083. Amygdalus communus. The almond tree.

Botanical name: 

083. Amygdalus communis. 083. Amygdalus communis. C. Synonyma. Amygdala (nuclei). Pharm. Lond. & Edinb.
Amygdalus amara & dulcis. J. Bauh. Hist. vol. i. p. 174. Raii Hist. p. 1519. Gerard. Emac. p. 1445. Park. Theat. p. 1515.
Amygdalus foliis glabris, ovatis, utrinque acuminatis, serratis, petiolo imisque dentibus glandulosis. Hal. Stirp. Helv. n. 1080.
Varietates sunt,
α Amygdalus sativa. Bauh. Pin. p. 441. Amygdalus dulcis, putamine molliore. Tournef. Inst. p. 627. Amandier à coque tendre, vel Amandier des Dames. Du Hamel. Arbres fruit. T. i. p. 120. tab. 5. Sweet Almond Tree.
β Amygdalus amara. Tournef. Inst. p. 627. Amandier à fruit amer. Du Hamel, l. c. p. 123. Bitter Almond Tree.

Class Icosandria. Ord. Monogynia. Lin. Gen. Plant. 619.
Ess. Gen. Ch. Cal. 5-fidus, inferus. Pet. 5. Drupa nuce poris perforata.
Spec. Char. A. foliis serraturis infimis glandulosis, floribus sessilibus geminis.

This tree divides into many branches, covered with a dark grey bark, and usually rises from twelve to sixteen feet in height: the leaves are elliptical, narrow, pointed at each end, minutely serrated, veined, of a bright green colour, beset with small glands towards the base, and stand upon short footstalks: the flowers are large, of a pale red colour, without peduncles, commonly placed in numerous pairs upon the branches, and appear before the leaves: the calyx is tubular, and divided at the brim into five blunt segments of a reddish colour: the corolla consists of five oval convex petals, with narrow claws: the filaments are about thirty, spreading, tapering, of unequal length, and of a reddish colour, inserted into the calyx, and furnished with simple antherae: the germen is roundish and downy: the style is short, simple, and crowned with a round stigma; the fruit is of the peach kind, the outer substance of which is hard, tough, hairy, and marked with a longitudinal furrow where it opens; under this is a thick rough shell, which contains the kernel or almond. This tree is a native of Barbary, [Particularly in the hedges about Tripoli. See Bauh. l. c.] and flowers in March and April.

The Almond-tree seems to have been known in the remotest times of antiquity, being frequently mentioned by Theophrastus and Hippocrates: it is probable however that this tree was not very common in Italy, in the time of Cato, as he calls the fruit by the name of Greek nuts. [See Pliny, Lib. 15. cap. 22.] It was cultivated in England by Lobel previous to the year 1570, [Vide Hort. Kew.] and though it does not perfect its fruit in this country, yet it is here very generally propagated for the beautiful appearance of its flowers, which are the more conspicuous by showing themselves early in spring before the leaves are expanded.

The fruit or seeds of most vegetables on being planted produce varieties, differing more or less from the parent plant and from each other, and of the Almond-tree this difference is principally confined to the fruit, which is larger or smaller, the shell thicker or thinner, and the kernel bitter or sweet; hence the distinction into bitter Almonds and sweet Almonds, though the same species of tree affords both. Sweet Almonds are more used as food than medicine, but they are said to be difficult of digestion, unless extremely well comminuted; [The Nuces oleosae are not always easily digested: "but it appears that this inconvenience may be in a great measure obviated by a very diligent triture, uniting very intimately the farinaceous and the oily part." See Cullen's Mat. Med. vol. i. p. 298.] their medicinal qualities depend upon the oil which they contain in the farinaceous matter, and which they afford on expression nearly in the proportion of half their weight. The oil thus obtained is more agreeable to the palate than most of the other expressed oils, and is therefore preferred for internal use, being generally employed with a view to obtund acrid juices, and to soften and relax the solids; in tickling coughs, hoarseness, costiveness, nephritic pains, &c. externally in tension and rigidity of particular parts. The milky solutions of Almonds in watery liquors, usually called emulsions, possess, in a certain degree, the emollient qualities of the oil, and have this advantage over the pure oil, that they may be given in acute or inflammatory disorders, without danger of the ill effects which the oil might sometimes produce, by turning rancid. [Several substances of themselves, not miscible with water, may, by trituration with Almonds, be mixed with it in this form, and thus fitted for medical use, as camphor, and various resinous and unctuous substances.] The officinal preparations of Almonds are the expressed oil and the emulsion; to the latter the London College directs the addition of gum arabic, which renders it a still more useful demulcent in catarrhal affections, stranguries, &c.

Bitter Almonds yield a large quantity of oil, perfectly similar to that obtained from sweet Almonds; but the matter remaining after the expression of the oil, is more powerfully bitter than the Almond in its entire state. "Great part of the bitter matter dissolves by the assistance of heat both in water and in rectified spirit: and a part arises also with both menstrua in distillation." [Lewis Mat. Med. p. 53.] Bitter Almonds have been long known to be poisonous to various brute animals, [Particularly wolves, foxes, dogs, cats, and various kinds of birds. For which see Wepser de Cicut. aquat. And many other instances are related in the Ep. Nat. Cur. See also Daries Epist. de Amygdalis et oleo amararum athereo. And Lorry de Venenis, p. 17. From the sudden effects which this poison produces, and the convulsions and spasms which follow its exhibition, there can be no doubt of its acting directly upon the nervous energy.] and some authors have alledged that they are also deleterious to the human species, but the facts recorded upon this point appear to want further proof. [Formerly they were eaten to prevent the intoxicating effects of wine, as is noticed by Dioscorides, "et Plutarchus medicum filii Imperatoris Tiberii producit, qui hocce praesidio munitus inter quotidianas comessationes in bibendo reliquos omnes antecellere valuit." Murr. Ap. Med. vol. iii. p. 260. But from twelve of these Almonds Lorry experienced a sense of inebriation. De Venenis, p. 17.] However, as the noxious quality seems to reside in that matter which gives it the bitterness and flavour, it is very probable that when this is separated by distillation, and taken in a sufficiently concentrated state, it may prove a poison to man, [One drop of this essential oil killed a small bird in two minutes. See Daries, l. c.] as is the case with the common laurel, to which it appears extremely analogous. These Almonds are highly commended for the cure of hydrophobia by Thebesius, who experienced their good effects in twelve cases, in which a few (no particular quantity is mentioned) were eaten every morning. [Vide Nov. Act. Nat. Cur. tom. i. p. 181.] And Bergius tells us, that bitter Almonds, in the form of emulsion, cured obstinate intermittents, after the bark had failed. [Mat. Med. p. 413.]

Medical Botany, 1790-1794, was written by William Woodville, M. D., and illustrated by James Sowerby.