The health benefits of bitter almond essential oil can be attributed to its properties as a vermifuge, febrifuge, bactericidal, germicidal, fungicidal, sedative, anesthetic, aperient, diuretic, anti-intoxicating, anti-carcinogenic, and antispasmodic susbstance.
Fifty percent of the oil obtained from bitter almond (scientifically known as amygdalus communis var. amara) contains three basic components, namely, benzaldehyde, glycoside amygdalin and hydrogen cyanide (also known as hydrocyanic acid or prussic acid) while the other fifty percent contains mono-unsaturated fatty acids and other components similar to those in sweet almonds. It is very difficult to distinguish bitter almonds from their sweet counterparts just by appearance, except that the bitter almonds are broader and shorter in shape than sweet almonds.
Bitter almond oil contains some deadly poisons and should therefore be used with the utmost care. Most of its medicinal uses are restricted to external applications and internal applications, when needed, are done in very low doses. A slightly excessive amount can be fatal. This oil cannot be called nutritious to health.
Health Benefits of Bitter Almond Essential Oil
Bitter almond oil has various health benefits. Some of these are explained in greater detail below.
Febrifuge: Since ancient times, the bitter elements (e.g. quinine) have always been used as febrifuges. The reason behind it might be that all bitter elements contain alkaline compounds and are more or less toxic in nature. This toxicity and bitterness effectively inhibits the growth of infections from bacteria, protozoa, or viruses in the body, thereby reducing fever. For the same reason, bitter almond oil in very low doses has also been in use as a febrifuge for chronic fevers. Such applications, although beneficial from the point of view of lessening fever, can have their own adverse and toxic effects on the body.
Vermifuge: The acute bitterness and the poisonous nature of bitter almond oil are very effective in killing intestinal worms, but again, it should be administered in very low potency.
Antispasmodic: Bitter almond oil is also said to possess antispasmodic properties.
Bactericidal, Germicidal, Fungicidal and Antiviral: The two components of bitter almond oil, hydrogen cyanide and benzaldehyde, are extremely toxic to animal life as well as to bacteria, germs, fungi and viruses. Therefore, it can be efficiently employed as a bactericide, antiviral and fungicidal substance. It can be used in curing ailments associated with infections from virus, germs and fungus.
Sedative & Anesthetic: The toxic compound glycoside amygdalin, present in bitter almond oil, affects nerves and make them insensitive to any sensation, even pain. This induces numbness and anesthetic effects. However, it should be applied externally for local anesthetic purposes only. Ingestion for total anesthetic purposes should never be attempted, and could be fatal.
Aperient: Being toxic in nature, bitter almond oil cannot be digested and if ingested, cause frequent loose motions and vomiting. Thus it has been and is still in use as an effective purgative (Aperient). The only thing is that the dose given should be very low and mild or it may have severe adverse effects.
Diuretic: The body has a natural tendency to remove toxic substances that have gotten inside the body through sweat, urine and excreta. That is why when bitter almond oil is ingested in very small amounts, the body tends to throw it out through frequent urination. This frequent urination helps you lose weight and relaxes the body. When combined with the anesthetic and tranquilizing effects of this oil, it successfully brings down the blood pressure.
Anti-Carcinogenic: Recent research has shown that the toxicity of bitter almond oil (particularly due to the presence of hydrogen cyanide or hydrocyanic acid) is good for inhibiting the growth of cancerous cells in certain cancer types.
Other Benefits: Application of very low concentration (very mild) mixtures with water on the skin and hair keeps them free from infections from germs, insects and fungi. Bitter almond oil, after removing the toxic components, is used for flavoring edibles. It is used in a number of industries for flavoring purposes as well.
A Few Words of Caution: Hydrogen cyanide is a deadly poison and so are glycoside amygdalin and benzaldehyde. So, extreme care should be taken in case of both internal and external applications. A small mistake or overdose can be fatal. It should never be given to babies, children, the elderly, or seriously ill people.