Description: Natural Order, Rosaceae. A tree of fifteen to twenty feet high; native of Persia, Syria, and Northern Africa; much cultivated in Spain and Southern France; capable of cultivation in the Gulf States and Mexico. Flowers large, pale red varying to white, in pairs, nearly sessile upon the branches, appearing before the leaves; calyx five-parted, reddish; petals five; stamens twenty or more, spreading. Leaves elliptical, pointed, three inches long, alternate, short- petioled, minutely serrate, bright green. Fruit a drupe, as in the peach, but the sarcocarp (fleshy portion) becoming thin, tough, and dry; the ripe pit constituting the well-known almond nuts of commerce.
Properties and Uses: The cotyledons of the almond drupe are edible, and a fine table luxury. When deprived of their reddish-brown envelope, they are said to be blanched; and when beaten up in a mortar with a moderate quantity of water, they form an emulsion of elegant flavor and superior demulcent properties. Half an ounce, thus made into emulsion with two drachms of sugar, half a drachm of gum arabic, and eight fluid ounces of water, make the officinal Almond Mixture; of which from two to four fluid ounces may be taken every four hours, as a nutrient demulcent in dysentery and irritation of the water passages. It is also used as a vehicle for stronger remedies, especially in the exhibition of camphor mixture. The blanched almonds, when crushed in a mill or mortar, put into canvas sacks, and strongly pressed between moderately- heated iron plates, yield more than fifty percent of oil. This oil is clear and colorless, or but very slightly tinged greenish-yellow, almost without smell, and of a sweetish-bland taste. It is used for the same purposes as olive oil, but is pleasanter and more nutrient. Made into an emulsion with the yolk of an egg, sugar, and water, it is sometimes used as a pectoral and dietetic in pulmonary affections and old coughs, where there is much feebleness and irritability. From a teaspoonful to a tablespoonful may thus be given two or three times a day.
The amygdalis amara is a variety of the common almond, the cotyledons of which have a rather bitter taste, much like that of peach kernels. They are liable to undergo chemical change very speedily, and through this change to furnish a small quantity of hydrocyanic acid, (§32 ;) hence their emulsion is not a safe preparation. Their fixed oil is as bland as that of the sweet almonds. The cake left after the fixed oil is expressed, is mixed with water and submitted to distillation. During this process, chemical changes take place; and there is obtained an acrid and bitter oil which, says the U. S. Dispensatory, "does not preexist in the almond, but is produced by the reaction of water upon the amygdalin contained in it, through the intervention of another constituent denominated emulsin. It is obtained also by the distillation of the leaves of the cherry laurel, and various products of the genera Amygdalus, Cerasus, Prunus, and others." The active constituent of this oil, is the poisonous hydrocyanic or prussic acid; and thus does the highest Allopathic authority recognize the fact that this poison does not originally exist in the peach, cherry, almond, etc.; but is a product of chemical fermentation and reaction among the organic constituents of the plant, as alcohol is a product of chemical. fermentation among the elements of corn, rye, wheat, potatoes, etc. It is peculiar of all the plants of these genera that, while they will yield no prussic acid when dry, the presence of water determines these changes speedily; and a tepid infusion or emulsion of any of them, (except the blanched sweet almonds), may thus be altered in from six to twelve hours.
The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com