Baobab seed oil is semi-fluid, golden yellow and gently scented. It is strongly non-siccative (ie. it does not dry out on contact with the air) and has a demonstrably longer shelf-life than many other natural seed oils. It contains almost equal measures of palmitic acid, oleic acid and linoleic acid as well as some small quantities of stearic and cyclopropenoid acids. Although it is edible, its commercial use is primarily in the cosmetics industry.
- Skin care products (moisturising),
- Lip balms (anti-chapping),
- Sun care products,
- Hair care products (to add body and shine and combat dry scalp),
- Nail care (strengthens nails against breakage),
- Massage oils.
Baobab is known in Africa as The Tree of Life because there are many traditional uses for every part of it, from the leaves to the roots.
Baobab seed oil is used traditionally by African women to protect their skin and hair against the harsh savannah environment and to prevent and treat dry skin conditions. The seeds themselves are roasted and ground and used as coffee to make a hot drink.
The ground seed is also either applied externally or drunk in water to treat gastric, kidney and joint diseases.
Traditionally African people also eat the leaves of the baobab, which can be pounded to make a relish, and use the fibrous bark to make ropes, baskets and fishing nets.
However, for reasons of sustainability, PhytoTrade Africa encourages commercial production of products derived only from the fruit and seeds of baobab and not from the leaves or bark.
The Baobab Tree and its Fruit
The baobab is perhaps the best known tree in Africa and grows in abundance in hot, dry lowland areas such as the Rift Valley. Its spreading crown of branches is bare of leaves for much of the year and reminiscent of a root system, hence the baobab’s common name: ‘The Upside Down Tree’. Its stout grey trunk can reach enormous sizes, in some instances over 25 metres in circumference.
The baobab belongs to its own botanical family – the Bombacaceae – and is extremely long-lived. It is common for trees to live to over 1,000 years and some specimens are believed to be as old as 3,000 years.
Baobab fruits are ovoid in shape and are formed from elaborate white flowers which are pollinated by bats. The fruit has a hard, woody shell with a velvety yellow-green coating. Inside the shell are the large oil-rich seeds, the fruit powder and fibres. Baobab fruit is harvested in Southern Africa between February and May.
Useful studies on baobab oil include:
- Athar, M. and S. Nasir (2005) Taxonomic perspective of plant species yielding vegetable oils used in cosmetics and skin care products. African Journal of Biotechnology 4(1): 36-44.
- Nkafamiya, I. I., Osemeahon, S.A., Dahiru, D., Umaru, H.A., (2007) Studies on the chemical composition and physico-chemical properties of the seeds of baobab (Adansonia digitata). African Journal of Biotechnology 6(6): 756-759.
- Shukla, Y. N., Dubey, S., Jain, S.P., Kumar, S., (2001) Chemistry, biology and uses of Adansonia digitata – a review. Journal of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Sciences 23(3): 429-434.
- Zimba, N., Wren, S., Stucki, A., (2005). Three major tree nut oils of southern Africa: Their uses and future as commercial base oils. The International Journal of Aromatherapy 15: 177-182.
- Wren, S. and Stucki, A., (2003) Organic essential oils, indigenous cold pressed oils, herbs and spices in Sub-Saharan Africa. The International Journal of Aromotherapy, 13 (2/3): 71-81.