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The Jewish Herbal: Apricot

The Jewish Herbal: Mystical Reflections on Food, Nature and Urban Farming” is a regular column by Devorah Brous charting the ways we can use mystical Jewish wisdom, earth-based practices and herbal wellness to reconnect with ourselves in harmony with nature. Dev is an urban homesteader, lifecycle ritualist, and green consultant in Los Angeles. Find her online offerings @Dev.Brous

Kernels collected from apricot pits.

Kernels collected from apricot pits. Courtesy of Devorah Brous

We planted a Blenheim apricot tree when we moved to our home in Los Angeles. Ten years later it stands 14 feet tall and provides hang-upside-down branches for the kids, an abundant food source for the neighborhood, a much-needed shade canopy for our urban homestead during blazing hot Valley days – and insane summertime snacks. Pie. Or sorbet.

There is a long list of reasons to eat up your apricots as any Jewish grandmother will tell you, especially if you tend toward getting stuck downstairs (constipated) or crave a healthy regimen of moisturizing your skin with hydrating botanical body butters in the dry summer months.

In addition to carrying the mother load of antioxidants, iron, fiber, carotenoids (all that good stuff we often need more of) and a heap of vitamins and minerals that support gut health — apricots contain amygdalin, a chemical component (vitamin B17) which has stacked healers and doctors against one another in a debate about anti-cancer efficacy.

It is also said that apricots help mitigate asthma, reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, and in cultures from Andalusia to Aboriginals in Australia – that apricots ignite passion.

Regardless of whether the fruit has FDA-approved anti-cancer or aphrodisiac properties, eat more apricots. I want to share with you a mysterious Arabic phrase that Palestinian friends and colleagues always shared with me: “Bukra F’il mish-mish” — tomorrow, when the apricots bloom. The meaning – it might never happen. Which leaves me cracking open the apricot pit to hunt for the hidden kernel of deeper meaning here: Apricots symbolize something too good to be true.

Maybe that’s because most folks never get to taste the decadent sweet, juicy fruit when it’s fully ripe. Frequent extreme weather events like cold snaps and harsh winds can easily destroy an apricot season and send blooming apricot flowers to scatter the ground before pollination. Our yard looks like it’s had an LA dusting of snow (which is highly unlikely – bukra f’il mishmish). Since the fruits that do survive climate disruption tend to bruise easily and don’t travel well, top all of that with wasteful shipping and marketing practices worldwide – farmers must pick apricots before the fruit ripens on the tree. For these reasons, so much of the apricot yield is dried or canned.

Apricots are the first of the stone fruits to ripen and the short harvest is literally less than two weeks. Some Palestinian schools traditionally would close for two weeks so the entire village could help harvest apricots. Today in the rural West Bank town of Jifna, there is an annual two-day apricot festival in May and people from all over the region attend to help harvest.

At our homestead, once the local opossum-squirrel-racoon posse has been alerted, our harvest is on the clock and we’re lucky to get one week. When they outwit us, I still salvage the pits and kernels. Some Israeli kids grew up with apricot pit whistles! There are many recipes online for apricot pit ice cream, so instead I’ll share with you my remedy for cold-pressed, rose-infused apricot kernel oil to add the blessing of botanical bliss to your holistic skin care regimen.

The Remedy: DIY Rose-infused Apricot Kernel Oil

Ground kernels from the apricot pits, covered in jojoba oil.

Ground kernels from the apricot pits, covered in jojoba oil. Courtesy of Devorah Brous

Apricots (and many stone fruits) are in the Rose family. Rose blooms are also precious and fleeting so I like to preserve this cusp-of-summer flavor, wear the hydration, and dream of a time when pigs fly around apricot blossoms all season.

While a hot oil infusion is faster, the cold-pressed method actually preserves the integrity of the chemical compounds in the oil so you’ll have a better result. Apricot kernels have an oil content of about 40-50% (linoleic and oleic fatty acids, as well as Vitamin A, D & E). Researchers claim that apricot kernel oil with vitamin E boosts cellular regeneration, prevents free radicals and UV damage, reduces inflammation, and eases joint pain.

  1. Collect the pits from the apricots. Once you have a cup or so, gently crack open each pit by standing it lengthwise in the mouth of pliers. Gather the kernel bits.
  2. Grind kernels with a mortar/pestle.
  3. Add ground kernels to a mason jar and cover the ground kernels with jojoba oil. For extra hydration, add Vitamin E (2 oz) and stir.
  4. Store in a dark cupboard. Shake the jar daily for six weeks and keep in the cupboard.. After that time your homemade apricot kernel oil is ready to be infused with herbs.
  5. Use a cheesecloth to strain out the kernels.
  6. Fill another mason jar ⅔ full with dry rose buds.
  7. Pour the apricot oil over the roses for an incomparable healing blend. Be sure the oil covers the roses completely, stir and place in a dark cupboard.
  8. Infuse dry rose buds/hips/petals for one month and strain. Label and wear this medicine for up to one year.
Rose bud-infused apricot oil.

Rose bud-infused apricot oil. Courtesy of Devorah Brous

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