Theophrastus, History of Plants, 3.6.4
"Some people deny that wild kinds of trees have deep roots because of the fact that they all grow from seed. Their claim is not quite correct, since it is possible for the trees to send down deep roots once they've become established. Even most vegetables do this, although they are weaker and clearly germinate in the ground. The kermes oak seems to be the most deep-rooted of the wild trees, while fir and pine are moderately so, and shallowest are the joint fir, the plum tree, and the bullace (this one is like a wild plum)."
Βαθύρριζα δὲ οὔ φασί τινες εἶναι τὰ ἄγρια διὰ τὸ φύεσθαι πάντα ἀπὸ σπέρματος, οὐκ ἄγαν ὀρθῶς λέγοντες. ἐνδέχεται γὰρ ὅταν ἐμβιώσῃ πόρρω καθιέναι τὰς ῥίζας· ἐπεὶ καὶ τῶν λαχάνων τὰ πολλὰ τοῦτο ποιεῖ, καίπερ ἀσθενέστερα ὄντα καὶ ἐναργῶς φυόμενα <ἐν> τῇ γῇ. Βαθυρριζότατον δ' οὖν δοκεῖ τῶν ἀγρίων εἶναι ἡ πρῖνος· ἐλάτη δὲ καὶ πεύκη μετρίως, ἐπιπολαιότατον δὲ θραύπαλος καὶ κοκκυμηλέα καὶ σποδιάς· αὕτη δ' ἐστὶν ὥσπερ ἀγρία κοκκυμηλέα.*
*κοκκυμηλέα plum tree. κοκκύμηλον plum. The word κόκκος originally meant 'grain' or 'seed', but came to pick out the colour we call 'scarlet' or 'crimson' or 'kermes' - all these words are closely related historically. Here's how it happened. There is species of scale insect that lives only on the sap of a tree called the kermes or scarlet oak, the deep-rooted πρῖνος, which Theophrastus mentions above. As these insects feed, they gather in clumps on the oaks as visible red 'grains' or 'seeds'. In antiquity, these 'grains' were confused with galls (cf. Dioscorides 4.48, Pliny 22.3), another common source of dyes (like oak gall, the major ingredient in writing inks). The 'grains' (i.e., the insects) were collected, ground up and treated with various solvents (vinegar according to Dioscorides) in order to extract the red dye from their shells. This preparation was used for all sorts of textiles, but it is most notable for dyeing what we call scarlet, a kind of woolen cloth. At some point, the name came to be used for the colour of the dye, hence κόκκος, a brilliant red hue. Some of the most vibrant names that we use for red hues are connected to this dye. The colour vermilion is named for the 'little worms' (vermeillons), i.e., the insects, that live on the kermes oak. Scarlet, the colour, gets its name from scarlet, the cloth. And crimson comes from kermes, a medieval spelling of the Arabic qirmiz (قِرْمِز ), whose roots reach back to Persian and Sanskrit, krmi-ja: 'produced by a worm.'
The fruit of the plum tree, with its brilliant red skin, might be etymologized as 'the scarlet apple'; but, then again, I usually think of plums as purple.
I've also seen the name derived from cuckoo (κόκκυξ + μήλον), cf. Nicander ap. Athenaeus of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae 2.33: "μῆλον ὃ κόκκυγος καλέουσι (a melon which they name after cuckoos)". Maybe because the fruit, like the cuckoo, is related to springtime?
Medical note: The kermes dye used to be part of a very popular pre-twentieth century cardiac remedy, or cordial (maybe because of its bright red colour?): the confectio alchermes.
Dioscorides, De materia medica 1.121
"The plum is a well-known tree, whose fruit is edible, bad for the stomach, and able to relax the belly. When the fruit of Syrian plums is dried, especially those grown in Damascus, it is good for the stomach and compacts the belly. A decoction of the leaves prepared in wine and then gargled restrains secretions from the uvula, gums and tonsils. When dried, the ripened fruit of the wild plum brings about the same thing, and when boiled with must, it becomes better for the stomach and able to restrain the belly more. The gum from the plum tree is glutinous, able to break apart kidney stones when drunk with wine, and used as an ointment with vinegar it heals lichen that appears on children."
κοκκυμηλέα δένδρον ἐστὶ γνώριμον, οὗ ὁ καρπὸς ἐδώδιμος, κακοστόμαχος, κοιλίας μαλακτικός· τῶν δὲ Συριακῶν καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἐν Δαμασκῷ γεννωμένων ὁ καρπὸς ξηρανθεὶς εὐστόμαχος καὶ κοιλίας σταλτικός. τὸ δὲ ἀφέψημα τῶν φύλλων ἐν οἴνῳ σκευαζόμενον καὶ ἀναγαργαριζόμενον κιονίδα καὶ οὖλα καὶ παρίσθμια ῥευματιζόμενα στέλλει. τὰ δὲ αὐτὰ παρέχει καὶ ὁ τῶν ἀγρίων κοκκυμηλέων καρπὸς πέπειρος ξηρανθείς, ἑψηθεὶς δὲ μετὰ ἑψήματος εὐστομαχώτερος καὶ σταλτικώτερος κοιλίας γίνεται. τὸ δὲ κόμμι τῆς κοκκυμηλέας ἐστὶ κολλητικόν, λίθων θρυπτικὸν πινόμενον σὺν οἴνῳ, σὺν ὄξει δὲ ἐπιχριόμενον λειχῆνας τοὺς ἐπὶ παιδίων θεραπεύει.
p. 111,14-112,6 Wellmann
Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 23.66-69
"The boiled leaves of the plum are good for the tonsils, gums and uvula, washing the mouth with it now and then. The plum itself relaxes the belly, and is not very good for the stomach, but it only lasts a short time. Peaches and their juice are better, also when squeezed into wine or vinegar. No other food is less harmful than this fruit. In nothing is there less of an odour and more juice (which nevertheless stimulates thirst). Its leaves stop haemorrhage when ground and applied. Peach pits with olive oil and vinegar are applied for headache. As for wild plums, however, the fruit or skin of the root, if decocted in dry wine to a third of a hemina, restrains the belly and intestinal pain. One cyathos of the decoction at a time is enough. And growing upon this tree and the cultivated plum tree, there is a tree resin*, which the Greeks call lichen, wonderfully useful for fistulae and hemorrhoids."
*This is wonderful. Pliny or his source has misread Dioscorides, thinking the gum of the plum itself is called lichen, rather than the disease which affects children.
/66 Pruni folia in vino decocta tonsillis, gingivis, uvae prosunt, subinde colluto ore. ipsa pruna alvum molliunt, stomacho non utilissima, sed brevi momento. /67 Utiliora persica sucusque eorum, etiam in vino aut in aceto expressus. neque alius eis pomis innocentior cibis; nusquam minus odoris, suci plus, qui tamen sitim stimulet . . . . . folia eius trita inlita haemorrhagian sistunt. nuclei persicorum cum oleo et aceto capitis doloribus inlinuntur. /68 Silvestrium quidem prunorum bacae, vel e radice cortex, in vino austero si decoquantur ita, ut triens ex hemina supersit, alvum sistunt et tormina. satis est singulos cyathos decocti sumi. /69 Et in his et sativis prunis est limus arborum, quem Graeci lichena appellant, rhagadis et condylomatis mire utilis.
Galen, On Simple Drugs, 7.35, XII 32-3 Kühn
"The fruit of the plum tree has a laxative effect, and more so when it is fresh, less when dry. For some reason, Dioscorides says dried plums from Damascus support the belly. Clearly, they are laxative, but less than those from Iberia. The ones from Damascus are more astringent, while those from Iberia are sweeter, and the trees as well are like the fruits. Those in Iberia are less astringent, those in Damascus more. To speak generally about them, there is some clear astringency present in the leaves and buds, when these are boiled down in water, they make a mouthwash for inflammation of the uvula and tonsils. The fruit of wild plum trees is obviously astringent and compacts the belly. This plant is called proumnon in Asia. Some say the gum of the tree is able to break up kidney stones when drunk with wine, but with vinegar cures children's lichen. If it does this, then it is clear that it has a capacity to be dissolving an diffusive."
Κοκκυμηλέας ὁ καρπὸς ὑπάγει γαστέρα, καὶ πρόσφατος μὲν ὑπάρχων μᾶλλον, ξηρανθεὶς δ' ἧττον. Διοσκουρίδης δ' οὐκ οἶδ' ὅπως τὰ Δαμασκηνὰ κοκκύμηλα ξηρανθέντα φησὶν ὑπέχειν γαστέρα. ὑπάγει μὲν γὰρ καὶ ταῦτα σαφῶς, ἀλλ' ἧττον τῶν ἐκ τῆς Ἰβηρίας. ἔστι δὲ τὰ μὲν Δαμασκηνὰ στυπτικώτερα, τὰ δ' ἐκ τῆς Ἰβηρίας γλυκύτερα, καὶ δὴ καὶ τὰ δένδρα τοῖς καρποῖς ἀνάλογον. ἧττον μὲν στυπτικὰ τὰ κατὰ τὴν Ἰβηρίαν, μᾶλλον δὲ τὰ κατὰ τὴν Δαμασκόν. ἁπλῶς δ' εἰπεῖν ὧν ἐν τοῖς φύλλοις ἢ τοῖς βλαστοῖς ἐμφαίνεταί τις στύψις σαφὴς, ταῦτα ἀφεψόμενα διάκλυσμα γίγνεται τῶν περὶ γαργαρεῶνα καὶ παρίσθμια φλεγμονῶν. ὁ δὲ τῶν ἀγρίων καρπὸς στυπτικὸς ἐναργῶς ἐστι καὶ σταλτικὸς γαστρός. ὀνομάζεται δὲ τὸ φυτὸν τοῦτο κατὰ τὴν Ἀσίαν προῦμνον. τὸ δὲ κόμμι τοῦ δένδρου φασὶν ἔνιοι μετ' οἴνου πινόμενον λίθων εἶναι θρυπτικὸν, σὺν ὄξει δὲ λειχῆνας ἰᾶσθαι παίδων, καὶ εἴπερ αὐτὸ ποιεῖ, δῆλον ὡς τμητικῆς τε καὶ λεπτομεροῦς μετέχει δυνάμεως.
Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, 2.33
"Clearchus the Peripatetic and Theocritus from Syracuse say that people from Rhodes and Sicily call the plum, 'brabyla.' "
Κλέαρχος δ' ὁ περιπατητικός φησι Ῥοδίους καὶ Σικελιώτας βράβυλα καλεῖν τὰ κοκκύμηλα, ὡς καὶ Θεόκριτος ὁ Συρακούσιος.
Aetius of Amida, Medical Books I 209
"The fruit of the plum tree. It has more of a laxative effect when fresh, less when dry. Plums from Damascus are more astringent. Those from Iberia are sweeter, and for this reason, more laxative. There is some clear astringency present in the leaves, which is why when they are boiled in water they make a mouthwash for inflammations of the uvula and tonsils."
Κοκκυμηλέας ὁ καρπός. Ὑπάγει τὴν γαστέρα πρόσφατος μὲν ὑπάρχων μᾶλλον, ξηρανθεὶς δὲ ἧττον· ἐστὶ δὲ τὰ μὲν δαμασκηνὰ κοκκύμηλα στυπτικώτερα. τὰ δὲ ἐκ τῆς Ἰβηρίας γλυκύτερα, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ὑπακτικώτερα, ἐν δὲ τοῖς φύλλοις ἐμφαίνεταί τις στύψις σαφής, ὅθεν ἑψόμενα διάκλυσμα γίνεται τῶν περὶ γαργαρεῶνα καὶ παρίσθμια φλεγμονῶν.
p. 91,3-8 Olivieri
Paul of Aegina, Epitome of Medicine, 7.3.10
"The fruit of the plum tree opens the belly more when fresh, less when dried. A decoction of it cures inflammation of the uvula when used as a mouthwash. The gum of the tree has a dissolving and diffusive power, which some say is able to break-up kidney stones when drunk with wine, while with vinegar cures children's lichen. The fruit of wild plums are clearly astringent and able to compact the belly. The plant is called 'proumnon' in Asia. Dioscorides seems to say that the domesticated plum, when dried, is what is now called the Damascene."
Κοκκυμηλέας ὁ καρπὸς ὑπάγει γαστέρα πρόσφατος μὲν μᾶλλον, ξηρανθεὶς δὲ ἧττον. τὸ δὲ ἀφέψημα αὐτοῦ τὰς κατὰ γαργαρεῶνα φλεγμονὰς ἰᾶται διακλυζόμενον. τὸ δὲ κόμμι τοῦ δένδρου τμητικῆς τε καὶ λεπτομεροῦς δυνάμεως, ὅ φασιν ἔνιοι μετ' οἴνου πινόμενον λίθων εἶναι θρυπτικόν, σὺν ὄξει δὲ λειχῆνας ἰᾶσθαι παίδων. ὁ δὲ τῶν ἀγρίων κοκκυμήλων καρπὸς στυπτικὸς ἐναργῶς ἐστι καὶ σταλτικὸς γαστρός· ὀνομάζεται δὲ τὸ φυτὸν τοῦτο κατὰ τὴν Ἀσίαν προῦμνον. ἔοικε δὲ τὰ ἥμερα ξηρανθέντα κοκκύμηλα τὰ νῦν Δαμασκηνὰ προσαγορευόμενα λέγειν ὁ Διοσκουρίδης.
p. 227,5-13 Heiberg
Alexis ap. Athenaeus of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 2.33
A: I think I had a dream that showed me I would win!
B: Tell it to me.
A: Pay close attention, now. I was in the rivals' stadium, when someone appeared to place a garland on me, someone who came at me naked … with a braided wreath of plums.
B: By Heracles!
A: καὶ μὴν ἐνύπνιον οἴομαί γ' ἑορακέναι νικητικόν.
B: λέγ' αὐτό.
A: τὸν νοῦν πρόσεχε δή. ἐν τῷ σταδίῳ τῶν ἀνταγωνιστῶν μέ τις ἐδόκει στεφανοῦν γυμνὸς προσελθὼν … στεφάνῳ κυλιστῷ κοκκυμήλων.