The Vitellaria paradoxa botanical – formerly known as the Butyrospermum parkii botanical, and most commonly known as the versatile Shea tree – is not only the source of Shea nuts from which the well-known Shea Butter is derived; it has also proven itself to be valuable for conserving semi-arid Africa’s delicate ecosystems and for sustaining entire communities. Shea trees can be found growing in the Savanna belt, a region that traders refer to as the “Shea Belt.” This region includes countries such as Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia. Of these, the main Shea nut exporting countries are Ghana and Burkina Faso.
The word Shea is derived from the word S’í, the Bambara name given to the tree in Mali. Throughout Africa, the continent of its origin, it goes by many other names, including Kade or Kadanya in the Hausa language, Ori in some parts of West Africa, and Karité in the Wolof language of Senegal. This latter name means “Tree of Life,” a moniker earned by virtue of its ability to address numerous skin, hair, and health conditions.
In some of Africa’s poorest regions, the Shea tree has become important to the economy and to the livelihood. In these places, Shea Butter is most commonly known as ‘Women’s Gold,’ due to the fact that Shea Butter production is the source of income for many women in Africa. The women use Shea Butter to purchase food, clothing, personal items, and to afford an education, among other purposes. For its healing abilities, the Shea tree was recognized as sacred and different parts of the tree were used for various purposes, such as when its wood was used to carve the funeral beds and caskets of kings or respected community leaders.
Although some early records state that European explorers began using Shea Butter in the 1300s, the natural emollient was used long before then by the people of Africa. For use in the harsh desert climates, Shea nuts were crushed, mashed, and boiled into a butter that was used to protect skin and hair from the drying, damaging elements while also being used to relieve insect bites. According to historical sources, the use of Shea Butter has even been traced back to Egypt as far back as the first century at the time of Queen Cleopatra, when it was used largely in skin care products. Ancient accounts tell the story of Cleopatra demanding that large jars full of Shea Butter accompany her on all her travels so that she could apply the smooth, hydrating, soothing, and rejuvenating butter to her skin daily.
In West African cuisine, Shea Butter’s high nutritional value and reasonable price made it ideal for use as an edible oil in culinary preparations as well. It created the base for many soups and, when mixed with onion and pepper, made a popular condiment. When used in chocolate, Shea Butter came to be a popular substitute for Cocoa Butter. Drinks incorporating a blend of Shea Butter, water, millet flour, and spices have traditionally been served at weddings, funerals, and work parties.
Traditionally, Shea Butter was a staple ingredient used for its medicinal benefits in African pharmacology. Local healers used this nourishing butter – often making it the key ingredient – to address health issues such as coughing, bruising, rheumatism, inflammation, minor bone dislocation, and leprosy. Its wound-healing properties made it effective in diminishing stretch marks and regenerating skin that had been cut, especially soothing the uncomfortable results of circumcision. As it spread throughout several of Africa’s regions, it was discovered to have diverse uses for producing various products such as soaps and nasal decongestants. Studies conducted in the 1940s discovered that the African people who used Shea Butter experienced fewer incidents of skin diseases compared to those that did not use it. Some communities in Africa used Shea Butter for larger applications such as to make lamp oils, weather-proof their roofs, and protect their domestic animals’ skin and feet against rough sands and salt.
During the Middle Ages, Shea Butter became a popular global trade item throughout West Africa, including the coastal regions, as well as in the European markets. In some regions such as the UK, Shea Butter is used as a part of hygiene products such as bathroom tissue. “Mother Nature's Conditioner” is a nickname that Shea Butter has earned for its exceptional moisturizing and softening properties. Since the discovery of Shea Butter’s therapeutic benefits, it has been used as an ingredient in cosmetics for thousands of years.
The main chemical constituents of Shea Butter are: Oleic Acid, Stearic Acid, Palmitic Acid, Linoleic Acid, Cinnamic Acid Esters, Allantoin, and Polyphenols (Tocopherol/Vitamin E).
OLEIC ACIDS (OMEGA 9) are known to:
STEARIC ACID is known to:
PALMITIC ACID is known to:
LINOLEIC ACID (OMEGA 6/Vitamin F) is known to:
CINNAMIC ACID ESTERS are known to:
ALLANTOIN is known to:
POLYPHENOLS are known to:
VITAMIN A is known to:
Rich in Vitamins A, E and F, Shea Butter is a natural emollient that nourishes skin to promote its clarity and health. Its moisturizing, circulation-boosting, and anti-inflammatory properties make it a popular ingredient for use in products that address skin problems such as dryness, wrinkles, dark spots, discolorations, stretch marks, and blemishes. Whether skin is dry or oily, Shea Butter balances its oil production without clogging pores. It melts at body temperature and is known to soothe and hydrate mature skin as well as skin that has been damaged by the harsh effects of the elements. Its Cinnamic Acid content provides skin with a degree of protection against the sun, acting as a natural sun screen. Individuals with acne, eczema, rashes, or psoriasis can use Shea Butter for relief from their skin conditions without experiencing the side effects commonly associated with traditional treatments, which can have abrasive effects on skin. Gentle enough for the most sensitive skin, Shea Butter has even been used traditionally for baby care.
Used in hair, Shea Butter moisturizes and nourishes from root to the tip, thereby protecting against dryness and brittleness. It can repair, prevent or reduce damage caused by environmental elements or heat styling. As with the rest of the body, Shea Butter rapidly penetrates the scalp to offer moisturize without leaving a sticky, greasy residue, thereby leaving the scalp free from itchiness, irritation, and dandruff.
Used in massages, Shea Butter’s anti-aging and skin-protecting benefits are known to slow the signs and symptoms of maturing skin by supporting skin elasticity and suppleness. In doing so, it boosts collagen production and increases circulation while promoting skin cell regeneration. Shea Butter’s anti-inflammatory properties can ease joint pain and rheumatism.
Used medicinally, Shea Butter makes an ideal post-sun ointment for skin damaged by UV radiation while creating a barrier on skin that protects it from harsh environmental elements such as severe winds and cold temperatures. Shea Butter is anti-bacterial; hence, it can prevent skin-irritating and acne-causing bacteria from lingering on the skin. By eliminating germs, it can relieve nasal congestion and sinusitis. The Cinnamic Acid content in Shea Butter can effectively alleviate pain and itchiness on skin afflicted with a rash, cut, scrape, or allergy. It can reduce the discomfort of skin that has become inflamed from conditions such as dermatitis and rosacea, and it is known to soothe burns, reduce the appearance of surgical scars, and diminish stretch marks.
As illustrated, Shea Butter is reputed to have many therapeutic properties. The following highlights its many benefits and the kinds of activity it is believed to show:
Shea trees are indigenous to the Savanna regions of West Africa, where approximately 500 million of them grow wild from Senegal to Sudan. Although attempts have been made to cultivate the tree in other regions, the efforts have been ineffective thus far. Shea Trees first begin to bear large, green, plum-like fruit when they are between 10 and 15 years old, reaching full bearing potential when they are between 20 and 50 years of age. Known to have a lifespan of up to 200 years, the tree continues to produce fruits up until this time.
Shea trees begin to blossom in late Winter to early Spring, usually between the months of February and March. The green fruit ripens to a brown color in the Summer months, usually between June and July. Beginning at this time and going into the Fall, usually in the month of September, Shea fruits begin to drop to the ground. This allows for a natural, hand-picking collection system during the time of harvest. 30% of the nuts remain on the ground to germinate and to contribute nutrients to the soil. A Shea tree can yield 15-20 kg of fresh Shea fruit, which will produce 3-4 kg of dry kernels that contain 42-48% oil (butter).
Unripe Shea fruits have a light green outer skin known as the Epicarp, which protects the fleshy Mesocarp also known as the Pulp. Inside the Pulp is a relatively hard Endocarp or the Shell, which contains the Shea Nut/Seed. Inside the Nut, is the white, fatty Kernel. Most Shea fruits contain one or two Kernels, although some may have up to three. It is these edible, oil-rich Kernels that are used to produce the extract known as Shea Butter, which is considered to be a vegetable fat. In the wild, the Nuts/Seeds continue to be propagated by wind, rain, animals, and people for the future growth of Shea trees.
In the villages of Africa, Shea Butter is extracted primarily by women, whose main source of income is Shea Butter production – hence its name “Women’s Gold.”
There are diverse extraction processes for Shea Butter. Below, the traditional manual extraction method of Africa as well as the modern, industrial method will be explained:
Often, after collecting the fallen Shea fruits, their pulps are removed immediately in the area of harvest. This way only the nuts are transported, reducing the weight of the load that is carried back to the co-op where the butter is processed. If left too long under the Shea trees, the fallen fruits will begin to mold. The Shea nuts are inspected to ensure that they are intact and free of mold. Nuts that are broken or damaged are discarded. Other nuts that are unusable for butter are used to create soaps or candles, among other products.
When the Shea nuts are transported to co-ops, the women begin by washing the nuts with water or sometimes with a 5% bleach solution. Washing the nuts reduces contamination caused by microorganisms, thereby preventing mold and yeast from developing. In order to easily remove their outer shells, sometimes the nuts are parboiled for half an hour. Boiling the nuts for longer than 30 minutes may reduce their oil content. Boiling also works to neutralize the germination activities of their embryos and to prevent the final butter’s degradation.
After the nuts have been boiled, they are laid out on a clean, dry surface under the sun to dry. In another cracking method, when the drying nuts rattle inside their shells, they are beaten by hand with sticks or pestles to allow the shells to be easily removed. Alternatively, the shells may be removed by hand by picking them off each individual nut. After the cleaned and shelled nuts have dried in the sun for a second time, the black nuts are removed, as they are of inferior quality and cannot be used.
The useable Shea nuts are crushed with a mortar and pestle. The mass of crushed nuts is roasted for up to half an hour while being constantly stirred, in order to prevent burning. The women are able to tell that the crushed nuts have been roasted for long enough by taking a small sample and sprinkling water on it. When the water sizzles on the crushed nuts, it means that the mass is ready to undergo the next step in the production process.
The roasted nuts are wet milled into a smooth, brown, creamy paste to which water is added. This paste and water mix begins to emulsify into a creamy substance as it is beaten and kneaded by hand for a few hours while more water is slowly added. The emulsified oils from the brown paste float to the top of the water. These curd-like clumps, which are often white in color, are collected into a separate container and may sometimes be washed up to 5 times with water to sanitize them for a cleaner final product.
The emulsified oil clumps are boiled in order to melt them back into a liquid – a “butter oil” – and to purify it by further separating it from any dark brown residue. This boiling process allows excess water to be drawn out of the butter through the steam that is produced. The resultant pure liquified Shea Butter that floats to the top is constantly skimmed off the top with a spoon, placed into a separate container, and allowed to cool. Alternatively, after the pure Shea Butter oils rise to the top of the water, the liquid is poured into a bowl covered with a fabric filter, which serves to trap any sediments and residue from the butter. Once the filtered liquid Shea Butter cools and hardens, this Refined or Ultra-Refined Shea Butter will usually be ivory, off-white, or cream in color. This soft, smooth final product is scooped into containers and packaged. Depending on its processing method, the final color of Shea Butter ranges from whitish, to a light shade of green, to yellow.
Raw Shea Butter, also known as Unrefined Shea Butter, will usually be yellow in color, as its traditional extraction method is simpler than the abovementioned process. The production of Raw or Unrefined Shea Butter involves first cracking, then grilling, then pounding the harvested Shea nuts. The ground nuts are boiled until the butter begins to float to the surface, off of which it is skimmed. It is then placed into containers to cool down. In processes like this one without meticulous filtering, the resultant Shea may contain brownish specks.
The industrial processing of Shea Butter is typically done by Cold Pressing or Solvent Extraction, and the resultant butter may also be further refined and deodorized; however, due to the increasing preference for naturally-derived products, there have been industry efforts to implement traditional extraction methods for producing Shea Butter. The equipment used to mimic traditional manual methods may enhance the efficiency by using a motorized mill, thereby reducing the physical effort and time required to wet mill the Shea paste. The introduction of a mechanical or hydraulic press may also increase the oil yield.
In Cold Pressing, the oil-bearing Shea Nuts are placed inside the pressing mechanism. They undergo high pressure and friction in order to release their oils, which seep through small openings at the bottom of the pressing barrel. These openings are small enough to prevent Shea fibers from leaving the barrel. The resultant butter is similar to Refined Shea Butter, in that it is light in color with a fainter scent while it still retains its nutritive value.
SHEA BUTTER VARIETIES HAVE BEEN CLASSIFIED INTO 5 GRADES:
|D||Lowest uncontaminated grade|
The uses of Shea Butter are abundant, ranging from medicinal to cosmetic. Its many forms include massage oils and balms, cleansing oils, lotions, creams, facial serums, soaps, lip balms, lipsticks, shampoos and other hair care products, and ointments or salves.
Used topically, Shea Butter protects skin from the harsh, drying, irritating effects of wind, salt, water, heat, and sun exposure. To create a natural sunscreen from Shea Butter, whip ½ cup of the butter until it becomes creamy in consistency. Slowly pour 1/3 cup of Coconut Carrier Oil into the butter. Add 15 drops Carrot Seed Essential Oil and 40 drops Myrrh Essential Oil, whipping them into the soft butter until it becomes fluffy. Apply this to the skin before going outdoors. Shea Butter’s excellent conditioning properties make it an ideal ingredient for manufacturing lip balms, as it soothes and hydrates chapped skin, thereby healing cracks and peeling caused by dryness. To make a natural Shea Butter-infused lip balm that is enhanced with essential oils, first melt 2 Tbsp. Raw Shea Butter, 1 Tbsp. Beeswax, and 1 Tbsp. Coconut Oil in a double boiler. Allow the blend to cool, then add 7 drops of Lavender Essential Oil and 7 drops of Peppermint Essential Oil. Mix the blend thoroughly and pour it into lip balm tins, allowing them to set until they solidify. This lip balm can be applied as required.
For a full body lotion that especially address dry, cracked skin on the heels, elbows, and knees, Shea Butter can be applied directly to the affected areas. Raw/Unrefined Shea Butter can be applied directly to skin rashes, insect bites and stings, burns, frost bite, stretch marks, peeling skin that results from overexposure to the sun, acne, and fungal infections such as Athletes Foot. Shea Butter can be applied to the skin as a soap replacement for a silky-smooth shave, or it can be applied afterward to soften the skin, smooth out wrinkles, and reduce the appearance of blemishes. To incorporate Shea Butter into a natural exfoliating scrub, mix it with Coconut Carrier Oil and brown sugar before rubbing it in gentle circular motions on the skin. This will remove dead skin cells and leave skin looking radiant.
Used in hair, Shea Butter adds moisture to a dry scalp and stimulates hair growth. Its anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties eliminate itchiness, irritation, and dandruff. For a conditioner that locks moisture into each strand without leaving it looking or feeling greasy, simply warm Shea Butter until soft or liquified. Rub it thoroughly into the scalp and through the hair, then wrap the hair with a towel for additional warmth and allow it to soak for 20 minutes. Wash out the butter in a regular shampooing regimen. This improves hair’s texture, leaving it looking volumized, soft, and silky.
To nourish the hair and scalp with Shea Butter, it can be used in combination with carrier oils and essential oils. Simply heat 1 Tbsp. of Raw/Unrefined Shea Butter in the microwave for 30-60 seconds. Allow the melted butter to cool slightly. Next, add a few drops of Lavender Essential Oil (this step is optional). Apply the liquified butter to the scalp and spread it down the entire length of the hair. Leave this mask on for 30 minutes before rinsing it out with a mild shampoo. This conditioning treatment is known to rejuvenate the hair and to facilitate the growth of thicker, shinier strands. By introducing essential nutrients that enhance hair health, repair damage and split ends, and strengthen hair follicles, this mask reduces and prevents hair loss as well as breakage.
Shea Butter also works as a heat protectant when using hair styling tools or when exposed to the sun’s harmful UV radiation. To use make a natural heat protectant and sealant against harsh environmental elements, especially in the colder months, first melt Shea Butter. Next, combine it with a carrier oil that has a high smoke point, such as Grapeseed Oil or Avocado Oil. Apply this blend to the hair in small amounts before applying heat, whether hair is being blown dry or being curled or straightened with a hair iron. Shea Butter may also be added to a favorite shampoo or conditioner for extra moisture.
Used in a massage, Shea Butter boosts skin’s collagen production and elasticity, thereby reducing the signs of aging, such as wrinkling skin and cellulite, without clogging the pores. Shea Butter can be used as a massage balm that not only moisturizes and softens the skin but that also relaxes the muscles, relieves joint paint, and soothes sprains and aches. For a massage butter that offers these benefits with the perfect balance of glide and absorption, melt 1 cup of Raw/Unrefined Shea Butter in a double boiler. Remove it from the heat, then combine it with ¼ cup Jojoba Oil and ¼ cup Rosehip Carrier Oil. Thoroughly mix this combination, then pour the mixture into a wide mouth glass jar and allow it to solidify. For faster cooling, place it in the fridge. This massage balm is ideal for use before or after strenuous exercise, especially for muscular pain caused by swelling, stiffness, and inflammation. Massages with this butter blend are also ideal for those suffering from arthritis, as its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties alleviate pain and swelling that contribute to the condition.
Used medicinally, Shea Butter alleviates cold symptoms and facilitates the healing of wounds, bruising, and soreness. During a cold or flu, it can be applied directly to raw, sore noses to relieve nasal inflammation and to hydrate noses that have become dry from constant blowing. Applying a small amount to the bases of the nostrils can give relieve from congestion. The healing properties of Shea Butter, contributed by its high levels of phytonutrients and vitamins, facilitate the disinfecting and healing of wounds, cuts, and abrasions, especially with regular application. With rapid absorption, Shea Butter supplies the deep layers of skin with essential fats and nutrients, accelerating the reparation of cells and increasing circulation.
To heal wounds and prevent or minimize scarring, simply scoop Raw Shea Butter onto clean fingers and gently run it over the wound, leaving the wound covered with moisture. Allow the butter to be absorbed into the skin at its own natural rate of absorption. The butter residue does not need to be washed off. Shea Butter can also be combined with other therapeutic oils to make a salve that soothes skin afflicted with cuts, sores, burns, scaly patches, peeling, cracking, allergies, and damage from heat. In a blender, simply combine 2 Tbsp. Raw Shea Butter, 1 Tbsp. Aloe Vera Gel, 1 tsp. Lavender Hydrosol, 5 drops Tea Tree Essential Oil, and 5 drops Lavender Essential Oil. Blend all the ingredients together into a smooth cream. Scoop this blend into salve tins, and apply the salve with clean hands to the affected areas as required.
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|SHEA ORGANIC BUTTER - CRUDE (GHANA)|
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Shea Butter should not be ingested and should not be stored within the reach of children, in case of accidental ingestion. As with all butters, a patch test should be conducted on the inner arm or other generally insensitive area of skin, using a dime size amount of Shea Butter to check for sensitivities. An absence of an allergic response within 48 hours indicates that the butter is safe to use. Individuals with allergies to tree nuts are at a higher risk of developing an allergy to Shea Butter and should avoid its use.
Potential side effects of Shea Butter include hives, itching, rashes, nausea, weakness, dizziness, headaches, and abdominal pain. In the event of an allergic reaction, discontinue use of the product and see a doctor, pharmacist, or allergist immediately for a health assessment and appropriate remedial action. To prevent these side effects, consult with a medical professional prior to use.