The seed can contain high levels of hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is readily detected by its bitter taste. Usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm, 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.
Fruit - raw, cooked or dried for later use. The fruit is often used in ice creams, pies, jams etc. When fully ripe, the fruit of the best forms are very juicy with a rich delicious flavour[K]. Wild trees in the Himalayas yield about 36.5kg of fruit a year. The fruit of the wild form contains about 5.2% sugars, 2% protein, 1.6% ash. Vitamin C content is 2.3mg per 100g. The fruit is a good source of vitamin A. Fruits of the wild peach are richer in nutrients than the cultivated forms. The size of fruit varies widely between cultivars and the wild form, it can be up to 7cm in diameter and contains one seed. Flowers - raw or cooked. Added to salads or used as a garnish. They can also be brewed into a tea. The distilled flowers yield a white liquid which can be used to impart a flavour resembling the seed. Seed - raw or cooked. Do not eat if it is too bitter, seed can contain high concentrations of hydrocyanic acid. See the notes above on toxicity. A semi-drying oil is obtained from the seed. Although the report does not mention edibility it can be assumed that it is edible. The seed contains up to 45% oil. A gum is obtained from the stem. It can be used for chewing.
A green dye can be obtained from the leaves. Yellow according to another report. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit. A semi-drying oil is obtained from the seed. It is used as a substitute for almond oil in skin creams. 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 obtained from the stem is used as an adhesive.
Antihalitosis. The leaves are astringent, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, laxative, parasiticide and mildly sedative. They are used internally in the treatment of gastritis, whooping cough, coughs and bronchitis. They also help to relieve vomiting and morning sickness during pregnancy, though the dose must be carefully monitored because of their diuretic action. The dried and powdered leaves have sometimes been used to help heal sores and wounds. The leaves are harvested in June and July then dried for later use. The flowers are diuretic, sedative and vermifuge. They are used internally in the treatment of constipation and oedema. A gum from the stems is alterative, astringent, demulcent and sedative. The seed is antiasthmatic, antitussive, emollient, haemolytic, laxative and sedative. It is used internally in the treatment of constipation in the elderly, coughs, asthma and menstrual disorders. The bark is demulcent, diuretic, expectorant and sedative. It is used internally in the treatment of gastritis, whooping cough, coughs and bronchitis. The root bark is used in the treatment of dropsy and jaundice. The bark is harvested from young trees in the spring and is dried for later use. 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.
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. The stored seed is best given 2 months warm followed by 3 months cold stratification. 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. A very low percentage. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Layering in spring.
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Requires a well-drained moisture retentive soil. Thrives in a loamy soil, doing well on limestone. Best not grown in acid soils. Prefers some chalk in the soil but it is apt to become chlorotic if too much is present. Prefers a pH in the range 6 to 7. Succeeds in light shade but fruits better in a sunny position. Requires shelter from north and north-east winds and also from spring frosts. Widely cultivated for its edible fruit in warm temperate areas and continental climates, there are many named varieties. There are numerous divisions of the varieties according to skin colour etc. Perhaps the most useful from the eaters point of view is whether it is free-stone (the flesh parts easily from the seed) or cling-stone (the flesh adheres to the seed)[200, K]. Trees are normally hardy in southern Britain, tolerating temperatures down to about -20°c when they are dormant, but they require some protection if cropping is to be at all reliable. This is not due so much to lack of cold hardiness, more to the cooler summers in Britain which do not fully ripen the wood and the fruit, plus the unpredictable winters and springs which, in a mild spell, can excite the tree into premature flowering and growth which is then very liable to damage in any following cold spell. Hand pollination at this time can improve fruit-set. The cultivar 'Rochester' is more likely than most cultivars to succeed outdoors in Britain. In general it is best to site peaches in a very warm sheltered sunny position, preferably against a south or west facing wall. Most cultivars are self-fertile. Trees are often grafted onto plum or other rootstocks but are said to be better when grown on their own roots in southern Britain. Trees are not generally long-lived, this is partly because of the need for the tree to produce a constant supply of new wood since most fruit is formed on one-year old wood (though some fruit spurs are formed). Garlic is a good companion for this plant, helping to prevent disease, especially peach leaf curl. Tansy grown below peach trees helps to keep them healthier. Peach leaf curl can also be prevented by protecting the plants from winter and early spring rains, perhaps by covering them in plastic. Plants grown or overwintered indoors do not suffer from leaf curl. 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.
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