Baobab – the “upside-down” tree

The Adansonia digitata tree is a deciduous tree which can live for many thousands of years, growing up to 30 metres in height and 15 metres in diameter. Baobab, as it is more commonly known, can be traced back to the time of the Egyptians where inscriptions on bark have been found and identified.

Baobab trees are native to Africa, Madagascar and Australia, and are often referred to as the ’upside down tree’ due to the fact that its branches look like roots sticking up into the air. In Africa, every part of the baobab tree is sustainably utilised for food and medicinal use – from the leaves to the roots – and as such it is often referred to as ‘the tree of life’. The tree has a huge folklore covering almost all of Africa. In West Africa, spirits are believed to inhabit the flowers and locals believe that a lion will devour anyone rash enough to pluck a flower. In Tanzania it is considered dangerous to suck a seed of the baobab in crocodile country as they will be attracted, while in Zambia, washing seeds in rivers offers protection against crocodiles. Another belief is that drinking an infusion of the bark will make you mighty and strong. In southern Nigeria the baobab tree is worshipped as a fertility symbol and people still marry beneath its branches.

The fruit of the baobab tree is large and quite heavy with a velvety shell. It can be up to 18cm long – around the size of a coconut. Its many seeds are found amongst a vitamin-rich pulp. The pulp has a long history as a food source and has been used to treat a number of medical conditions in Africa. The leaves too are used as a vegetable and the seeds are roasted and eaten. The seeds can also be ground up to release the seed oil, and used as an edible vegetable oil. This oil has been used traditionally by African women for centuries to protect their skin and hair against the harsh African climate.

Earthoil has been sourcing baobab oil for well over 10 years – originally sourcing the seeds from the Zambezi valley but more recently from the Kenyan coastal plains, and also from Senegal where the seeds are sourced organically.

How the oil is produced

Baobabs are hand-harvested in more rural remote regions as baobab is not yet a commercially-grown crop, and is collected by rural collection groups. These collection groups work in the forests collecting the large seed pods, and then remove the seeds from the ‘cream of tartar’ style pulp which surrounds the seeds. This filling is very high in vitamin C and is a popular treat in East African markets. Earthoil’s supply partner cold presses this very hard seed at its Kenyan processing facility to produce a golden oil with many potential uses.

Uses and benefits of baobab oil

Baobab oil is high in vitamin C and D and has Omega 3, Omega 6 and Omega 9 fatty acids. It is a relatively oxidatively stable oil. This stability comes from the presence of natural antioxidants in the oil, as the composition of the oil (high in unsaturated fatty acids) would normally lead to susceptibility to oxidation. The oil has strong moisturising properties for both skin and hair and is reputed to help skin elasticity. The oil is easily and quickly absorbed by the skin, leaving no oiliness or greasiness.

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