The Latin name of apricot, Prunus armeniaca, means Armenian plum and until fairly recently it used to be referred to as Armenian apple in some areas of Europe and in America. The tree’s origin is the subject of ongoing debate. One of the versions is that apricots spread all over the world from Armenia, where archaeologists have discovered apricot stones dating back to the Bronze era. Today over 50 apricot species are found on the territory of Armenia, indirectly proving that apricot tree could in fact have originated in this particular region. Chinese researchers however insist that apricot trees were brought to Armenia from the north of China as the Chinese used apricots for medical purposes as early as 5000 BC.
Europe obtained apricots thanks to Alexander the Great sending back home saplings of the trees he liked from every country he conquered. From his Persian campaign cherry and apricot plants were brought back and several decades after first apricot orchards emerged in Greece. In China apricot was considered medicinal fruit, supposedly improving memory and provoking the desire to study among other things. One of the Chinese historians reports, that Confucius himself gathered his disciples in apricot orchards. Dong Feng, a Chinese practitioner of traditional medicine during the Eastern Han period, asked that his patients plant an apricot tree next to their house or his clinic as a payment for his services.
Apricot kernels were one of the many traditional components of Chinese medicines. As it turns out, bitter apricot kernels contain 5% of amygdalin, and sweet kernels just under 1%. Amygdalin is the same substance that’s found in almonds. When it is fermented inside a human digestive tract, it breaks apart into several fragments, one of which is cyanide or hydrocyanic acid, a very potent and dangerous poison.
The amount of cyanide in an average bitter apricot kernel is about 1.8 mg, and in a sweet kernel — 0.3 mg. Same as almonds, apricot kernels may be dangerous, especially for children. It is possible that cyanogenic glycosides in almond and apricot kernels may have a particular anti-tumour action, however this assumption is still being researched.
Curiously, apricot kernel oil has been used since the ancient times as anti-cancer remedy, it 17–18th century England it was considered a cure for tumours. But today doctors strongly advise against experimenting with it — the risk of poisoning heavily outweighs the supposed health benefits. It can indeed be said that apricot kernel oil has been used for many centuries and for a variety of purposes.
William Shakespeare thought apricot oil an aphrodisiac, John Webster calls it a stimulator of conception.
Cosmetology has use for not just apricot oil, but also the extract of apricot pulp, and even ground apricot stones for exfoliating peeling scrubs.
Apricot pulp contains almost all vitamins known to science: C, PP, В1, В2, В15.The above-mentioned amygdalin was considered vitamin В17 back in the 1950s, but this assumption has been disproved since. A ripe apricot contains malic, citric and tartaric acids, tanning agents, zinc, selenium and other micro elements. Acids, vitamins and zinc in apricot make it a good sebum regulating agent—masks and creams with apricot reduce the synthesis of skin oil and tighten pores.
Apricot kernel oil has almost opposite properties.
Its composition includes unsaturated fatty acids: oleic, linoleic, palmitic, stearic, palmitoleic and linolenic acids. Light and fluid, apricot oil softens and moisturises the skin, enhances the processes of regeneration and healing. As many other seed oils, apricot oil contains plenty of vitamin E, the so-called “vitamin of youth”. It improves the skin’s elasticity and resilience, creates the most powerful anti oxidant effect and helps reduce the depth of wrinkles. The oil also contains vitamin A (retinol), that always accompanies vitamin E in natural oils. Retinol is known to have a pronounced rejuvenating effect, even out the skin tone and reduce all signs of ageing. Vitamin C enhances the effect of liposoluble vitamins, quickly restores the skin after tanning and other damage, reduces pigmentation. The unusual thing about apricot oil is that it contains quite a lot of potassium and magnesium, micro elements with balancing and soothing effect.
Apricot oil is very well tolerated even by sensitive skin.
Apricot oil can be used on its own or as a base for the compositions of essential oils. It is optimal for anti-age and rejuvenating solutions. Apricot oil based masks nourish and moisturise dry and flaking skin and can also be used for hair care. The delicate scent of apricot kernel oil, favoured by many beauty professionals, sets the mood during massage or a professional cosmetic procedure.