Back in the 1970s one of our friends told us that Jojoba Oil was the next big thing. He was interested because he is involved in movements to save whales and stop their oil being harvested and Jojoba has similar properties in a renewable plant that doesn’t need to be murdered to get the product.
What is it?
Jojoba (pronounced Ho-HO-ba) is the liquid wax rather than an oil in the seed of the Simmondsia chinensis plant, a shrub native to southern Arizona, southern California and northwestern Mexico. The oil makes up approximately 50% of the jojoba seed by weight.
Jojoba shrubs are dioecious – plants are either male (staminate), producing pollen, or female (pistillate), producing flowers. The small flowers have no odour or petals and do not attract pollinating insects. The flowers are pollinated by wind in late September in Australia; the flowers develop into fruit by February, with full maturation occurring approximately 8 weeks later. The green fruit dries in the desert heat, its outer skin shriveling and pulling back to expose a wrinkled brown soft-skinned seed (referred to as a nut or bean) the size of a small olive. These nuts, which resemble coffee beans, contain a vegetable oil that is clear and odorless but less oily to the touch than traditional edible oils. The oil comprises half of the weight of the nut. There are about 4000 seeds in a kilo; 6.3 kg of jojoba seeds are required to produce around 3 litres of oil.
Unrefined, the oil smells like vegetable oil, kind of fatty but with refining, the yellowish colour goes away and the smell does too. It is less likely to go rancid than safflower oil, canola oil, almond oil or squalene but more so than castor oil or coconut oil so its shelf life is impressive. It can be used wherever these and whale oil were used and plantations of jojoba were popping up fast in Australia all those years ago to service the cosmetics industry certainly but mostly in the oil crisis of the ‘80s as a petrol substitute … as biodiesel. The oil could be used as a substitute car, truck, bus or other engine fuel because it releases more energy than other bio-fuels when it burns and is chemically stable at high temperatures and pressures of a working engine. No major modification to the engines would be required. This would just be a bit like using the waste oil from the fish ‘n’chip shop (something that is doing very nicely in Melbourne).
Jojoba oil is a fungicide, and can be used for controlling mildew. (Spray it on your plants neat).
The advantages are that it grows in the desert areas. Disadvantages and limitations seem to have been that it was attacked by insects. I guess they had nothing else to eat. Frosts are a killer unless managed carefully by mild water stress applied to the crop before expected frosts (ie. stop watering) , but that would not be a problem in say, Mildura and other mild desert areas. It would make a pretty good companion plant to olives. Irrigated and fertilized jojoba yielded significantly more than the desert blooms and also there seems to have been a problem in the fact that plant management protocols – when to plant, when to prune, harvest, crushing, selling etc. – are non-scientific even today and a bit ad hoc which drags the cultivators into the realm of amateurs and hobby farmers.
In the 18th Century, missionaries noticed that the local Native Americans used the oil and seeds for treating lesions, cuts, bruises, and burns, as a diet supplement AND as an appetite suppressant when food was not available, as a skin conditioner, for soothing windburn and sunburn, as a cooking oil, as a hair or scalp treatment and hair restorative and as a coffee-like beverage by roasting the seeds, grinding them and steeping them in water.
Certainly Jojoba was hit by ‘get rich scheme’ investments failing and the bean, though a fabulous plant, was exploited in name to the point that when you would mention it to your accountant, he would fall off his chair laughing and throw your proposal in the bin with the olives, ti-tree oil and exotic timbers farm ideas.
Jojoba is one of the first native plants to be grown as an oil-producing cash crop in the United States. ‘ It produces a product that is unique in the plant kingdom. Jojoba is very drought-resistant and can be grown on marginal lands in the southwest of America without replacing any existing crops. For optimum production, the crop needs irrigation, care, and a good cultivar.’ (Purdue University study on Jojoba by Naqvi, H.H. and I.P. Ting (1990). It only takes around 14 months for the first crop and the plant will grow to around 5 metres in good conditions. Oddly enough, it is most successful in the Middle East where Egyptian farmers have grown it just for fuel!
There’s a great article in the New Scientist (still available at http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn3464) but this was in 2003. Nothing seems to have happened since then.
I found this link to an Australian supplier: http://www.stoneycreekoil.com.au/jojoba.asp
And this one, to a farm in the Riverina district. http://www.thejojobacompany.com.au/catalog/OurFarm.php
There is a belief that it can cure baldness or at least halt the advance of pattern baldness by regulation sebum production. Not sure if that works but there’s no harm in trying!
So come on, Australia! Get back on the Jojoba bandwagon which was going very nicely in the late 1970s! This is one issue that is deserving of a bit of lobbying in parliament, don’t you think? Call or email your local polly now.