The marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea) is related to the mango and grows in abundance in all eight countries represented by PhytoTrade Africa. It is a single stemmed tree – up to 18m in height – with grey mottled bark and a wide spreading crown. It is drought-resistant and most common at low altitudes in open woodlands. The fruit of the marula is about the size of a plum with a leathery skin that is butter yellow when ripe. The scented juicy white flesh clings to a hard brown stone, inside which are two or three seeds that are so rich in oil that even a squeeze with the hand can release a rich yield.
The flavour of the fruit has been compared with a cocktail of guava, lychee, apple and pineapple, and is popular not only with people but also with elephants which have been known to travel miles to gorge on the fruit. The popular African liqueur Amarula is based on the marula fruit. The marula harvest takes place between February and June.
The oil offers applicability in both skin and hair care. It improves hydration in skin as well as offering increased skin smoothness. The oil has also been shown to reduce redness. The key benefits offered by Marula are the free radical scavenging ability of its high potency antioxidant and its stability in formulations.