The almond, an ancient species of the plum family – prunus amygdalus, to give the scientific name – originally came from the lands now known as Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years.
Alexander the Great brought back almonds from his travels to the east, and the nut made its way to the rest of Europe from Greece.
In ancient times, the flowering of almond trees was a symbol of the new year and the delicate beauty of the blooms was celebrated by poets and writers. ‘Almond eyes’ came to be a mark of female beauty.
Almonds were also used in embalming the dead – traces of nut oil were found in Tutankamun’s sarcophagus. Pre-Christian healers used almonds to treat impotence and stomach disorders, while Avicenna recommended them for skin complaints – spots, sunburn and bruising.
For women, almonds aren’t just a source of vitamins but an almost universal beauty treatment, used throughout cosmetology and the perfume business.
In the past five years, the price of almonds has almost doubled. For two reasons. The first is that more than 80% of world almond production is based in California. It’s a key component of the state’s agricultural export business, but the problem is water supply – drought is increasingly common.
The other reason is sharply rising demand because of the exceptionally rich natural components found in the almond. It’s a superb source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Also, the nut is packed with B vitamins and tocopherol – vitamin E. It’s good for your heart and circulatory system as well as containing many unsaturated fats, amino acids and minerals. Almonds also contain natural flavonoids.
This remarkable gift of nature also supports your nervous system and brain function and can stave off dementia. If that wasn’t enough, the natural antioxidants can increase the quality of sleep and reduce seasonally-affective depression; regularise sugar levels in diabetics; and boost immunity.
So it’s not surprising that demand is on the up, and many people are including almonds as part of their daily diet. Not just to help abate illness, but also to maintain overall good health.
The cost is likely to keep increasing. And that’s perhaps a cause for unhappiness. But the taste – and the beauty of the blooms in spring – will always be priceless.
PS – In England, the almond was a symbol of wealth, and many used to keep a nut in their pocket just in case… You never know when it might come in handy.