Morocco’s Essential Oil: Argan

Morocco’s Essential Oil from Argan Trees

By Stefanie Haigh

The Argan oil tree, from which the oil comes. photos by Stephanie Haigh.
The Argan oil tree, from which the oil comes. photos by Stephanie Haigh.

Have you ever seen a goat at the top of a tree? Or have you ever had a goat climb up you to eat from the branch that you are holding?

I have. On a recent trip to Agadir in Morocco, I set out to explore the origins of Argan oil.

A trade secret for years, and now slowly gaining in popularity around the world, this Moroccan oil is what every woman needs to prevent wrinkles, keep her hair shiny, her cuticles healthy and her skin beautiful.

All in one bottle. Revolutionary. Except that it is not. It is actually what the Berber woman have been making and using for years. Oh, and the goats love it too.

On a recent trip to Morocco, I was sitting back in a minibus enjoying the drive and the views of herds of camels, goats, and deserts from Agadir through the Souss Plain towards the ancient town of Taroudant.

I hadn’t been expecting the driver to suddenly pull over and ask us all to get out. My first thought was “This cannot be good,” followed by “Oh my, how fantastic!”. We were met with the sight of a herd of goats all climbing up the trees to gorge on the leaves of what we were told were Argan trees.

Climbing the Trees

And when I say climbing up, I am not joking. Looking up, there was a little fellow right at the top of one tree. He was balancing precariously on a branch munching away and looking surprisingly confident.

A goat in the tree. That's how they get the argan oil. Really.
A goat in the tree. That’s how they get the argan oil. Really.

I was so taken with this sight and my determination to snap a good photo that I didn’t notice that the Berber looking after the goats was making his way towards me with a big branch and a trail of eager goats closely following. He handed me the branch and indicated that I should hold it above my head. Which I did.

Suddenly, one of the goats walked straight up to me and reached up to eat the leaves., positioning his front hooves on my stomach. Amazing. There must be something to this Argan stuff. I definitely wanted to know more.

Luckily our tour guide decided to call in on Diar Argan, one of the best producers of Argan oil in the area. Moroccans are very proud of everything Moroccan. They are also very friendly, welcoming people. Point in case.

Argan oil for sale in Morocco.
Argan oil for sale in Morocco.

It’s Sunday morning. You are enjoying a little mint tea with your family when you get a knock on the door. Can we just pop in and have a look around? Errrm, sure!

We were welcomed into Diar Argan with open arms by sales manager Samira. He told us why Argan is so important to the culture and livelihood of people in that area.

Not only that, but we were also given a full tour with a bit of Moroccan history thrown in for good measure and an instant 20% discount and a free bar of Argan soap on purchases we were making in their store… which he opened especially for us and spent a good half an hour explaining what each product was and did. As I say, lovely people.

Argan Oil: The Facts

Why is Argan so important to Moroccans?

95% of Berbers make a living in and around the Argan tree. It is essential to the Berber lifestyle and income. They are extremely proud to be the keepers of such a treasured product. Given that the tree can still flourish in semi-desert conditions, the Berbers know that they can rely on it year-round for many different things. In fact, the Berbers call Argan oil “a gift from God” for three main reasons. These are:

  1. Barley cultivation: The trees provide wonderful year-round shelter for the cultivation of barley. Barley is a very important crop in this area because it is mostly resistant to drought and also provides hay for animals to eat during the dry season.
  2. Goat breeding. This is hugely important to many Berber farmers. The goats eat the fresh leaves of the Argan tree. They love it so much that they clamber right to the top of the tree to get the good bits. As a result, given the health benefits of the Argan tree, goats in this area are extremely fit and healthy. A family can sell just one fully-grown healthy adult goat for around 200€. This amount of money could feed the family for a month, making it quite a lucrative business for the Berber community.
  3. Argan Oil extraction: This is the biggest business provided by the Argan trees. Argan oil has many uses, such as for cooking and for beauty.

What is Argan Oil? Where does it come from? How is it made?

A friendly Moroccan goat.
A friendly Moroccan goat. Or maybe he’s just hungry.

Argan trees grow only in a very small area of the world: the Souss Plain in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains around the city of Agadir. Inside each Argan fruit is 1-3 small almond-sized nuts.

Once the fruit is ripened (usually when it falls from the tree), it is very easy to extract the nut. Oil is then extracted by grinding down these very hard nuts and employed for various different uses in beauty and in cooking. However, the extraction method is a little different for the cooking oil.

What can you use it for?

Argan oil is also said to have restorative qualities and health benefits, whether you eat it or use it as part of your beauty regime. In cooking, it is used for salads, couscous, and various other light meals. It is extremely good for you, it is said to have anti-aging effects and regular consumption can increase brain activity, in a similar way to essential fish oils.

It is naturally very high in Vitamin E and essential fatty acids, making it extremely beneficial for your skin: anti-acne, anti-wrinkle, dry skin, psoriasis, and eczema. Berber women use it every day on their skin to keep signs of aging at bay and also on their hair to lock in moisture and improve shine.

More on the Argan Community

The Argan fruit, source of the oil.
The Argan fruit, the source of the oil.

One of the best things about the Argan community in Morocco is that it is heavily focused on helping the people producing the products.

All Argan oil sold today is harvested and produced solely by women in a women’s cooperative and profits are shared amongst local Berber women, providing them with healthcare and education, which in turn helps the entire Berber community as a whole.

The entire area is now ecologically protected to ensure that Argan resources do not run out and that the women can continue to earn a living. In fact, in 1999 UNESCO declared the entire Argan region a biosphere reserve. There are also many initiatives to ensure that cooperatives provide excellent working conditions.

The process is based on the practice of fair trade and the women is given good working hours to ensure that they are able to care for their families whilst at the same time working and bringing in extra money, which would have otherwise been difficult.

Agadir and the surrounding area is a beautiful place to visit. When we did finally make it to Taroudant that day, it was fantastic to explore the souk within the medina walls. Learning all about the local area was fascinating.

Everyone you meet is so willing to teach you something about the country and show you something that you have never seen before.

I have been using Argan oil for hair since I got back and for your information, I have soft, glossy hair and smooth healthy skin. The Berbers are definitely on to something.

Stephanie HaighStefanie Haigh is often found online as Stefanie Grace, Stefanie has been blogging for 12 years and traveling for much longer. Stef lives in the UK freelancing full-time and as a result, adds more destinations to her travel bucket list every day. Read her daily ramblings on Twitter or through her blog.

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