ARGANA SPINOSA (Saptaceae)
The Argan tree originates from one area in the world only, the Agadir region, South West of Morocco, which covers over 320,000 square miles. Within this area, there are about 21 million trees which play a vital role in the life of the Berbers who have lived there for hundreds of years. The numbers of Argan trees are now declining and they are under protection of UNESCO.
The Argan tree is remarkably adapted to survive in the harsh conditions of the desert. Despite the minute 200 to 300 mm of rainfall every year, the Argan tree has a life span of 125 to 150 years. Many specimens often live twice as long.
The tree can reach a height of 8 to 10 m. Its trunk is twisted and gnarled and its branches thorny. Its root system expends 90 meters below the earth surface, thus helping to bind the soil. The shade provided by its branches allows for the growth of other grasses which would otherwise be scorched by the sun. They, in turn, provide food for grazing animals and the live stock of the locals. As such the Argan tree plays an essential role in preventing erosion and desertification.
TRADITIONS & FOLKLORE
The history of the Argan tree is intertwined with that of the local people, the Berbers. Every part of the tree is used to supply the population and its livestock with a source of food, firewood and building materials. The nature of its trunk and branches provide the goats with a stable climbing frame and they are often seen clambering all over the trees to reach the leaves and fruits that are one of their delicacies. The goats will digest the pulp of the fruits and shed the undigested seeds which, having gone through the whole of their digestive tract, are easier to crack. These seeds are said to be reused by the locals for the purpose of extracting the oil although there is some controversy over this.
The tree produces a fruit with a green flesh similar to the olive but larger and rounder. Inside it, lies a nut with a hard shell which in turn, contains 2 to 3 almond-shaped kernels. Only ripe seeds fallen from trees were collected to extract the oil.
Extracting the oil is the most difficult part as the nut, which is believed to have the hardest shell, needs to be cracked open. Traditionally, the kernels are first roasted. They are then pounded to extract the oil. The resulting paste is mixed with water. Left to rest, the change in density between oil and water, brings the oil to the surface where it is collected. The residue is a thick chocolate coloured paste, called ’amlou’, used as a dip for bread. Along with the oil, it is part of the staple diet of the locals.
This traditional method of oil extraction is labor intensive. In one day, a woman can produce from 1 to 1.5kg of fruit. 100kg of ripe fruit will become 60kg of dry fruit, 30 kg of dry pulp and 30 kg of nuts. They will contain 3 kg of seed which will release about 1 L of cold-pressed oil, using a rotary hand-stone and a quern.
The oil was used to massage babies, protect the skin against the harsh weather and scorching sun, to soften the skin of pregnant women and prevent stretch marks, to heal acne spots and eczema, to relieve arthritis and rheumatism and it was, of course, added to many of traditional Moroccan dishes.
Work is currently being done to protect the Argan forest and improve the livelihood of the local populations by organising the production of the oil through cooperatives. They supply the population with machineries and ensure that all individuals receive the proceeds of the production process.
There are still two types or Argan oils - one which is pressed directly from the seeds and one pressed from roasted seeds. Roasting was used traditionally as it has 2 advantages: It softens the seeds that are made easier to pound. It also brings the flavour out of the oil and the left over paste ‘amlou’.
We have chosen to stock an oil which has been pressed from seeds that have not been exposed to heat and have preserved all their natural nourishing and healing properties.
The colour of the oil may vary from batch to batch from yellow to brown.
Argan oil is rich in unsaturated fatty acids (80%), primarily oleic acid (45%) and linoleic acid (35%). It has a high level of vitamin E and thus a good resistance to oxidation and a longer shelf-life.
Odour: It has a sharp green aroma which is not overwhelming . It can be easily disguised by the addition of a few drops of essential oil or by blending the oil with other carrier oils.
Texture: Like jojoba, it is a very light and smooth oil which the skin absorbs quickly and easily. It is left smooth and supple without any trace or feeling of grease.
Argan oil has good nourishing and moisturising properties and leave the skin beautifully smooth and soft.
Mature skin: Due to its anti-oxidant properties, it is particularly useful for mature or damaged skin. It can be used topically over areas that show sun damage, scaring, appearance of wrinkles and even stretch marks. In combination with Rosehip and borage it is useful to smooth out fine lines and reduce the appearance of brown spots.
It can be used on its own or blended with other oils with similar and complementing properties - Rosehip for scaring, Borage and Evening Primrose, both rich in GLA, Macadamia as a cell regenerator.
Dry skin: It is also beneficial to dry skin and can indeed be used as a moisturising body oil for the whole body as it will sink easily into thirsty skins. Use neat or add 0.5 to 1% of essential oil (Geranium, Rose, Palmarosa, Rosewood, Sandalwood). Or blend with jojoba for its balancing properties, calendula for its healing action on dry, red, itchy skin. It helps skin repair and is particularly beneficial in case of eczema - blend 40% Argan with 40% Calendula, 20% Borage.
Hair balm: Argan oil can also be used as a hair balm for dry scalp and hair. In a 30 ml bottle, blend Argan 50%, Coconut 20%, Calendula 30%), add 1 drop of Vanilla, 2 drops of Jasmine, 2 drops Mandarin and 1 drop Ylang Ylang for a luxurious scent, massage the scalp with the tips of the fingers and spread the oil over the whole length of the hair. Leave for a minimum of 30 mn. Shampoo and wash.