Bitter almond (Prunus amygdalus Batch var. amara (DC.) Focke) and Laetrile


The almond is closely related to the peach, apricot, and cherry (all classified as drupes). The most commonly used portion of the almond is the nut. A compound called amygdalin differentiates the bitter almond from the sweet almond. In the presence of water (hydrolysis), amygdalin yields glucose and the chemicals benzaldehyde and hydrocyanic acid (HCN). HCN, the salts of which are known as cyanide, is poisonous. To be used in food or as a flavoring agent, the HCN must be removed from the bitter almond oil. Once it is removed, the oil is called volatile almond oil and is considered to be almost pure benzaldehyde. Volatile almond oil can still be toxic in large amounts.

Related Terms

Aci badem, almendra amara, amande amere, amendoa amarga, amygdala amara, Amygdalis dulcis amara, bitter almond oil, bittere amandel, bittermandel, gorkiy mindal, karvasmanteli, keseru mandula, ku wei bian tao, ku xing ren, lawz murr, mandorla amara, Prunus amygalus amara, Prunus communis amara, Prunus dulcis (Mill.) D.A. Webb var. amara (DC.) H.E. Moore, Rosaceae (family), volatile almond oil.
Note: Bitter almond should not be confused with "sweet almond." Sweet almond seeds do not contain amygdalin and can be eaten, whereas bitter almonds can be toxic.

evidence table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Cancer (Laetrile) (Grade: D)
"Laetrile" is an alternative cancer drug marketed in Mexico and other countries outside of the United States. Laetrile is derived from amygdalin, found in the pits of fruits and nuts such as the bitter almond. Early evidence suggests that laetrile is not beneficial in the treatment of cancer. In 1982, the U.S. National Cancer Institute concluded that laetrile was not effective for cancer therapy. Nonetheless, many people still travel to use this therapy outside the United States. Multiple cases of cyanide poisoning, including deaths, have been associated with laetrile therapy.