Almond trees have been adorning the Earth since the dawn of time. Most likely, they originate from China and Central Asia and were brought into the Mediterranean region by the merchants trailing the Silk Road.
Wild almond however is quite different from the one available at your local grocer’s. First, wild almond nuts are poisonous. They contain hydrocyanic acid, or cyanide, a very powerful poison that gives the almond nut its slightly bitter taste. This is why wild almond still growing in Europe is commonly called bitter almond.
Please don’t eat it! 40 to 50 nuts contain lethal dose of poison, and for children even small amounts are extremely dangerous — in some known cases as many as 10 nuts were a cause of tragedy.
To this day we don’t know exactly how (or why) the safe sweet almond was cultivated. What we do know for sure, is that it doesn’t contain amigdalin, the toxic source of hydrocyanic acid, and that it is the result of early primitive genetic modification.
The first groves of cultured almond trees, as archaeologists have it, appeared in the early Bronze Age on the territories of modern Armenia and western Azerbaijan. Later sweet almond appeared in Jordan and spread throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Almonds were found among the treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb — most likely they were delivered to Egypt from the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean sea. In the ancient land of Sogdia (the territory of modern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) the blossoming almond tree branches were believed to protect the children from illness, they were brought to the temples as a sacrifice to the gods and the devotees held them in their hands when praying.
Almond is mentioned in the Bible many times, and many languages use adjectives, such as almond-shaped or the like, to describe a particularly pretty shape of eyes or something else pleasing to the eye.
Almond oil was already known in ancient Egypt. Legend has it, queen Cleopatra applied almond oil to her face and body. Josephine de Bogarnet, the beloved wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, was reportedly a fan of almond oil as well. She was often described looking younger than her real age and younger than her notorious husband, even thought she was really 6 years his senior.
Sweet almond oil is in fact a great cosmetic ingredient, used both in traditional skincare solutions (massage oil, hair oil) and in the latest cosmetic formulations.
What makes almond oil so special is that it is very nutritious (the skin softens immediately after application) and at the same time very light (it is absorbed by the skin almost instantly, without leaving greasy traces). Almond oil is composed mostly of unsaturated fatty acids (over 90%), primarily linoleic (omega-6) and oleic (omega-9) acids.
About 9% of almond oil is made up by saturated fatty acids: palmitic and stearic. This proportion of unsaturated to saturated fatty acids is very similar to that of the protective lipid mantle of young and healthy human skin.
Almond oil is also rich in vitamins: it contains vitamin E — often dubbed the vitamin of youth, beta-carotin, vitamin C with anti-oxidant properties. B-group vitamins are also found in almond oil, among them niacin (В3), for healthy skin tone and vitamin В9 (folic acid) protecting the skin both from cold and ultraviolet rays.
Sweet almond oil speeds up healing process. It has been used to treat wounds and bedsores since ancient times. When applied to dry skin it has a softening and nourishing effect.
Remember though, that like all vegetable oils it has an occlusive, rather than directly moisturising effect, i.e. it locks moisture in the skin. Therefore almond oil works best when applied onto moist skin.
Almond oil is also great for sensitive skin, but should be used with caution on oily skin — with regular application new comedones may appear.