other than King Henry VIII, whose gardener brought back the trees from Italy. Regarded as an aphrodisiac in Europe, Apricots are also mentioned in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream" by William Shakespeare. In 17th century England, Apricot Kernels were used in the treatment of ulcers, tumours and swellings.
Apricot contains vitamin C, beta-carotene (vitamin A), thiamin (B1), niacin (B3), iron, fibre, potassium. Plant chemicals include; quercetin, proanthocyanidins, catechins, epicatechins, hydroxycinnamics, gallic acid, caffeic acid, coumaric acid and ferulic acid.
Apricot is safe when consumed as a food. Sweet Apricot Kernels are considered safe as a food but over-consumption can lead to nausea. There is much controversy around Bitter Apricot Kernels as they contain the compound "amygdalin".