The almond tree that produces sweet almonds often has white flowers while that which has pink flowers produces bitter almonds. You can easily distinguish between sweet and bitter almonds as bitter almonds are somewhat broader and shorter than the sweet almonds. Almost all bitter ones are more or less toxic in nature. Bitter almond, in presence of water, produces the poison cyanide. Bitter almond oil contains prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) and benzaldehyde. Very rarely, it is used for internal application (very small dose), under an expert's guidance. Usually, diluted oil is applied externally to reap the health benefits of bitter almond. Use of bitter almond oil is even banned in some countries.
The bitter almond oil carries bactericidal, germicidal, fungicidal and anti viral properties. Its main components, hydrogen cyanide and benzaldehyde are extremely toxic. They do not allow bacteria, germs, fungi and virus to grow on the skin and hair. So, the oil helps prevent viral, bacterial and fungal infections. It is useful in treating ailments caused by germs. Application of very mild bitter almond oil (diluted with water) on skin or scalp is enough to protect them from infections. Application of concentrated oil can damage your skin and hair. If you want to have strong hair and glowing skin, you can use sweet almond oil.
The oil also acts as an anesthetic medicine. Glycoside amygdalin, the toxic compound from the oil acts on the nerves and makes them numb. The nerves thus become insensitive to pain or any sensation. When applied on an area, it exhibits the anesthetic effect. But the oil should never be taken internally for total anesthesia. It can lead to death of the person.
This oil exhibits anti-pyretic properties. It helps alleviate and prevent fever. Its toxicity and bitterness help control the growth of bacteria, protozoa, viruses or fungi. This helps reduce fever. But a slightly larger dose can have adverse and toxic effects on the body. Larger doses can prove to be fatal.
A very small dose of oil can kill intestinal worms and thus can help get rid of digestive system problems. The oil is used to treat hydrophobia, a serious condition caused by infection due to rabies virus. The oil is so poisonous that it can inhibit the growth of rabies virus. It is used as an anti spasmodic medicine while treating tetanus, rabies and other infections. It reduces convulsions and cramps.
The toxic properties of bitter almond oil make it an effective purgative. A very low and mild dose works as a laxative. As our body tends to eliminate toxic substances through sweat, urine and excreta, it tries to get rid of this oil when ingested. Therefore, increased frequency of urination can be noticed after the ingestion of the oil. This means, the oil carries diuretic properties. Frequent urination promotes weight loss. It results in lowering down of blood pressure and relaxation of the body. The oil can also reduce the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
Some studies have shown that the toxic properties of bitter almond oil help prevent the growth of cancer cells. But more research is needed before practical implementation of this idea. In food industry, the oil is used for flavoring foods like marzipan and liqueurs, after complete removal of the deadly elements.
Bitter almond oil, as a home remedy, should be avoided. If you want to use this oil for medicinal purposes, you should use it under the guidance of your doctor. There are cases where intake of small amount of this oil (as small as 7.5 ml or one and half teaspoon) has resulted in death, so it should be taken with great precaution. For culinary uses of the oil, the cyanide needs to be removed.