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Almonds / Almond Oil


The Almond belongs to the same group of plants as the rose, plum, cherry and peach, being a member of the tribe Prunae of the natural order Rosaceae .

The genus Amygdalus to which it is assigned is very closely allied to Prunu s (Plum) in which it has sometimes been merged; the distinction lies in the fruit, the succulent pulp attached to the stone in the plum (known botanically as the mesocarp) being replaced by a leathery separable coat in the almond which is hard and juiceless, of a dingy green tinged with dull red, so that when growing it looks not unlike an unripe apricot. When fully ripe, this green covering dries and splits, and the Almond, enclosed in its rough shell (termed the endocarp) drops out. The shell of the Almond is a yellowish buff colour and flattened-ovoid in shape, the outer surface being usually pitted with small holes; frequently it has a more or less fibrous nature. Sometimes it is thin and friable (soft-shelled Almond), sometimes extremely hard and woody (hard-shelled Almond). The seed itself is rounded at one end and pointed at the other, and covered with a thin brown, scurfy coat.

The different sorts of Almonds vary in form and size, as well as in the firmness of the shell. The fruit is produced chiefly on the young wood of the previous year, and in part on small spurs of two and three years growth.

The tree is of moderate size, usually from 20 to 30 feet high, with spreading branches the leaves lance-shaped, finely toothed (or serrated) at the edges. The flowers are produced before the leaves - in this country early in March; and in great profusion. There are two principal forms of the Almond the one with entirely pink flowers, Amygdalus communis , var. dulcis , producing Sweet Almonds; the other, A. communis , var. amara , with flowers slightly larger, and the petals almost white towards the tips, deepening into rose at the base, producing Bitter Almonds. Botanically, they are considered merely variations of the one type, and the difference in variety has been supposed originally to be mainly owing to climate, the Bitter Almond being a native of Barbary . The Sweet Almond is the earliest to flower, and is cultivated more largely than the Bitter Almond. It is valuable as a food and for confectionery purposes, as well as in medicine, being rich in a bland oil, and sustaining as a nutriment: the staying power conferred by a meal of Almonds and raisins is well known. It is only the Bitter Almond in the use of which caution is necessary, especially with regard to children, as it possesses dangerous poisonous properties.

There are numerous varieties of the Sweet Almond in commerce, the chief being: the Jordan Almonds, the finest and best of the Sweet variety. These, notwithstanding their Oriental name (derived really from the French jardin), we receive from Malaga , imported without their shells. They are distinguished from all other Almonds by their large size, narrow, elongated shape and thin skin; Valentia Almonds, which are broader and shorter than the Jordan variety, with a thicker dusty brown, scurfy skin, usually imported in their shell, and sometimes called in consequence, 'Shell Almonds'

History of Almonds / Almond Oil

The tree has always been a favourite, and in Shakespeare's time, as Gerard tells us, Almond trees were 'in our London gardens and orchards in great plenty.' There are many references to it in our early poetry. Spenser alludes to it in the Fairy Queen :

'Like to an Almond tree ymounted hye,

On top of greene Selinis all alone,

With blossoms brave bedecked daintly;

Whose tender locks do tremble every one

At everie little breath that under Heaven is blowne.'

Shakespeare mentions it only once, very casually, in Troilus and Cressida : - 'The parrot will not do more for an Almond' - 'An Almond for a parrot' being an old simile in his days for the height of temptation.

The tree grows freely in Syria and Palestine : it is mentioned in Scripture as one of the best fruit trees of the land of Canaan, and there are many other biblical references to it. The Hebrew name, shakad , is very expressive: it signifies 'hasty awakening,' or 'to watch for,' hence 'to make haste,' a fitting name for a tree, whose beautiful flowers appearing in Palestine in January, herald the wakening up of Creation.

The rod of Aaron was an Almond twig, and the fruit of the Almond was one of the subjects selected for the decoration of the golden candlestick employed in the tabernacle. The Jews still carry rods of Almond blossom to the synagogues on great festivals.

As Almonds were reckoned among 'the best fruits of the land' in the time of Jacob we may infer they were not then cultivated in Egypt . Pliny, however, mentions the Almond among Egyptian fruit-trees; and it is not improbable that it was introduced between the days of Jacob and the period of the Exodus.

Almonds, as well as the oil pressed from them, were well known in Greece and Italy long before the Christian era.  A beautiful fable in Greek mythology is associated with the tree.  Servius relates that Phyllis was changed by the gods into an Almond tree as an eternal compensation for her desertion by her lover Demophoon, which caused her death by grief.  When too late, Demophoon returned, and when the leafless, flowerless and forlorn tree was shown him, as the memorial of Phyllis, he clasped it in his arms, whereupon it burst forth into bloom - an emblem of true love inextinguishable by death.

During the Middle Ages, Almonds became an important article of commerce in Central Europe . Their consumption in medieval cookery was enormous.  An inventory, made in 1372, of the effects of Jeanne d'Evreux, Queen of France, enumerates only 20 lb of sugar, but 500 lb of Almonds.

The ancients attributed many wonderful virtues to the Almond, but it was chiefly valued for its supposed virtue in preventing intoxication. Plutarch mentions a great drinker of wine, who by the use of Bitter Almonds escaped being intoxicated, and Gerard says: 'Five or six, being taken fasting, do keepe a man from being drunke.'  This theory was probably the origin of the custom of eating salted Almonds through a dinner.

What are Almonds / Almond used for?

Fresh Sweet Almonds possess demulcent and nutrient properties.

They have a special dietetic value, for besides containing about 20 per cent of proteids, they contain practically no starch, and are therefore often made into flour for cakes and biscuits for patients suffering from diabetes.

Sweet Almonds are used medicinally, the official preparations of the British Pharmacopoeia being Mistura Amygdalae, Pulvis Amygdalae Compositus and Almond Oil.

On expression they yield nearly half their weight in a bland fixed oil, which is employed medicinally for allaying acrid juices, softening and relaxing solids, and in bronchial diseases, in tickling coughs, hoarseness, costiveness, nephritic pains, etc.

When Almonds are pounded in water, the oil unites with the fluid, forming a milky juice - Almond Milk - a cooling, pleasant drink, which is prescribed as a diluent in acute diseases, and as a substitute for animal milk.

Almond emulsions possess in a certain degree the emollient qualities of the oil, and have this advantage over the pure oil, that they may be given in acute or inflammatory disorders without danger of the ill effects which the oil might sometimes produce by turning rancid.  Sweet Almonds alone are employed in making emulsions, as the Bitter Almond imparts its peculiar taste when treated in this way.

Blanched and beaten into an emulsion with barley-water, Sweet Almonds are of great use in the stone, gravel, strangury and other disorders of the kidneys, bladder and biliary ducts.

By their oily character, Sweet Almonds sometimes give immediate relief in heartburn.  For this, it is recommended to peel and eat six or eight Almonds.

The fixed Oil of Almonds is extracted from both Bitter and Sweet Almonds.  If intended for external use, it must, however, be prepared only from Sweet Almonds.


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