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Elaeis guineensis, also known as the African oil palm and the macaw fat tree, is one of two species of oil palms in the Arecaceae or palm family. It is native to west Africa mainly in the area between Liberia and Angola. The oil is used in cooking, soap, and cosmetics, and applied medicinally by traditional or alternative healthcare providers. No side effects are reported, but prior to self-medicating, consultation with a physician may be wise, especially for pregnant or nursing women, children, or those with chronic health conditions.
In addition to growing in its native western Africa, Elaeis guineensis was introduced to and now grows in the tropical equatorial regions of the world. It will grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 10-11, which means that the lowest temperature this palm tolerates is 35° Fahrenheit (1.7° Celsius). Elaeis guineensis may achieve a height of 30-40 feet (9-12 meters) or taller. Full sun and consistently moist soil are necessary for excellent health.
Palm oil and palm kernel oil are gleaned from the roots, seeds, and fruits of Elaeis guineensis. These are processed to make a cooking oil that is very high in saturated fat. The saturated fat makes this oil able to withstand very hot temperatures needed in deep frying. Vegetable butter is also made of palm oil.
Oil from the seeds or fruit is used to make bar soap. The oil is combined with alkaline salt in a process known as saponification. Those with dry skin may find this mild soap helpful. Palm oil may also be used in the manufacture of cosmetics and hair conditioner.
Homeopathic doctors sometimes prescribe Elaeis guineensis to patients with the autoimmune disease scleroderma. People with the lymph node disease known as elephantiasis may also be treated with African oil palm. Leprosy, a contagious disease that produces sores and nerve damage, might be helped with this homeopathic remedy. It may also be used as a mild anesthetic. To purchase this product in tincture form, one must have a prescription; pellet and liquid dilutions may be bought at local health food stores or online, however.
Other medicinal uses of Elaeis guineensis include massaging the oil onto bruises or making the oil into a poultice and applying it to wounds. Studies support its use on wounds, showing better wound closure and a reduced microbe count at the wound site. Certain healthcare providers recommend palm oil as a liniment for rheumatoid arthritis. Some tribes in west African use the oil as a diuretic and laxative. Massage therapists may mix the oil of Elaeis guineensis with massage creams because it has excellent emollient qualities.
African palm oil appears to have no side effects. Even so, pregnant or nursing women would be wise to check with their primary care physician prior to taking the oil internally. Children and chronically ill people with compromised immune systems may also want to speak to their doctor before self-medicating.
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