From the Herbal Writings of Dr. John R. Christopher


Prunus armeniaca

Since some areas will be having apricots coming in season soon, now is a good time to discuss the Apricot

Apricots were long thought to have originated in Armenia but now are known to have originated in the Himalayas.  The Himalayan people with their very limited diet, rely a great deal on dried apricots and edible apricot kernels; these people are world famous for their unusual longevity.  Apricots are cultivated all around the world, mostly for their fruits but also for their kernels, which are edible in several varieties.

Apricots are very delicate during their brief season, so most of the time they are eaten dried.  They dry easily and retain nutrients well, including goodly amounts of vitamin A, B2, niacin, magnesium, potassium, sodium and iron.  

Apricot kernels are the part that interests herbalists and cosmetic manufacturers.  The oil is pressed from the kernels for use in cosmetic preparations and called Persic Oil; it is similar to Oil of Almonds, though not as expensive.  It is very smoothing and softening to the skin, a smooth, light, richly emollient oil.  If you want to use it in homemade cosmetic preparations, you can often buy it in health-food stores.

Of the most interest to herbalists, however, is the use of apricot kernels to provide a cancer drug called Laetrile.  Laetrile may not be available in the United States because of restrictions, but it is distributed in the rest of the world.  There are many reports of success in treating cancer with it.  Laetrile is said to have anti-tumor properties and is claimed to be effective in preventing as well as treating cancer.

Laetrile is present in the seeds of various fruits, such as almonds, cherries and plums, but is most abundant in certain varieties of apricots.  Laetrile consists of amygdalin, the bitter-tasting factor in the seeds, chemically known as mandelic nitrile beta-gluruconide, a cyanogenic glycoside.  This means that the seeds contain cyanide.  The theory goes that small amounts given over a long period will accumulate in cancer tissue and prevent oxygen from reaching the unhealthy tissue.  Since cancer tissue is said to have greater beta-glucosidase activity, it cannot detoxify the cyanide in Laetrile very easily.  Cyanide is extremely toxic to human beings, and can cause death by asphyxiation even in very small doses, so taking a concentrated extract such as Laetrile even if from a natural substance like apricot seeds seems unwise.  Many natural practitioners recommend eating apricot kernel from tree varieties that produce edible kernels as a cancer preventative.  This seems to be a safer course than taking the extract, which is reported to have caused hydrocyanic acid poisoning, with symptoms of severe headaches, stupor, convulsions, collapse and respiratory paralysis.

In Chinese medicine, apricot fruits are thought to relate to the heart and are therefore utilized in heart disease.  The kernels are crushed and combined with licorice and ginger to act as a cough medicine and expectorant.  They are also used particularly as an asthma remedy.  The crushed kernels are sometimes added to rice porridge and given in the case of hemorrhage.  The crushed kernels are taken as a remedy for tumors, as we suggest above.  Apricot flowers are considered a tonic woman’s remedy, used to help in fertility.

Apricot kernels are used to treat asthma in various localities around the world; research shows that chemicals in the kernels possess the anti-asthma activity.

In Turkey and Iraq, the seeds are used as an aphrodisiac and externally the oil is pressed and used to soften skin.  The seeds are used in various countries against parasites, taken as a vermifuge.

If you are growing apricot trees, select varieties that are suitable for your area. For those in the northern areas with short growing seasons, imported varieties from China or the Himalayas can produce well.  Don't grow oats near apricots; the oat root excretions inhibit the growth of young apricot trees.

If I or my family were to consume apricot kernels we would be eating the whole fruit along with the kernels.  Dr. John R. Christopher always stressed, “Everything in it's whole state.”

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