The apricot belongs to a very numerous genus of fruit bearing trees, and trees which are a good deal different in their characters. The genus prunus comprises all the varieties of the cherry, the laurels, the plums, the sloe, and a number of others that are never cultivated for the sake of their fruit. Many of the genus are poisonous; and though the fruit of some of them is agreeable to the taste, and is safe enough when taking in limited quantities, there is none of the family that can be indulged in to excess with impunity.
The apricot is very widely spread in Asia, and it grows upon the slopes of the barren mountains to the West of China. Many species of it are cultivated; and as they ripen earlier than the peach and the nectarine, they are in considerable demand. Some varieties are exceedingly delicious; and the Persians, in their figurative language, call the Iran apricot "the seed of the sun".
It seems that the apricot was known in Italy in at the time of one Dioscorides; and that it got its name "precocia" from ripening earlier than some other fruits. The modern Greek name and the Arabic name for the fruit are very similar. The Romans set little value upon the apricot, perhaps because they only knew of poor varieties. The ancient name for the apricot is a precoke, as it used to be styled by our most early writers of horticulture. And the modern word "apricot" is the vulgarism or corruption.
The apricot is said to derive its scientific name from its almost covering the slopes of the caucasus, and the Ararat, and the other mountains in and about that country, up almost to the margin of the snow. However there is an opinion that the apricot does not come from Armenia since it blossoms so early that its flowers would be destroyed by frost. The apricot, although it has been cultivated in Europe for many ages, never sprang up from seeds in any of our forests; neither has it been found wild, either in Armenia or its neighbouring countries. Monsieur Regnier is of the opinion that it is a native of Africa, and to that its limits appear to be a parallel between the Niger and the Atlas mountains, from the whence it has, by cultivation, been carried North.
Apricots are very plentiful, and in great variety, in China; and the natives employ them in the Arts. From the wild tree, the fruit from which is of little value and, but which has a large kernel, they extract and oil; they preserve of the fruit wet in all its flavour; and they make lozenges of the clarified juice, which gives a very agreeable drink when dissolved in water. In Japan, the apricot attains the size of a large tree. It also flourishes in such abundance in the Oases, as to be dried and carried to Egypt as an article of commerce. In those sultry climates, the flavour is exquisite, though the fruit is small.
Gough, in his British Topography, states that the apricot - tree was first brought to England, in 1524, by Woolf, gardener to Henry VIII.
The article above was taken from "A Description and History of Vegetable Substances used in the Arts and in Domestic Economy published by Charles Knight, London, 1829.
Nigel Deacon, Diversity website.
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