The Peach (Amygdabus Persica), the apple of Persia, began to be cultivated in England about 1562, or perhaps before then. Columella tells of this fatal gift conveyed treacherously to Egypt in the first century:--
"Apples, which most barbarous Persia sent, With native poison armed."
The Peach tree is so well known by its general characteristics as not to need any particular description. Its young branches, flowers, and seeds, after maceration in water, yield a volatile oil which is chemically identical with that of the bitter almond.
The flowers are laxative, and have been used instead of manna. When distilled, they furnish a white liquor which communicates a flavour resembling the kernels of fruits. An infusion made from one drachm of the dried flowers, or from half an ounce of the fresh flowers, has a purgative effect. The fruit is wholesome, and seldom disagrees if eaten when ripe and sound. Its quantity of sugar is only small, but the skin is indigestible.
The leaves possess the power of expelling worms if applied outside a child's belly as a poultice, but in any medicinal form they must be used with caution, as they contain some of the properties of prussic acid, as found also in the leaves of the laurel. A syrup of Peach flowers was formerly a preparation recognised by apothecaries. The leaves infused in white brandy, sweetened with barley sugar, make a fine cordial similar to noyeau. Soyer says the old Romans gave as much for their peaches as eighteen or nineteen shillings each.
Peach pie, owing to the abundance of the fruit, is as common fare in an American farm-house, as apple pie in an English homestead. Our English King John died at Swinestead Abbey from a surfeit of peaches, and new ale.
A tincture made from the flowers will allay the pain of colic caused by gravel; but the kernels of the fruit, which yield an oil identical with that of bitter almonds, have produced poisonous effects with children.
Gerard teaches "that a syrup or strong infusion of Peach flowers doth singularly well purge the belly, and yet without grief or trouble." Two tablespoonfuls of the infusion for a dose.
In Sicily there is a belief that anyone afflicted with goitre, who eats a Peach on the night of St. John, or the Ascension, will be cured, provided only that the Peach tree dies at the same time.
In Italy Peach leaves are applied to a wart, and then buried, so that they and the wart may perish simultaneously.