Apricots are fruits of the fruit trees Prunus armeniaca, which is supposed to originate from Armenia, an Asian country near Turkey. The tree isn't tall, but the canopy is large and its growth rate is high, My apricot treetherefore apricot has a shorter life than any other fruit tree, because it gets old faster. It can grow up to 26-39 ft (8-10 metres). Leaves are ovate, almost round, with a pointed tip and serrated margins. Flowers are white-pinkish, with five petals. Fruit is a yellow-orange drupe about 1.1-1.5 in (3-4 cm) in diameter, even larger. The surface is velvety, with short hairs and its flesh is firm and sweet. The single seed (kernel), Apricot flowerslooking like a small almond, is enclosed in a hard shell, which is why it is called "stone". Apricot kernels are sweet and are oftenly used as almonds substitute, in drinks and sweets, such as for the Italian amaretti cookies and amaretto liqueur.

Ripe apricots in the treeApricot is a cold hardy tree, growing very well in a continental climate, but also in Mediterranean climate, if the winters are cool enough to allow proper dormancy. It is one of the most sensitive fruit trees and without a proper care, it can very easily get sick and die of several disease such as, bacterial canker and blast, bacterial spot, brown rot, black knot, Alternaria spot and fruit rot, powdery mildew. The apricot seed contains hydrogen cyanide, which can be poisonous if consumed in large amounts. It is perfectly safe if consumed normal, I can testify for this, as I ate lots of apricot kernels. Actually I'm either breaking the hard shell immediately after eating the fruit, or save all of them for later. Hydrogen cynide is used for mining operations and it is extracted from the stone fruits kernels : peaches, cherries, plums, apricots. All stone fruits' kernels also contain cynogenic glycosides, such as amygdalin, which gives the seeds their bitter taste. In the old times, apricot kernels were used in treating tumors, swellings and ulcers. It was once thought to have anti-cancer properties, but recent tests have disapproved the initial theory. However, it is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine.[1]

Apricot kernel inside the broken stone Apricot kernels

Apricots contain one of the largest amounts of betacarotene which is transformed in vitamin A in our body, fiber, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and potassium, of all fruits. They have antioxidant, antistress, antiaging and diuretic properties.

Kernel in a half open apricotI came to know about a very interesting fact about betacarotene : it stimulates melanin, a pigment which protects skin cells from UVB radiation damage, reducing skin cancer risk by coloring our skin into the most wanted tan. But not all people get a perfect tan because not all people have the same skin, thus the same melanin type. Most people have the eumelanin type, which determines brown and black skin, aswell as brown and black eyes. The second melanin type is pheomelanin, present in red-hair people's skin more than eumelanin. Pheomelanin determines the red color of the hair, light color of the eyes(blue, green) and a fair color of the skin. It is also responsible for producing freckles in lighter skin type. Red hair and freckles are very rare, about 1-2% of the human population has it. Red hair appears because of a recessive gene on chromosome 16 which causes a mutation on MC1R protein in the human body.[2] Melanin is produced in the skin by specific cells called melanocytes, under sun's radiation. They send it to other cells from where it is distributed to all skin cells. Melanin protects the nuclear DNA in every skin cell against mutations which can be caused by the ionizing radiation of the sun's ultraviolet rays, reducing the risk of skin cancer. The mechanism of freckles appearance is simple. In darker skin, melanocytes produces melanin which makes the skin look uniform darker, with a nice tan. In lighter skin, any exposure to sun's ultraviolet radiation is beyond normal, unless it's only for a few minutes a day, gradually. As this is almost impossible to do, sun exposure stimulates melanocytes to produce more melanin which gather in clusters which are the freckles. They are mostly genetic.[3]

I find this very interesting because I have freckles, although I'm not a redhead person. I do have red hair now, but only because I'm coloring it! However, I have genes of readhead in my body from my Grandfather. Most of my aunts and cousins have freckles, although not all are redhead. Only an uncle, an aunt and a cousin are readhead and have freckles. I've always had sunburn issues and I even develop an allergy to sun radiation if I'm exposing for too long at a Apricottime. But how can this relate to apricots? I just made the connection when I found out about the betacarotene contained in this fruits. It appears that cravings are really our body's response to what it needs. In my case, it seems that I've always needed more betacarotene to stimulate melanin production in my skin in order to protect it from sun's radiation. And this is because I have a sensitive skin (yet brown, not fair) with freckles which don't dissapear during winter but they are growing more and more every summer while I'm exposing to the sun. I really like laying in the sun, on the hot sand, on the beach, near the sea - who doesn't? When I was younger, I used to go every Sunday at the swimming pool, in Bucharest, where I was staying about a whole day and got all red burned, but the red skin would turn into brown during the week. The next Sunday I was going back to the pool to get another tan, and so on. Until the end of the summer, I had a beautiful tan and I was ready to go to the beach without any worries. Yet, I always got sunburned in the first days, with all the brown tan I had on my skin. However, it wasn't that bad as it would have been if I didn't have any tan at all. One summer, when I was in highschool, I got that burned at the pool that I looked like a lobster, especially on my shoulders. Until then I didn't have any freckles there, but after that sunburn, lots of big freckles appeared on my shoulders and remained there. Of course, I used to eat lots of apricots back then and now I know why.

Apricot slice in my handNow I don't go to the pool anymore, just get a bit of tan everyday in the garden, all dressed up with my shorts and a Tshirt. In the olden days, I didn't have sunscreen, just some usual face creams, yoghurt and alcohol for the after sunburn relief, but nowadays I have so many options! I always choose the lotion with the highest sun protective factor and that is 50. Although I don't get too much tan, at least I don't suffer of those terrible itchy and painful blisters which sun exposure makes to my skin, especially on my chest and feet. My freckles aren't more than usual, but I wouldn't mind getting more because I am used to them, as they are part of me. Even though my husband says that they are a sign of how bad I am! Now I know what they are and why I crave for apricots. Fortunately, I now have my own apricot tree which I'm caring for all year long, waiting patiently for the apricots to ripe. Only when they are orange and soft, I pick them up from the tree. This is when they have the most wanted betacarotene, which my body craves for. Curiously, I don't crave for fresh apricots until it's their season in Romania, which matches so well with the beach season. Isn't nature amazing?

[1] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apricot

[2]- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_hair

[3] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freckles