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Marula (Sclerocarya birrea) Fixed/Carrier Oil

During the past several years, Suzanne and I have been endeavoring to build our modest aromatic enterprise around a palette of organic and wild harvested essential oils, traditional attars, exotic absolutes and supercritical CO2 extracts. We have on occasion offered a few carrier oils but until recently have not considered regularly stocking them. When I started experimenting with making solid perfume bases, I found the Marula oil of South Africa to be ideal as a base and this led me to consider offering a limited selection of the excellent carrier oils that Clive Teubes is offering from that fascinating region of the world. For many centuries the people of Africa have explored the virtues of many seeds yielding oils for protecting and nourishing the skin and today folks in other parts of the world are beginning to appreciate the discoveries they made.

Clive has been active in supporting community based projects where people living in rural areas can collect and cold press the seeds of indigenous plants for their wonderful oils. It is helping local communities maintain the plants which grow in their natural environments and provides valuable income as well. In some cases he has been able to get the projects certified organic. Seeing this Suzanne and I felt that we would experiment with offering a few of the oils to see if you, our customers might enjoy using them in your products.

The Marula tree is considered the great provider to the people living in the areas where it grows. There is a rich ancient legend and lore surrounding it. Regarded as a sacred tree in Africa, the marula is protected in communal lands under the local chief. Because of its leafy foliage and shade-bearing size, it is popular with villages for local meetings, and often in a ploughed field will be the only tree left standing. The marula tree is often the spiritual center for ritual activity in kraals and villages.

Here are some interesting bits of information about the Marula tree and its oils.

Marula Tree -- Description
The marula is a medium-sized to large deciduous tree with an erect trunk and rounded crown. It is one of the plants that played a role in feeding people in ancient times.

Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees, the flowers of male plants producing pollen and the female flowers producing the fruit for which the tree is so well known. These are green on the tree and turn yellow after falling (Feb-June).

The compound leaves tend are mostly crowded at the end of the branches.
(Plantzafrica.com--Sclerocarya birrea)

The fruit of the Marula is a plum-sized light yellow fruit with thick leathery skin and a thin layer of juicy white flesh. It has delicate sweet-sour taste and is found to have more than four times the Vitamin C of an orange. The kernel consists of two or three cells each with its own kernel. The kernels are used as a protein substitute for meat as well as a meat preservative which has proven to make meat last as long as six months. The kernel has high oil content at 56% as well as a good dietetic ratio of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The oil is used in cooking and as a preserve, but it proves to be effective in the making of face paints, which are used in tribal rituals. The oil is also used in keeping animal skins and leather, soft and moisturized.

Marula Tree -- Ecology and distribution
History of cultivation
Archaeological evidence indicates that the fruit of the S. birrea ssp. caffra tree was known and consumed by humans in Africa in 10 000-9000 BC.

Natural Habitat
S. birrea ssp. caffra occurs in wooded grassland, riverine woodland and bushland and frequently on or associated with hills. It prefers a warm, frost-free climate but is also found at high altitudes where temperatures may drop below freezing point for a very short period in winter. The tree is frost sensitive and moderately drought resistant. Occasionally found in clear stands. S. birrea ssp. caffra is known to be highly salt tolerant: in Israel it grows vigorously when irrigated with salty water.

Geographic distribution
Native : Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Exotic : Australia, Israel

Biophysical limits
Altitude: 500-800 m, Mean annual rainfall: 200-1370 mm Soil type: Few specific requirements; on sandy or stony soils and on lateritic crusts.
(Agroforestry Tree Database Sclerocarya birrea ssp. caffra)

Economic Value
In the former homeland of Venda it was a criminal offence to cut down a living tree of this species. The wood is used for furniture, paneling, flooring, carvings and household utensils like spoons. The inner layer of bark makes a strong rope. Drums and yokes for certain animals are made from the wood of this tree. In Namibia some people use the wood for sledges. Boats are also made from the trunk. Red-brown dye can be produced from the fresh skin of the bark. The gum, which is rich in tannin, is mixed with soot and used as ink.

The fruit is edible, eaten either fresh or made into a delicious jelly. It also makes alcoholic beer known as Mukumbi by the Vhavenda people. A marula liqueur is available commercially. The white nut is highly nutritious and is eaten as it is or mixed with vegetables. Fruit-farming communities prefer planting a couple of these trees to attract pollinators to their farm in early spring.
(Plantzafrica.com--Sclerocarya birrea)

Each marula fruit yields a nut stone, a hard, light brown, smooth oval-shape containing 2 to 3 embryos 1 to 1.5 cm in length. The nuts hold the magic of marula: the kernel. Eaten raw, or roasted, they have a delicious taste and are regarded as a delicacy.

Extraction of these magical kernels is no easy feat. Considerable practice is needed to ensure that thumbs are not cracked along with the nut!
Cracking of the nuts on a stone slab, known as 'decortication,' can be done using one hard stone against the nut. Once the nut is cracked, the kernel is extracted. Hand extraction is skilled and fairly arduous, taking about 24 working hours to fill an 800-gram tin with nuts.

Dried nuts often strung together in a necklace that traditionally symbolize love. Nuts are used to cure children under four if when their noses are blocked. It is also believed that a necklace of dried nuts on a child will prevent diseases such as diarrhea, or that a heated nut rubbed on a child's knees, will help a child who is having trouble walking to learn to walk.
(Marula Natural Products--About the Nut)

Marula Fixed/Carrier Oil
For years, women in the rural areas of Africa have cracked the nut of the marula fruit to extract the precious kernels from which the oil is made.  To feel the texture of the oil on your skin, and to understand the rich history of its cultural uses, is to appreciate the unique heritage of marula oil.  With its combination of high nutritional value and excellent stability, marula oil is an ideal and innovative choice for modern cosmetic formulas and as a carrier oil for fragrances.

Cracking the nuts, which is done by hand, is a process known as "decortication," is done by rural women after the harvesting of the marula fruit. The chambers of the nut are opened to reveal soft kernels. These kernels are then gathered into a pressing machine, where they are hand-pressed and filtered to make marula oil. No solvents are used in the process. This gives the oil a high purity, which is improved by light refining, making the oil more suitable for cosmetic application.

The oil is cold pressed, and it is an art to preserve the active ingredients of marula oil from the kernels.

Marula Oil has exceptional oxidative stability, which makes it an ideal choice for a modern cosmetic formula. Its exceptional oxidative stability has long been part of its traditional uses.
(Marula Natural Products--Essential Oil)

Some scientists have ascribed Marula oil's resistance to oxidation to its fatty acid composition. However, more recent understanding of the role of fatty acid compositions to triglyceride stability suggests that this may not be the case. The stability of marula oil also cannot be explained by the presence of known antioxidants such as tocopherol. (Marula Oil has a Y-tocopherol content on average of 22mg per 100g oil.) Other factors must be responsible for the Marula Oil stability. MNP focuses on quality control throughout the supply chain to minimize lipase activity. A mini lab situated at the MNP plant in the Limpopo Province of S.A. is another point of internal control to ensure quality oil.

The fatty acid profile is similar to that of olive oil. Palmitic acid (12.9g/100g), stearic acid (6.0g/100g), oleic acid (69.9g/100g), and linoleic acid (7.8g/100g) are the major fatty acids.
(Marula Natural Products--Technical Oil Info)