Wednesday, 8 February 2012


Everyone reading this has probably used shampoo or hair conditioner containing jojoba (with the ‘j’ pronounced as ‘h’) oil at some time or another. It is used in the cosmetics industry for hair and skin products.
  It is the only one of its genus and the only one of the Simmondsia family, although it is sometimes put in the Buxaceae or boxwood family. Although its name is Simmondsia chinensis, it is not a native of China, but originated in north western Mexico and southern Arizona and southern California in the US.
  Native Americans and Mexican Indian tribes used the seeds for medicine to treat colds, sores, skin problems, wounds and to promote hair growth. They also used the plant and oil from the seeds as remedies for cancer, obesity, and kidney problems. Apparently it is also effective against poison ivy, warts and relieves sore throats. They ate the seeds either raw or roasted and made a coffee substitute from them too, which is why the fruit is sometimes called coffeeberries. Another name for it is goatnut, as browsing animals such as goats, deer and cattle feed on the young shoots and leaves of this evergreen bush or multi-stemmed tree.
  The jojoba plant has long tap roots so can extract water and minerals from deep below the ground’s surface helping it to survive in arid regions. It can grow to heights of six metres but is often found wild at heights of half to one metre.
  Although it has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples, it came into wider use after the ban on sperm oil in 1971 when a substitute was needed in the cosmetic industry and others. It is now considered to be superior to sperm whale oil, which is just as well for those whales! It was after this ban that jojoba was domesticated in the US and it is now grown in several countries; it can be found in cultivation throughout South America, Israel, the Middle East, South Africa and India.
  The seed meal left after the oil has been extracted is toxic (three toxic glycosides have been identified) and so as yet cannot be used for animal fodder. However research is being done into the oil, which is actually a pale yellow liquid wax and it seems that, like jatropha and Croton tiglium, it could be a useful biodiesel in the future.
  The oil is unique and contains not only fatty acids, as does shea butter which comes from a different continent and tree, but also iodine (usually present in seaweeds such as bladderwrack, laver bread etc.) which is probably responsible for its health benefits for skin, including acne treatment. It also contains vitamin E (useful to smooth out wrinkles and halt the ageing process of the skin) and some B-complex vitamins along with several trace minerals. It also contains 19 amino acids including lysine, typtophan and arginine which means that it has antioxidant properties. The leaves contain flavonoids including isorhamnetin and narcissin. The oil has fungicidal properties and can be used to get rid of mildew.
  Other uses of the oil are in candle-making, the leather industry as transformer oil, plasticizers and fire retardants. In future, if the toxins can be isolated effectively it could have many more uses.

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