PeachBotanical Name: Prunus persica (STOKES)
Family: N.O. Rosaceae
Synonyms: Amygdalis Persica (Linn.). Persica vulgaris Null.
(Chinese and Japanese) 'Too'.
Parts Used: Bark, leaves.
The Peach is included by Hooker and other botanists in the genus prurnus, its resemblance to the plum being obvious. Others have classed it with the Almond as a distinct genus, Amygdalus, and others again have considered it sufficiently distinct to constitute it a separate genus, persica.
As we now know it, the Peach has been nowhere recognized in the wild state. De Candolle attributes all cultivated varieties to a distinct species, probably of Chinese origin. Other naturalists, among them Darwin, look on the Peach as a modification of the Almond.
It has been cultivated from time immemorial in most parts of Asia, and appears to have been introduced into Europe from Persia, as its name implies. At what period it was introduced into Greece is uncertain. The Romans seem to have brought it direct from Persia during the reign of the Emperor Claudius.
When first introduced it was called Malus persica, or Persian Apple. The expedition of Alexander probably made it known to Theophrastus, 392 B.C., who speaks of it as a Persian fruit. It has no name in Sanskrit; nevertheless, the people speaking that language came into India from the Northwest, the country generally assigned to the species.
In support of the supposed Chinese origin, it may be added that the Peach-tree was introduced from China into Cochin-China, and that the Japanese call it by the Chinese name, Too.
The Peach is mentioned in the books of Confucius, fifth century before the Christian era, and the antiquity of the knowledge of the fruit in China is further proved by representations of it in sculpture and on porcelain.
It is said to have been first cultivated in England in the first half of the sixteenth century. Gerard describes several varieties as growing in his garden, and speaks of a 'double-flowered peach,' as a rarity, in his garden.
It is always cultivated here trained against walls or under glass. When growing naturally, it is a medium-sized tree, with spreading branches of quick growth and not longlived. The leaves are lance-shaped, about 4 inches long and 1 1/2 inch broad, tapering to a sharp point, borne on long, slender, relatively unbranched shoots, and with the flowers arranged singly, or in groups of two or more at intervals along the shoots of the previous year's growth. The blossoms come out before the leaves are fully expanded, and are of a delicate, pink colour. They have a hollow tube at the base, bearing at its free edge five sepals, and an equal number of petals, usually concave, and a great number of stamens. They have very little odour.
The fruit is a drupe, like the plum, having a delicate, thin outer downy skin enclosing the flesh of the Peach, the inner layers becoming woody to form the large, furrowed, rugged stone, while the ovule ripens into the kernel or seed. This is exactly the structure of the plum and apricot, and differs from that of the almond, which is identical in the first instance, only in that the fleshy part of the latter eventually becomes dry and leathery, and cracks along a line called the suture, which is merely represented in the Peach by a furrow on one side.
In the South of France, and in other Continental countries possessing a similar climate, Peach-trees ripen their fruit very well as standards in the open air. In America, the Peach grows almost without any care - extensive orchards containing from 10,000 to 20,000 trees, being raised from the stones. At first, the trees there make rapid and healthy growth, and in a few years bear in great abundance; but they soon decay, their leaves becoming tinged with yellow even in summer, when they should be green. This is owing to their being grown on their own roots, for when that is the case in Britain the trees present a similar appearance. They require, therefore, to be budded on the plum or on the almond.
In America, the Peach is chiefly used for feeding pigs, and for making Peach Brandy.
Cultivation: The soil best suited for the Peach is three parts mellow, unexhausted loam, mixed with vegetable mould or manure. Peaches require a lighter soil than pears or plums.
To perpetuate and multiply the choicer varieties, both the Peach and the newly-allied nectarine are budded upon plums or almond stocks. For dry soil, the almond stocks are preferable; for damp or clayey loam, it is better to use certain kinds of plums.
The fruit is produced on the ripened shoots of the preceding year, and the formation of young shoots in sufficient abundance, and of requisite strength, is the great object of peach training and pruning.
In cold soils and bleak situations, it is considered best to cover the walls upon which the trees are trained with a casing of glass, so that the trees may be under shelter during uncongenial spring weather.
Various kinds of Aphis and the Acarus, or Red Spider, infest the leaves of the Peach.
Medicinal Action and Uses: The fruit is wholesome and seldom disagrees if eaten ripe, though the skin is indigestible. The quantity of sugar is only small.
All Peaches have in the kernel a flavour resembling that of noyau, which depends on the presence of prussic or hydrocyanic acid. Not only the kernels, but also the young branches and flowers, after maceration in water, yield a volatile oil, which is chemically identical with that of bitter almonds, and is the cause of this flavour. Infused in white brandy, sweetened with barley sugar, Peach leaves have been said to make a fine cordial, similar to noyau, and the flowers when distilled furnish a white liquor, which communicates a flavour resembling the kernels of the fruit.
The leaves, bark, flowers and kernels have medicinal virtue. Both the leaves and bark are still employed for their curative powers. They have demulcent, sedative, diuretic and expectorant action. An infusion of 1/2 OZ. of the bark or 1 OZ. of the dried leaves to a pint of boiling water has been found almost a specific for irritation and congestion of the gastric surfaces. It is also used in whooping cough, ordinary coughs and chronic bronchitis, the dose being from a teaspoonful to a wineglassful as required.
The fresh leaves were stated by the older herbalists to possess the power of expelling worms, if applied outwardly to the body as a poultice. An infusion of the dried leaves was also recommended for the same purpose.
Culpepper informs us that a powder of the leaves 'strewed on fresh bleeding wounds stayeth their bleeding and closeth them.'
In Italy, at the present day, there is a popular belief that if fresh Peach leaves are applied to warts and then buried, the warts will fall off by the time the buried leaves have decayed.
A syrup and infusion of Peach flowers was formerly a preparation recognized by apothecaries, and praised by Gerard as a mildly acting efficient purgative. The syrup was considered good for children and those in weak health, and to be good against jaundice.
A tincture made from the flowers has been said to allay the pain of colic caused by gravel. Culpepper recommends the milk or cream of the kernels applied to the forehead and temples as a means of procuring 'rest and sleep to sick persons,' and says 'the oil drawn from the kernels and the temples annointed therewith doth the like.' He tells us that 'the liquor that drops from the tree, being wounded,' added to coltsfoot, sweet wine and saffron, is 'good for coughs, hoarseness and loss of voice,' and that it 'clears and strengthens the lungs and relieves those who vomit and spit blood.' He concludes: 'If the kernels be bruised and boiled in vinegar until they become thick and applied to the head, it marvellously causes the hair to grow again upon any bald place or where it is too thin.' 'Peach cold' is an affection which prevails in some parts where Peach trees are largely cultivated, just as rose fever and rose catarrh are caused by roses in parts of America.
Collection: The bark for medicinal purposes is stripped from the tree in thespring and taken from young trees. It is best dried in a moderate sun-heat, being taken indoors at night. The pieces of bark if thin are often threaded on strings and hung up in a warm current of air. They must not touch each other. Peach bark occurs in commerce in small, thin, pale-brown fragments, rarely exceeding 1 1/2 inch in length, and 1/4 inch in thickness, having a smooth, dark brown skin and an inner surface with a faint network of fibres. It has a bitter, very astringent taste and slight odour.
Peach leaves should be collected for drying purposes in June and July, when at their best.
PEACH WOOD, known also as Nicaragua Wood, is in no way related to the fruit-tree, but is a much-used dyewood that dyes a delicate peach and cherry colour. It is obtained from the tree CAESALPINIA ECHINATA, belonging to the Pea and Bean tribe, Leguminosae, and is imported into this country in blocks about 4 feet in length and 8 inches in diameter. We receive annually about 8,000 tons in normal times. That which comes from Peru yields the finest shades of colour, mainly tints of red and orange.