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Facts about the Shea Tree and Shea Butter
The Shea Tree is also known as Karite Nut Tree. It is native to the Sahel region of West Africa. The botanical name of the Shea Nut Tree is Vitellaria paradoxa. It belongs to the Sapotaceae (soapberry family).
Shea Butter has been used since the times of Cleopatra and Queen of Sheba. Europeans discovered Shea Butter once again about 200 years ago.
The Shea Tree grows naturally in the wild and does not require any irrigation, pesticides or insecticides. They grow in the Savannah regions of West Africa in dense plantations. These trees are resistant to forest fires that occur during the dry season in the Savannahs. Shea Trees are now grown in 19 African countries.
Many countries import Shea Butter from Africa to use as an ingredient in many cosmetic and medicinal products.
Description of the Shea Tree
Shea Tree grows up to 65 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter. It is a deciduous tree with fissured barks. The wood of the Shea Nut Tree is heavy, durable and fire resistant.
The leaves of the Shea Tree are leathery and elliptical in shape with smooth margins. The leaves are found in clusters on the tip of the branches arranged alternate to each other or in whorls.
The flowers are cream colored and are found in clusters. Each cluster has many flowers that are pollinated by insects.
The fruits of the Shea Tree are elliptical shaped drupes that are 1.1 to 2.25 inches in length born on fruit stalks.
How is Shea Butter Processed?
To produce Shea Butter, the nuts are picked from the Shea Tree, cracked, grilled and pounded.The pounded nuts are then boiled in water till the oil rises to the top. The oil is then scooped out and allowed to cool. Once the oil cools down, it becomes thick and butter-like in consistency.
Shea Butter is cream in color and has a soft, thick consistency with a nutty smell. Shea Butter is rich in vitamins, minerals and fatty acids that help to moisturize and rejuvenate the skin.
Role of Shea Butter in Skin Care
Shea Butter is very good for the skin. It has an anti-aging effect on the skin. It has essential fatty acids that keep the skin moisturized and maintains the elasticity of the skin.
Shea Butter stimulates the growth of new skin cells and increases blood circulation to the skin. It protects the skin from the UV rays of the sun and prevents wrinkle formation. It also protects the skin from free radical damage.
Shea Butter has vitamin A, vitamin E that is important for healthy skin. It spreads smoothly on the skin and is absorbed by the skin very easily. Shea Butter does not clog the pores and allows the skin to breathe.
Shea Butter -
- relieves dry skin
- relieves dry scalp
- evens out skin tone
- softens hard skin
- reduces acne
- prevents after shave bumps
- prevents the formation of stretch marks
- reduces blemishes and scars
- the wood of Shea Trees was traditionally used to make coffins for kings
- Shea Butter is also known as woman's gold
- it takes about 25 years for the Shea Tree to produce a large number of fruits
- Shea Tree is an important cash crop of the African nation
Healing Properties of Shea Butter
Shea Butter is very effective in healing –
- stretch marks
- insect bites
- sun burns
Shea Butter also helps to ease skin conditions like, eczema, dermatitis and skin allergies. Shea Butter is used in many cosmetic beauty products because of its valuable properties.
Shea Tree and Agroforestry in West Africa
Shea Tree plays an important role as a food crop and a cash crop in 16 countries of the Sub-Saharan Africa.
Agroforestry refers to the practice of growing trees or shrubs along with crops or along with animal farming systems that benefit the environment and also help the farmers to earn extra income.
In the Northern Benin region in West Africa, farmers growing organic cotton in their fields and grow Shea Trees along the borders. The leaves that fall from the Shea Tree enrich the soil of their fields.
By adopting the practice of Agroforestry the farmers in Benin earn money in two ways - one by selling organic cotton, and another way that they earn money is by selling Shea Nuts, and Shea butter.