History of the almond tree

Almond trees are thousands of years old, we know this from various sources where almond trees are mentioned. Examples of sources are Shakespeare (see Troilus and Cressida), the Torah (holy book of the Jews), Greek mythology and drawings from the Middle Ages. The nut originally comes from Mediterranean climates in the region of the Middle East. It was spread by many explorers all over the world, more specifically to Africa, southern Europe and the Americas (primarily the state of California). According to researchers it is by far the earliest domesticated nut in the world. It is remarkable that centuries ago people could clearly distinguish the two types of almonds: wild almonds, which are quite bitter and can be poisonous and sweet almonds which are perfectly eatable. Below we will go step by step through the history of the almond tree.

We will start with the Torah, the holy book of the Jews. From this ancient book we can see that the almond tree grew in what we now know as Syria, Israel and Palestine. The fruit of the almond was one of the subjects that was selected to decorate the candlestick used in the tabernacle. Another usage of the almond tree was the rod that Aaron used, this was made of an almond twig. Religious Jewish people still have a custom that when there is a festival they bring almond twigs to the synagogue.

Almonds are also mentioned plenty of times in Greek mythology, this was even before the time of the Torah and the Bible. The people of what we know call Greece and Italy mainly used the oil from the nut. Phyllis is a character in Greek mythology that commits suicide by hanging herself from a high tree. On the place that she is eventually buried an almond tree rises from the ground. The mythology continues that when her loved on Demophon returns to her grave the almond tree blossoms.

During the late and early Middle Ages almonds were a really popular trading item, especially in Central Europe. People in the Middle Ages ate a lot of almonds because they were healthy, easy to find and had great taste. Historians have found an inventory list of Jeanne D’Evreux, who was the queen of France during 1325-1328, on the list they found 10 kgs of almond nuts.

Research shows that almond trees have been in cultivation since at least 3000 B.C. Almonds have been found in many archeological sites such as Numeria (located in Jordan) and the tomb of Tutankhamen (Egypt, 1325 BC). These almonds were probably imported to Jordan and Egypt from the Levant area. Researchers from Purdue University found out that also the Chinese cultivated almonds, this would have taken place around 900 BC. In the United States the almond was introduced much and much later in California. Still today California accounts for most the almond production of the entire United States.
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