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A hard nut!

Argan (Argania spinosa) fruits
Argan (Argania spinosa) fruits

Argan oil is amazing stuff. You can eat it eat or rub it on your body! It is said to have a whole range of beneficial effects, both for beauty (as a moisturizer, conditioner, toner and so on) and for health (for acne, dry skin, burns and so on). There are many more uses and benefits, which derive from the naturally occurring molecules in the argan oil, particularly unsaturated fatty acids (c. 80% oleic and linoleic acids) and a long list of other compounds.

Argan nuts growing on a tree in Morocco
Argan nuts growing on a tree in Morocco

I had not heard of it until I visited southern Morocco, but what impressed me most was how beautiful the Argan trees were. They never get more than about 10m high, and most are smaller than this; they can live for up to 200 years and the seeds apparently take over a year to mature. So it’s just as well that the product is so valuable!

Argan tree (Argania spinosa) in Morocco
Argan tree (Argania spinosa) in Morocco

Argan trees (Argania spinosa) are endemic to  SW Morocco and Algeria and the natural arganeraie forests are quite restricted, so the annual production is small (a few thousand tonnes of oil). Argan oil is produced by removing the soft outer pulp of the argan fruit and then cracking the hard inner nut by hand, between two stones, to obtain the oil-filled seeds. This is traditionally women’s work in SW Morocco (below), but it has reportedly enabled them to achieve some financial independence, benefiting themselves and their children.

Moroccan ladies crushing argan nuts
Moroccan ladies crushing argan nuts

The Argan tree has evolved in a harsh environment and their deep roots prevent soil erosion and desertification. The Argan tree canopy also provides shade which encourages the growth of grasses and its leaves and fruit provide food for animals such as goats (although feeding by goats can stunt the growth of the trees).

What a wonderful tree!

rcannon992 View All

I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.

4 thoughts on “A hard nut! Leave a comment

  1. Most informative (as usual!) Ray. And I thought Argan was related to the Olive, but looking that up, they are not even in the same family. (Mislead by the lady in the seat next to us on the RSPB trip last year who explained all about them but thought they were a variety of olive). We saw them in the hills on one of our birding day trips out. Regards Peter

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