The native people of Amazonia have long possessed a secret that the rest of us are newly discovering. A common palm fruit that plays an important role in the Amazon native diet also yields precious beauty oil. That fruit, known as either buriti or aguaje has the botanical name Mauritia flexuosa. The oil of the fruit is shaping up to be the next big thing in skin care.
Common throughout most of the Amazon, the buriti palm can reach 30 to 40 meters in height. Found in the wetlands and swamp forests of the Amazon and Northern South America, the palm is majestic and stands out among the trees that surround it. Buriti palm yields a profusion of fruits that grow in hanging clusters and are covered with shiny brown scales. When the fruit is soaked, the scales loosen and are readily scraped off. Inside, the buriti fruit is a brilliant orange-yellow color.
Explorer Baron von Humboldt called the buriti palm “the tree of life.” For native people in Amazonia, the plant is certainly important. The fruits are popular snacks, and you can find them in every market throughout the entire Amazon basin. The rich yellow fruit is also peeled and ground, so that it can be made into drinks of various kinds. Because the fruit is naturally rich in oils, the drinks made from it taste creamy. Usually eaten raw, the buriti palm fruit is also made into jams, juices, liqueurs and desserts – all possessing a distinctive and unique flavor. The starch of the buriti palm fruit is an important carbohydrate source in the Amazonian native diet.
When ground and pressed, buriti fruit yields beautiful golden-orange oil, and this substance is now being developed into a plethora of beauty products – from skin lotions and creams to hair conditioners. The oil is rich in palmitic, linoleic and arachidic acids, and it is also an excellent source of tocopherols, which provide superior antioxidant activity. Additionally, the oil is a rich source of carotenoids, which are natural pre-cursors to vitamin A.
According to research conducted in various labs throughout South America, buriti oil is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and photo-protective. The antioxidant activity of buriti oil protects the lipid membranes that surround all skin cells, keeping cells healthy longer. The anti-inflammatory activity of the oil is beneficial in cases of rough or sensitive skin, redness, rashes, and irritation. And the photo-protective properties of the oil help skin cells to better withstand the potentially damaging UVA and UVB rays of the sun. This last activity makes buriti oil suitable for use in sun-protection products. The discovery of the sun-protective properties of buriti was learned from native people, who sometimes finely grind the fruit and smear a paste of it onto their skin if they are going to be in direct sunlight for long periods.
The fruits of buriti palm are gathered in Peru between October and January – and in Brazil between April and September. Neither country is a commercial source for the oil, which is steadily appearing in an increasing variety of cosmetic products. Women, whose job options in Amazonia are very limited, typically work with the fruit, stripping it from branches, soaking the fruit, and removing the scales by scraping. Buriti harvest means supplementary income for native communities, and a boom in the oil could be very good for native villages.
Cosmetic companies are always on the prowl for new ingredients that enhance the youthfulness of skin – and also have a compelling sustainability story. With buriti oil, both of these objectives are met. Just as we saw argan nut oil from Morocco sweep the cosmetic industry for a few years, a majestic Amazonian palm and its brilliant fruit may possibly yield the next big cosmetic trend.
Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at MedicineHunter.com.