The apricot season opens at the beginning of May and goes through to the end of August or early September, which gives us five months to enjoy this highly nutritious and healing food. This week some friends of us dropped around with a large bag of the fruit straight from the tree in their garden and we are slowly working our way through this delicious bounty.
First though a little history about this luscious golden yellow fruit. In China over 4000 years ago a bride will have not only had something borrowed and something blue but would have also been nibbling on an apricot. It was prized for its ability to increase fertility, which is not surprising, as it is high in nutrients necessary for the production of sex hormones.
The Latin name for the apricot is “praecocia” which means precocious or early ripening. It is part of the rose family and is a cousin to the peach, plum, cherry and the almond. In China it first grew wild in the mountains before being introduced to Arab traders who took it with them along the trade routes to Babylon and Persia where they were called the “eggs of the sun”. Over the following centuries the fruit continued its travels reaching Greece where the juice was known as “nectar of the Gods, then onto Spain, Mexico and North America. It is now cultivated in all warm climates around the world and used as a sweet and savoury addition to a healthy diet.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE APRICOT?
As with any fresh fruit the apricot is packed with fibre and nutrients including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamins B1, B2, B6, Vitamin E, Potassium and Iron. Of particular interest from a therapeutic viewpoint are its high levels of carotenoids.
Carotenoids are responsible for the wonderfully rich reds, oranges and yellow colouring of plant leaves, fruits, flowers and some birds, insects and fish such as salmon. There are around 600 carotenoids that occur naturally and the apricot has two in particular that benefit us, Beta-carotene and lycopene.
Beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for healthy sight especially at night. As with any part of the body the sensitive components of the eye are as vulnerable to oxidative damage as any other and Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to degenerative eye disease in many research programmes. It has also shown that eating just three portions a day of yellow and orange fruit and vegetables such as apricots and carrots would lower the risk of poor eyesight as we age.
As an anti-oxidant, beta-carotene protects the LDL or harmful cholesterol from free radical damage that can cause plaque to form in the arteries. A build up of plaque can lead to both heart disease and a higher risk of stroke.
Lycopene is usually associated with bright red fruits such as tomatoes but it is also present in apricots. As well as helping protect the eyes from degenerative disease, lycopene is associated with a reduction in damage to LDL cholesterol and a much lower risk of developing a number of cancers including bladder, breast, cervix, prostate and skin.
There has been considerable interest in the medicinal properties of the apricot kernel for the last 40 years. There has been some controversial claims made about cancer curing abilities that has not been well received by the medical profession or pharmaceutical companies. Hopefully ongoing research will prove that this is a natural alternative to the highly invasive treatments currently available such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Modern scientists are not the first researchers in history to explore the possibilities of the apricot kernel.
WHAT ARE THE MEDICINAL USES OF APRICOTS?
In ancient China over 4,000 years ago, healers used a medicine made from the kernels to prolong life. Additionally the oils from the kernels were used as a sedative, muscle relaxant, in wound healing and as an anti-parasitic.
The apricot’s fibre makes it a gentle laxative; aids weight loss and reduces cholesterol in the blood. Its alkaline properties aid digestion if eaten before a meal and due to the high content of iron it is excellent for anyone suffering from anaemia. Apricots also contain a small but essential amount of copper, which may increase the production of haemoglobin in the blood providing more oxygen and therefore energy for the body.
Over the centuries the juice of apricots mixed with honey has been used to treat fevers and the juice from the leaves appears to reduce the inflammation caused by eczema and sunburn.
So this small fruit has a large reputation and certainly in the fight against the most common modern diseases such as elevated cholesterol, heart disease and cancers it would definitely be worth including in your diet on a daily basis.
Apricots are best eaten when still a little firm. If they are not fully ripe when you buy them keep them in a fruit bowl for two to three days and then store in paper or plastic bag in the fridge for up to three days.
Apart from eating them fresh you can use them in cooking by stewing, grilling, baking or roasting and they are delicious as an accompaniment to meat and poultry dishes or in desserts. As a pre dinner snack they are delicious halved and stuffed with a cream cheese and chopped nuts. For a main course serve in a fresh spinach and walnut salad with roast salmon.
If you want to use dried apricots out of season then do buy guaranteed sulphite free brands as there are many people who react to this preservative. Asthma sufferers in particular should avoid any food containing sulphites including inexpensive wine, baked goods, soup mixes, jams, snacks and most dried fruit.
Thanks for dropping in today and please feel free to share..Sally
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