Gold from the desert – Argan oil
The earth is parched to an arid brown plain, here in the broad Arganeraie basin beneath Morocco’s High Atlas mountains. Rain hardly ever falls and temperatures can soar to a splintering 120º in the hot sun. It’s a miracle that anything can survive here – and in truth it probably could not, were it not for the implacable argan tree.
The squat, gnarled argania spinosa pushes deep, broad roots into the dry earth, drawing up water from deep aquifers and casting welcome shade. An ancient tree, everything about it shows patience: the species can be traced back more than 2 million years, some wild specimens are thought to be 300 years old – even the nuts will keep in good condition for up to 20 years.
And it’s these nuts which hold the key to argan’s life-giving secret. For generations Berber women have patiently cracked the hard, black fruit between stones, squeezing out by hand a rich golden oil which they use for food, to beautify their skin and hair, and to treat inflamed and damaged skin. Other cultures came late to this secret ingredient, but when they did, research bore out what the local women knew. Argan oil contains 80 percent unsaturated fatty acids and has more antioxidants than olive oil. And yes, it can help regenerate damaged skin, treat acne, moisturise deeply and soothe inflammation.
Like many such wonder-ingredients, argan now must be protected from voracious outside forces which might plunder this vital local resource. The Berber people also use the argan for building, firewood and animal feed, while plants such as lavender, thyme and barley grasses, together with the honeybees and small animals which they feed, would perish without the argan’s shade. Even the advancing Sahara desert is held at bay because argan prevents soil erosion. How to balance such richness with the needs of the people and environment where it lives?
In 1998, UNESCO designated almost 10,000 square miles of wild argan forest as a biosphere reserve, helping ensure continual reforestation and production of treasured argan oil. The protected area helps foster a balanced, harmonious relationship between the local Moroccans and nature, with special local arrangements, including keeping goats out of the forest until after each year’s fruit has fallen.
Weleda plays a part, too. We’ve formed a partnership with Sidi Yassine, a locally owned, family-run business, to source organic argan oil for our Pomegranate Firming Day Cream, Night Cream and Eye Cream. Weleda gets pure, wild-harvested argan oil of exceptionally high quality and proven provenance, but we also work with Sidi Yassine to ensure long-term sustainability, including a steady income and fair wage for the more than 500 harvesters, almost all women.
For countless generations this wide, harsh plain has resonated to the sound of cracking as argan kernels are laid open between two stones. Thanks to Weleda, UNESCO, Sidi Yassine and a patient population of desert people, that sound will continue to echo long into the future.