about the Argan Tree
The Argan Tree
(Argania spinosa), also known as Morocco Ironwood, is quite a
thorny evergreen tree that grows up to 10m high. Its life span
is said to be anywhere from 125 to 450 years and the tree may
not come into full production until it is 40-60 years old. Newly
planted groves are not just a valuable gift to the next
generation, but they will help in the battle against encroaching
desertification right now. The trees can cope with low rainfall
and only needs 100 to 200 ml (4 to 8 in).
It has the ability to be dormant in drier times and will
regenerate when the rains come again. It will also regenerate
after being coppiced. Coppicing is the cutting down of trees in
its relative dormant season once in a while. If this coppicing
is done with sufficient knowledge of species and local
conditions, the tree will respond by growing new shoots from its
rootsBotanically, Argan is a relic species from the Tertiary
Age, the only member of the tropical Sapotaceae family occurring
north of the Sahara and the single species of the genus Argania.
The exact location of this remarkable tree is in the Souss
Plain, the Anti-Atlas and the High Atlas Mountains of
southwestern Morocco up to an elevation of 1500m or 4920 ft.
The photo on the left shows that the shade thrown by the tree
helps to maintain important pasture grasses which might
disappear altogether without such protection due to the drying
effects of the sun to the thinsoil.
The Berber Tree
Argania spinosais is
locally known as The Tree Of Life, because it helps to make life
possible for many creatures in the semi-arid desert of south
Morocco. Its roots travel deep to find water and help to bind
the soil. Tree root systems also facilitate water infiltration
and aquifer replenishment.
Here are some of the many ways in which the tree has been used
by traditionally by the nomadic Berber tribes and other locals:
building materials and furniture making. The wood of the tree
is excellent and virtually impervious to insect attack.
The wood and nut-shells are used as firewood for cooking.
The wood is also used decoratively in some of the inlaid boxes
which are a craft form in the district and which are these
days often produced for tourists.
both for cooking and in the past also for use by craftspeople
such as smiths.
Goats, camels and sheep can all eat the fruit and the
leaves, but horses and mules cannot consume it for some
reason. The trees are covered with vicious spines, which makes
it hard for people to gather the fruits unless it is beaten
off the branches with a stick. However, the spines do not
deter the goats who love the fruits. Traditionally people
would recover the hard nuts contained within the fruit from
the animal dung. These nuts have an extremely hard shell,
which would be broken by hitting the nut with a stone. This
hard labour, done by woman, will produce one, two or three
almond-shaped kernels. These contain 50% oil, which would be
extracted in a press ususally powered by animals. The pressed
cake that remains after the oil is makes a useful cattle food.
The seed kernels produces a heavy oil, which is amber to
orange-coloured and has multiple uses.
The production of a litre of this oil is very labour intensive
and is said to take at least 1½ days. Merely to break open
sufficient kernels with a stone takes about 12 hours!
In the past it was mostly country folk who would use this
home-made oil. It was used as a substitute for olive oil and
other fats. It has a lovely nutty flavour. A few drops stirred
into couscous, the local staple grain, add a different
dimension to this dish. It was also used as a cooking oil and
it is excellent in salads.
One of the uses of the residue from the kernels after oil
extraction is a thick chocolate-coloured paste called "amlou"
which is sweetened with honey and served as a dip for bread at
breakfast time in Berber households.
The second pressings of the oil were a useful source of fuel
to make a light in dark nights.
soap: Second pressing of the oil were also used in the
manufacture of homemade soap and cosmetics. The skin products
made from the oil soften the skin and help to reduce wrinkles
by restoring the skin's water lipid layer.
Traditionally the oil was used as a protective agent in
diseases of the liver and blood circulation, such as high
cholesterol and arteriosclerosis. It is an excellent tonic and
some say it has aphrodisiac qualities. It will generally
strengthen the body’s natural defenses. It has now been
scientifically established that Argan oil has almost twice as
much vitamin E as olive oil and is rich in anti-oxidants. It
is 80% unsaturated, containing eight essential fatty acids
including 34-36% linoleic acid, which cannot be made in the
body and must therefore be obtained from the diet. Argan oil
also contains rare plant sterols not found in other oils,
which have soothing anti-inflammatory properties, beneficial
for arthritic or rheumatic conditions. The essential fatty
acids affect cell fluidity, help to prevent loss of moisture
from the skin, and linings of the nose, lungs, digestive
system, and brain. They also play a part in the formation of
prostaglandins, of which some reduce pain and swelling, while
others help blood circulation