Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, it belongs to a genus where most, if not all members of the genus produce hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm but any very bitter seed or fruit should not be eaten. In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.
Seed - raw, cooked or dried and ground into a powder for use in confections etc. The whole seed can also be roasted, sprouted or used in cakes, confectionery and pastry. The sweet-flavoured forms have a delicious flavour but bitter forms should not be eaten in any quantity - see the notes above on toxicity. The seed is somewhat difficult to digest and so needs to be thoroughly masticated. It can be blended with water to make almond milk. An edible oil is obtained from the seed. It is used mainly as a food flavouring and in cooking. An edible gum is obtained from points of damage on the stems.
An oil expressed from the seeds is an excellent lubricant in delicate mechanisms such as watches. It is often used in soaps and cosmetics because it has a softening effect on the skin. A green dye can be obtained from the leaves. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit. A yellow dye is obtained from the roots and leaves. The bruised leaves, when rubbed within any container, will remove strong odours such as garlic or cloves so long as any grease has first been fully cleaned off. A gum from the stems is used as an adhesive. The burnt shell yields a valuable absorbent for coal gas. The burnt pericarp is rich in potassium, it is used in soap making. The seed contains amygdallin, under the influence of water and in the presence of emulsion it can be hydrolized to produce benzaldehyde (the almond aroma, formula C6 H5 CHO) and prussic acid (the toxic principle).
As well as being a tasty addition to the diet, almonds are also beneficial to the overall health of the body, being used especially in the treatment of kidney stones, gallstones and constipation. Externally, the oil is applied to dry skins and is also often used as a carrier oil in aromatherapy[238, K]. The seed is demulcent, emollient, laxative, nutritive and pectoral. When used medicinally, the fixed oil from the seed is normally employed4]. The seed contains 'laetrile', a substance that has also been called vitamin B17. This has been claimed to have a positive effect in the treatment of cancer, but there does not at present seem to be much evidence to support this[K]. The pure substance is almost harmless, but on hydrolysis it yields hydrocyanic acid, a very rapidly acting poison - it should thus be treated with caution. In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being. The leaves are used in the treatment of diabetes. The plant contains the antitumour compound taxifolin.
Seed - requires 2 - 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, July/August in a frame. Difficult. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood, late autumn in a frame. Layering in spring.
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Thrives in a well-drained moisture-retentive loamy soil. Prefers some lime in the soil but is likely to become chlorotic if too much lime is present. Succeeds in sun or partial shade though it fruits better in a sunny position. The almond is often cultivated in the temperate zone for its edible seeds, there are many named varieties. It prefers a Mediterranean climate with a clear distinction between winter and spring, in milder maritime areas it can be induced into flower too early in the season and is then very liable to be damaged by frosts. There is also likely to be a shortage of pollinating insects around when the tree is in flower so hand pollination may improve the crop. Although partially self-fertile, better crops are obtained if at least 2 cultivars are grown. There are two basic forms of almonds, one with bitter seeds and one with 'sweet' seeds. The bitterness is caused by the presence of hydrogen cyanide (see notes above). Although the bitter forms are used in making marzipan and as a food flavouring, the seeds themselves should not be eaten. Even the sweet forms should not be eaten in very large quantities. (Approximately 900 seeds at one time is considered to be a toxic dose for the average adult). Trees are hardier when grown on a plum rootstock. Almond seedlings are the preferred rootstock when plants are grown on hot dry soils, peach rootstocks are better for heavier soils. Trees are at least partially self-sterile. Most members of this genus are shallow-rooted and will produce suckers if the roots are damaged. Plants in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus.
Problems, pests & diseases
Associations & Interactions
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Polycultures & Guilds
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This table shows all the data stored for this plant.
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