native to: China or Armenia
in season here: June to early July
Apricots, Prunus armenaica, are closely related to plums (more distantly, they join plums, peaches, and apples as relatives of the rose). They may have originally come from India or China and were certainly present in ancient Greece and Rome, but the general scientific consensus these days is that they came from Armenia. They were brought to Virginia in 1720, but didn’t do all that well until they arrived in California in 1792, where the climate was much more suitable. Here in Washington State, of course, we think of them as being from Yakima and Wenatchee, and may even associate them with Cotlets. It’s easy to tell if an apricot is reasonably local and delicious or has been picked green and imported hundreds or thousand of miles: the better an apricot smells, the more flavor it has. The essential oil from apricot pits is sold as bitter almond oil (just like almond extract is actually made from peach pits).
Apricots are one of summer’s earliest fruits and provide plenty of beta-carotene, fiber, vitamin C, copper, and potassium. Their flavonoids and other polyphenols have been linked to heart health, and their carotenoids and xanthophylls are thought to protect vision. They are also a good source of catechins, an anti-inflammatory most commonly associated with green tea. They support bone health, with all the necessary minerals needed to grow bones and prevent osteoporosis. They’ve been used to treat digestive complaints, earaches, fever, skin problems, respiratory problems, cancer, and anemia (with what success, my superficial research doesn’t mention). Apricot oil is used on strained muscles and wounds.