What is Bitter Almond Tree and Is it Banned?

Almonds (Prunus amygdalus) can be sweet or bitter. Sweet almond is produced from one variant of almond tree (Prunus amygdalus var. dulcis) and does not contain toxic constituents. Bitter almond comes from another variant (Prunus amygdalus var. amara) and does contain toxic constituents. Amygdalin differentiates the bitter almond from the sweet almond. In the presence of water, amygdalin yields glucose as well as benzaldehyde and hydrocyanic acid (HCN). HCN, the salts of which are known as cyanide, is poisonous. To be used in food or ingested, the HCN must be removed from the bitter almond oil. Bitter almond is used orally as an antispasmodic, local anesthetic, for its narcotic properties, as a cough suppressant, and as an antipruritic.

Also known as:  Almendra Amarga, Almendro Amargo, Amande Amère, Amandier Amer, Amandier a Fruits Amers, Amendoa Amarga, Amygdala Amara, Bitter Almond Oil, Bitter Almond Tree, Bittere Amandel, Bittere Mandel, Bittere Mandeln, Bittere-Amandelboom, Bittermandel, Bittermandelbaum, Bittermandeltae, Bittermandeltraed, Huile d’Amande Volatile, Huile d’Amande Amère, Karvasmanteli, Mandorla Amara, Mandorlo Amaro, Mindal’ Gor’kii, Volatile Almond Oil

Diseases and Conditions

Bitter almond is ineffective at treating medical aliments.


Bitter almond is likely unsafe when consumed orally. It contains potential toxins and should be avoided by children, pregnant, and breastfeeding women. There is a higher risk of experiencing side effects from bitter almond when used orally as compared to intravenously. Possible adverse reactions include nausea, vomiting, agranulocytosis, depression of the respiratory and central nervous system, and cyanide poisoning. Because bitter almond may depress the central nervous system, its use should be discontinued at least 2 weeks before a procedure.

Medication Interactions

Bitter almond oil use with CNS depressants theoretically increases the risk of severe or fatal CNS and respiratory depression.

Supplement and Food Interactions

There are no known supplement, herb, or food interactions for bitter almond.


There is no typical dosage for bitter almond.


Although bitter almonds are used for cooking in some cuisines, they are banned in the United States due to their high cyanide content.


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