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?
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
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.”
Most of us will never have to be concerned with this, but occasionally people get sick or die from unwittingly eating the wrong part of a plant, or the wrong fruit. This list of the top ten poisonous fruits will help you avoid a trip to the emergency room.
We love cherries – raw, cooked, or in a pie. So it’s a surprise to find that cherries are actually toxic. Well, it’s the stone that’s toxic, so beware if you like to chew on them while eating cherries. If the stone is chewed, crushed or damaged, it automatically produces hydrogen cyanide. Mild symptoms include headache, dizziness, confusion, and vomiting. Bigger doses can lead to increased blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and kidney failure.
Jatropha is a drought-resistant perennial shrub that can live up to 50 years. The seeds contain highly poisonous toxalbumin curcin, and as few as three untreated seeds can be fatal to humans. Despite this, the seeds are sometimes roasted and eaten, the roasting reducing the toxicity.
You’re highly unlikely to manage to eat enough apple seeds to poison yourself, so you can rest easy if you occasionally swallow one. Apples contain a compound called amygdalin in their seeds, which is a cyanide-and-sugar based molecule. If the seed is chewed or otherwise broken, human or animal enzymes come into contact with the amygdalin and effectively cut off the sugar part of the molecule. The remainder can then decompose to produce the poisonous gas hydrogen cyanide.
Cyanide toxicity is experienced by humans at doses of around 0.5–3.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include stomach cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting, and can culminate in cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, coma and death. A fatal dose for humans can be as low as 1.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. In a recent study, the amygdalin content of apple seeds was found to be approximately 3 milligrams per gram of seeds (one seed is approximately 0.7g).
As not all of this mass would be converted into hydrogen cyanide (some of it will constitute the sugar part of the molecules that is cleaved off), it’s apparent that you’re going to need to eat a huge number of apple seeds to succeed in poisoning yourself, and there don’t appear to be any cases of someone having succeeded in doing so.