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Bitter Almonds: Poisonous Nut, Powerful Extract

lots of bitter almondsAlmonds are naturally sweet making them a healthy treat. But you must be wondering how can they be bitter? Bitter almonds are different from the sweet almonds that you delightedly eat. Once treated as a healthy snack, almonds that are bitter hold superior healing properties to common sweet almonds. But due to their high cyanide content, they are banned in certain countries including the USA. These almonds are not considered safe for consumption. However, bitter almond essential oil and extract may be of use in certain healing settings.

How Bitter Almonds Are Different From Sweet Almonds

Almonds are usually treated as nuts. But in reality, they are a type of drupe, where the seed is enclosed in a hard shell. Almonds can be sweet or bitter depending on the tree they are produced by. Sweet almonds are the seeds of Prunus amygdalus var. dulcis tree, whereas the bitter versions are from the Prunus amygdalus var. amara tree. It is interesting to note that sweet almond tree bears white flowers, whereas its bitter counterpart bears pale pink flowers.

Sweet almonds are more common. They are eaten raw, soaked or toasted as snacks, and used in baking and cooking. Sweet almond milk and almond butter are also a great alternative for vegans and those with lactose intolerance. Oil extracted from sweet almonds can be used as a carrier oil for essential oils.

Both bitter and sweet almonds have brown skin and a white interior. However, the bitter ones are slightly smaller, more pointed and have a distinct bitter flavor. This is because they have up to 40 times more hydrocyanic acid than sweet almonds. Roasting or baking removes most of the hydrocyanic acid, thus protecting against cyanide toxicity. The oil extracted from these almonds is used for preparing almond extract and flavored liqueurs.

Bitter almond extract has a natural, sweet, maraschino-cherry-like fragrance, and it is hence used in the preparation of cosmetics, perfumes, lotions, soaps, and other beauty care products. The essential oil holds healing properties, but it should be used with extreme caution to prevent cyanide toxicity.

Eating Bitter Almonds Can Kill You

These almonds and their essential oil should never be ingested because they are high in hydrocyanic acid. This cyanide toxicity is potent enough to kill a person. Eating 7 to 10 of these almonds is toxic enough to prove fatal, which is why they are strictly prohibited in certain parts of the world including the USA.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cyanide works rapidly, making it potentially deadly. Cyanide blocks the oxygen supply to the cells leading to death. Exposure to a small quantity of cyanide is potent enough to cause symptoms of nausea, dizziness, low blood pressure, headaches, and rapid heartbeat. Higher doses can lead to loss of consciousness, convulsions, low blood pressure, respiratory failure, and death. Immediate emergency care and receiving a specific antidote can help in preventing cyanide poisoning from becoming fatal.

Bitter almonds are processed to drain toxins before the oil and essence are extracted from them. However, traces of cyanide are still left behind, which are believed to have healing power.

Bitter Almonds and Compromised Health

People with weak immune systems should consider staying away from these almonds and the essential oil as their body might be sensitive even to low doses of cyanide. It can cause unpleasant symptoms and trigger stress.

The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response system is your body’s natural stress-fighting mechanism. It is a system of six circuits and various organs working in close coordination. During stress, the NEM signals your adrenal glands to secrete the anti-stress hormone cortisol. However, when your body is constantly exposed to stress, there is more pressure on your adrenals for cortisol production. This can overburden your adrenals, and they become unable to secrete an adequate amount of cortisol. As a result, the stress-fighting ability of your body is reduced, and this can cause adrenal fatigue.

When you frequently experience extreme fatigue along with symptoms of anxiety, low energy levels, brain fog, insomnia, difficulty in waking up, constipation, low concentration levels, lightheadedness, stubborn weight gain, or cravings for salty and fatty foods, then chances are you could be dealing with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

Minimizing stressors is a vital tool in adrenal fatigue recovery. AFS sufferers tend to have a weak body. Therefore, they should consider staying away from the bitter version of almonds and the essential oils as the cyanide content in them can trigger stress and worsen symptoms.

Benefits of Bitter Almonds Essential Oil

almonds and bitter almonds extractThe essential oil is rich in several active components and fatty acids. Fifty percent of the oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids and other components found in sweet almonds. The remaining fifty percent contains hydrogen cyanide, glycoside amygdalin, and benzaldehyde. Due to cyanide content, the essential oil should be used with caution - only externally and in very small doses.
Bitter almonds essential oil gets its healing properties due to the presence of hydrogen cyanide, benzaldehyde glycoside, and amygdalin. They work as a natural antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-intoxicating, anesthetic, anti-carcinogenic, aperient, sedative, antispasmodic, febrifuge, germicidal, and vermifuge agent. The high concentration of active ingredients in this essential oil helps reduce inflammation, spasms, respiratory problems, and localized pain. It is extensively used in the preparation of various cosmetics, skin, and hair-care products. It is important to store essential oils in airtight glass containers away from direct sunlight.

Here are other benefits that this essential oil has to offer:

Possible Anti-Cancer Properties

Bitter almonds can be used in the preparation of a substance containing both amygdalin and vitamin B17, sometimes known as laetrile, which may help a small percentage of cancer patients. However, patients who ate bitter almonds showed cyanide toxicity, so it is important to only consider using it with the assistance of a medical doctor.

Corrects Spasms

The antispasmodic properties of the essential oil help in providing relief from spasms.

Natural Sedative

Glycoside amygdalin, a toxic compound found in the essential oil, works directly on the nerves, making them insensitive to sensation thus producing numbness and an anesthetic effect. When used for local anesthesia, care should be taken to apply the oil externally only in very low dosage. The oil should never be ingested as it can be fatal.

Kills Parasites

The toxicity in the essential oil is effective in killing intestinal worms. Utmost care should be taken for administering the oil in very low dosages to ensure you only kill the worms and not the person.

Kills Bacteria

The benzaldehyde, hydrogen, and cyanide in bitter almond oil have natural antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral effects. Because of this, the essential oil can be helpful in alleviating infections related to germs, fungus, and viruses.


When ingested, the toxic nature of the oil can cause frequent nausea and loose bowels, meaning it can be used as a purgative. The dosage should always be very low to avoid any adverse effects.

Reduces Fungal Growth

bitter almonds extract being applied to a toeThe alkaline compounds found in this essential oil can help inhibit fungal growth. When applied externally on the affected part of the skin, the bitterness and toxicity in the oil kill the fungus.


Bitter almonds make a lovely addition to aromatherapy blends, and this may be the safest way to get its benefits. Simply place a few drops of essential oil in a diffuser and enjoy.


As the active compounds present in bitter almonds and its essential oil are toxic, they should never be used for infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, or people with serious illness.

Never ingest bitter almonds or their essential oil without first consulting a doctor, because it can be fatal in small amounts. In most cases, it should not be ingested at all.

Even for use on the skin, it should always be diluted in a carrier oil, with only a few drops of almond oil for a tablespoon of carrier oil. In general, less is more, and always consult with your doctor if you have the slightest concern. Bitter almonds can be very dangerous if used improperly.


a jar of sweet almonds, not bitter almondsBitter almonds and sweet almonds are not the same. They come from different trees. While sweet almonds are safe for consumption, the bitter ones should never be consumed due to high toxicity. When compared to sweet almonds, bitter almonds are shorter, more pointed, and have a distinct bitter flavor due high levels of hydrocyanic acid.

Oil is extracted from bitter almonds after removing the toxins. The essential oil is rich in hydrogen cyanide, benzaldehyde glycoside, amygdalin, antioxidants, and healthy fats. The toxins in this oil are known to exhibit healing properties which can provide relief from some health issues. However, it is important to keep in mind that even a slight increase in the dosage can cause sickness and can prove fatal. The oil can prove beneficial, but only when used with extreme precautions under the supervision of a therapist.

© Copyright 2019 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Bitter almonds have a high level of toxins making them unsafe for consumption. However, these almonds exhibit healing properties. Its essential oil and extracts may help with certain health issues but should be used in very low doses under the guidance of a licensed physician to reduce the risk of cyanide toxicity.

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