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Bitter Apricot Seeds (Semen Prunus Armeniaca)

Bitter Apricot Seeds (semen prunus armeniaca)

What is Bitter Apricot Seeds (Semen Prunus Armeniaca)?

Bitter Apricot Seeds (ku xing ren, 苦杏仁), also known as Semen Prunus Armeniaca, are found at the center of the apricot fruit (Prunus armeniaca). These seeds are the subject of some debate with regards to its medicinal usage, due to its unique compounds which can bring both powerful effects and significant risks to human health.

The Persians and Armenians have been cultivating Apricots since ancient times. It is said that Apricots were grown in India since 3000 BC. Dried Apricots played an important role in Iran’s global trade as well. 

In China, Apricots made up a huge part of the diets of the famously long-lived Hunza people. One of their staple foods, Apricots were consumed raw, dried, and used in oil and medicine. The hard shells of this plant were also used to fuel fires. The ancient Greeks called Apricots ‘Golden Eggs of the Sun’. In addition, the fruit can be distilled to make brandy and liquors, including the Italian Amaretto, which means bitter love.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Bitter Apricot Seeds fall under the category of ‘Herbs that relieve coughing and wheezing’. Such herbs can treat stagnation of fluids, which may cause phlegm and other symptoms such as coughing and wheezing. Such herbs also tend to have antitussive, expectorant, diuretic or laxative properties.

Warm in nature, Bitter Apricot Seeds can help people who have too much Cold in their body, such as those who are experiencing a Yin Excess or a Yang Deficiency, to restore a healthy yin-yang balance. Bitter and sweet in taste, Bitter Apricot Seeds can cleanse the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. The herb can also slow down acute reactions, detoxify the body, and has a tonic effect on the body by replenishing qi and blood. In particular, the herb targets the large intestines and the Lungs.

Functions and Benefits of Bitter Apricot Seeds (Semen Prunus Armeniaca)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that Bitter Apricot Seeds have the following health benefits.

Bitter Apricot Seeds can relieve syndromes of cough and dyspnea by directing Lung qi downwards and purging Lung qi. Be it acute, chronic, Cold or Heat diseases, Bitter Apricot Seeds are often combined with other herbs to treat symptoms caused by the adverse rising of Lung qi.

Bitter Apricot Seeds are full of oil, hence they can also moisten intestines to relax bowels. These seeds are often used to treat constipation and intestinal dryness. For constipation caused by Blood Deficiency in elderly or postpartum women, Bitter Apricot Seeds can be combined with bloodnourishing herbs and yin-tonifying herbs to treat it.

Modern studies have discovered that Bitter Apricot Seeds contain a variety of amino acids and other substances. Containing amygdalin and pangamic acid, Bitter Apricot Seeds have been suggested to lower blood pressure, promote liver health, and reduce the risk of heart disease. The dietary fibre in Bitter Apricot Seeds can improve digestive functions, promote bowel movements, reduce symptoms of constipation, bloating, cramping, diarrhoea, and lower cholesterol levels.

Other than the above Prunus armeniaca benefits, some research has shown that Bitter Apricot Seeds can boost one’s immune system, metabolism and respiratory health. The active ingredients in these seeds may help the body become less sensitive to allergens, which can reduce the severity of asthma attacks and inflammation in the throat. The notable amount of protein in these seeds can help increase muscle growth and general body repair as well.

Bitter Apricot Seeds also contain Vitamin E, which can reduce oxidative stress in the skin, counter damage done by free radicals and address wrinkles, age spots and blemishes. It also works as a moisturizer and improves the general appearance of the skin by boosting elasticity. In addition, the seeds contain zinc, which may support vision and eye health.

Many discussions also revolve around the anti-cancer potential of Bitter Apricot Seeds.  While the amygdalin in these seeds have been found to possess anti-tumour effects by certain studies, other researchers have found no notable improvement of cancer symptoms when a controlled amount of this substance is either consumed or injected into the patients.

The Omega-3 Fatty Acids found in Bitter Apricot Seeds may be able to improve mental health in adults too. Studies have shown that Omega-3 may reduce mood swings, bipolar episodes, schizophrenia relapses, and violent behavior in individuals with psychiatric disorders.

Some also believe that Bitter Apricot Seeds can improve bone health, ease ear pain, boost hair health, and reduce fatigue.

Bitter Apricot Seeds (Semen Armeniacae Amarum) in white background
In TCM, Bitter Apricot Seeds (Semen Armeniacae Amarum) can help to calm coughs.

How to Use Bitter Apricot Seeds (Semen Prunus Armeniaca)

The recommended daily dosage of Bitter Apricot Seeds are 3 – 9g, when crushed and used with water as a decoction. Bitter Apricot Seeds can be consumed raw, parched or steamed. These seeds are available whole, powdered, or in other forms such as extracts.

Other than being used medicinally. Bitter Apricot Seeds are also used in cuisines and cosmetics. Culinary uses of this herb usually revolve around extracting the oil from these seeds. This oil can be used to fry certain foods or added to desserts to flavour.

The seeds are also often dried and eaten as a snack. They can be roasted, salted, or covered in chocolate and sold like candies.

In cosmetics, the oil extracted from Bitter Apricot Seeds has similar properties to Almond oil, and it may be applied to the skin or included in personal beauty products.

Cautions and Side Effects of Bitter Apricot Seeds (Semen Prunus Armeniaca)

Bitter Apricot Seeds should not be consumed by individuals experiencing Yin Deficiency or diarrhea. Also, as these seeds are mildly toxic, one should not consume the herb in large doses. It is important to note that an overdose of Bitter Apricot Seeds may cause dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, and even death.

There are also many potential side effects of Bitter Apricot Seeds, most of which relate to the danger of cyanide poisoning. That is because Amygdalin can be chemically altered into cyanide in your body when combined with high levels of vitamin C. For example, the herb may cause nausea, stomach pains, fever, rash, exhaustion, insomnia, muscle weakness, cognitive confusion or inflammation in the joints and muscles. 

We strongly recommend you to consult your healthcare provider before deciding to add Bitter Apricot Seeds to your healthcare routine!


Here is a summary for Bitter Apricot Seeds (Semen Prunus Armeniaca):

  • Herb name (Chinese): 苦杏仁
  • Herb name (Pin Yin): kǔ xìng rén
  • Herb name (English): Bitter Apricot Seed
  • Herb name (Botanical): Semen Armeniacae Amarum
  • Origin of species: Prunus armeniaca L. var. ansu Maxim.; Prunus sibirica L.; Prunus mandshurica (Maxim.) Koehne; Prunus armeniaca L.
  • Part(s) of herb used: Ripe seed
  • Geo-specific habitat(s): Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, as well as many other regions in the northern and western parts of China
  • Taste(s) & Properties: Bitter; Slightly warm; Administrates the Lung and Large Intestine Meridians
  • Actions: Calms coughs and asthmatic conditions; Eases constipation

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