Argan – The “Tree of Life”
Known as the “Tree of Life” by the Berbers, argan trees are indigenous to the inhospitable and remote Souss Valley area of Morocco where their thorny and gnarled trunks can grow as high as 8–10 metres and live for hundreds of years. The Berber women have known the value of the argan tree for centuries, using the nuts and oil for food and skin care.
The argan tree
The abundant argan trees grow wild in semi-arid soil, their deep root systems helping to protect against soil erosion. The fruit of the argan trees takes over a year to mature and can be round, oval or conical in shape. A thick, bitter peel covers the fleshy pulp and the hard nut in the centre contains two or three oil-rich seeds.
How the oil is produced
Once the fruit has been collected, the soft pulp is removed by hand, the most labour-intensive part of the process. The pulp is used as animal feed. The hard nuts are then cracked between two stones by hand and the seeds removed. This traditional process has been handed down to the women, generation after generation. The argan kernels are then cold pressed in a stainless steel press and decanted. After 1-2 weeks the oil is filtered to produce a clear and bright top quality product.
The co-operative was set up in 2007 by women who met at a literacy class, in order to lift themselves out of poverty. Initially, the men resisted the women’s initiative in this male-dominated Berber community – until they saw the extra money coming in. Today, the 60 members of the co-operative produce argan oil using traditional skills. They work in every area of the business, from collecting the fruit, transporting it by donkey, hand-cracking and pressing the nuts, to administration.
The co-operative has made a huge difference to the women’s lives, giving them an income where there was none before, and improving family life and literacy. They used to be completely financially dependent on their husbands but they now contribute to the household income, and many provide the sole income. This income means that they can send their children to high school and even university. The women are also learning about health care and improving their literacy. The co-operative would like to create a nursery school for 3-4 year old children in a large room in their new premises as they have no such facility at present, but firstly they need to spend some money on more immediate problems like roof repairs.
Argan oil’s many cosmetic uses
Argan oil’s many cosmetic uses Argan oil has numerous cosmetic properties which can be used for a variety of formulations. Traditionally used as a treatment for skin conditions and as a cosmetic oil for skin and hair, argan oil has become increasingly popular. Argan oil is rich in unsaturated fatty acids and essential fatty acids, with well over 70% oleic and linoleic acids. With its nourishing properties it is a valuable skin moisturiser and revitaliser and is also useful for hair shampoos and conditioners as it strengthens hair and makes it shine. It is also very effective in nail care products. Cosmetic companies have been introducing it into their new products because of its many uses and unique provenance.
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