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Are Stone Fruit Seeds Poisonous?

This old wives’ tale has a little truth to it, but don’t panic just yet.

Homesteaders don’t like to waste a thing in the kitchen — including cherry pits, which some people cook into tasty glazes or syrups. But for many, there’s concern about safety: Don’t cherry pits contain cyanide? Or is cyanide in fruit pits just a myth?

The seeds (also known as stones, pits, or kernels) of stone fruits like apricots, cherries, plums, and peaches do contain a compound called amygdalin, which breaks down into hydrogen cyanide when ingested. And, yes, hydrogen cyanide is definitely a poison.

That said, if you’ve accidentally swallowed a few seeds, you can relax. “Truth is, poisoning from unintentional ingestion of a few pits or seeds is unlikely,” Poison Control states. “Still, ingestion should be avoided. Seeds and pits should never be crushed or placed in a blender for consumption.”

Not everyone abides by that policy though. According to The Food Safety Hazard Guidebook, hydrogen cyanide is not a heat-stable substance and does not survive cooking, which is why you may see some recipes that call for roasting stone fruit pits.

Even if you purposefully ate them raw, it would take a lot of pits to get you sick. The National Institute of Health’s database on toxic substances says a 150-pound human can safely consume 703 milligrams of hydrogen cyanide per day before beginning to suffer any ill effects. According to scientific analyses, raw apricot seeds contain an average of about 432 milligrams of hydrogen cyanide per ounce (about 48 seeds). Thirty raw peach seeds also comes to an ounce and contain around 204 milligrams of hydrogen cyanide. And 200 raw cherry seeds, also an ounce, contain a relatively low 117 milligrams of the substance.

So even if you forgot to roast cherry pits in a recipe and used a couple tablespoons, you’d still be well below what the National Institute of Health considers safe.

The Bottom Line

Poison Control does not recommend purposefully ingesting fruit seeds or pits. However, if you do eat a couple accidentally, you’re probably fine.

Herbs & Botanicals

Peach seeds come from the fruit of the peach tree (prunus persica), which are believed to have originated in China but are now found throughout the world’s temperate regions. Spanish explorers are believed to have brought the peach to the New World; documents show that peach trees were being grown and cultivated in Mexico as early as the beginning of the 17th century. Cultivated peach trees are somewhat shorter than wild peach trees, reaching an average height of 12 to 15 feet. Peaches usually develop during the spring and ripen in the summer, and consist of a soft, fleshy exterior (with a downy, fuzzy skin) and a hard interior, often called a stone or pit.

Peach seeds are enclosed within the stone. In China, peach seeds are harvested after a peach ripens by cracking open the stone, harvesting the seeds and drying them in the sun. After being dried, the seeds’ skins are peeled off. They are typically used either raw or parched.

Peach seed is considered to have bitter, sweet and neutral properties, and is affiliated with the Heart, Large Intestine, Liver and Lung channels. In traditional Chinese medicine principles, it invigorates the blood, removes stasis, and moistens the intestines.

Peach pit is used to treat a variety of conditions related to the blood, such as amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea. An extract found in peach seeds, amygdalin, has been shown in some studies to effectively treat hepatosplenomegaly, a condition that causes abnormal enlargement of the liver and spleen. The fats and oils contained in peach seeds help moisten and lubricate the intestines, and can treat constipation. Peach seeds are also sometimes used to help relieve coughs.

How much peach seed should I take?

The typical recommended dose of peach seed is 6 to 10 grams per day. Some practitioners recommend a slightly lower dose (between 4.5 and 9 grams of peach seed), either ground into a powder or used in a decoction.

What forms of peach seed are available?

Peach seed is available as a powder or decoction. Extracts of some components found in peach seeds can be found at herbal shops and nutrition stores.

What can happen if I take too much peach seed? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Peach seed can contain high levels of hydrogen cyanide, a toxic compound. Although hydrogen cyanide is usually present in levels too small to cause any harm, excess amounts can cause headaches, blurred vision and heart palpitations. Therefore, very bitter seeds should be avoided. Peach seeds can also promote the contraction of the uterus, and should be avoided by women who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding. In addition, patients with loose stools or diarrhea should not consume peach seed or peach seed extracts.

As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with peach seeds. As always, however, make sure to consult with a licensed health care professional before taking peach seeds or any other herbal remedies or dietary supplements.