Have you seen how the argan tree looks like? I have, in Morocco. You would probably say, it’s not a big deal. For me it is, because a time travel gate unlocked at the moment I caught a glimpse of that tree. I did not feel the same tickle when I saw my first Mango tree, neither when explored other tropical trees – Jack Fruit and Avocado. The story here is not about the Argan tree itself, but about the scenario, built upon its fruits /seeds. In particular, the huge impact those small germs have on the local Moroccan communities, but at the same time the high-flown effect on the world cosmetic industry. The clash between the luxurious presentation and the humble reality is spectacular.
My previous article “Morocco – the land where goats live on trees” ended in the style of…to be continued. I promised to reveal the “hunting” argan oil story and to tell you more about my time travel in 19th century. While the journey to the sacred argan oil land, 14 km away from the Moroccan city of Essaouira, was quite emotional and hectic, the experience at the work shop brought relief and tranquillity. It was as if the clock had stopped and I popped up in a time gap, stranded somewhere in the past centuries.
All began with a little bottle of Moroccan argan oil, provided as an innocent gift to a client in the Middle East. Unexpectedly, the interest in that bottle and its affect gradually hit the peak, beyond any expectations. We received so many requests and orders that the potential delivery looked nearly at an industrial volume. I knew that argan oil nowadays is a very desired cosmetic product, but had no idea it’s so popular. When I started searching for the outcome and the expected benefits, I found out why. Let me briefly share the information.
What’s the argan oil asset
In the next several paragraphs I intend to make a complimentary advertisement of the argan oil benefits 🙂 Such action is very rare, but I promised myself to provide whatever useful information I find for free, so here it comes. Most commonly the agran oil is used as a skin moisturiser. With its vitamin E and acid content, it hydrates and softens the skin. Being non-greasing and non-irritating, it’s pointed as the best natural moisturiser. Just a few drops, rubbed into the face and neck skin could cause a miraculous effect and easily would replace the body lotion. The producers in Morocco claim the argan oil has also anti-aging effect, restoring elasticity of the skin.
On site, I was told it heals cracked heels, leaving them supple in just a few weeks. The other benefit is for the soft and broken nails. Regular usage of argan oil should improve their strength and health. My host in Morocco also swears, argan oil balm is the best cure for sore lips in a cold and dry weather.
But the cherry on top of the cake is the hair benefit. Softer, silkier and shinier is the promise of the transformation. I personally have no idea if it’s true or not, but the demand should partially approve the expected results. At this point the free of charge advertisement is already over and I should carry on with the story behind my argan oil adventure.
A thrill under the argan tree
I knew in the exact address of our preferred argan oil work shop in advance. The address is something optional though, because it took about 40 minutes wandering to find the building. This area is really full of lots of argan factories and to find the particular one, in the hilly woods is not easy.
Upon arrival I was impatient to see how the argan tree looks like. It was my very first question, after the greetings were exchanged. I wanted to see where they pick the argan fruits from. I am not sure what exactly I was expecting (surely, something exotic, never seen, special and outstanding). I imagined being driven to a remote farm of argan trees, probably crooked and low, similar to the trees I saw the goats on. Possibly dry, with no leaves, but covered by heavy fruits.
That’s why the answer was quite surprising: “The trees are just behind your back”. At that moment I was petrified, frozen and looked a bit silly. Is it possible to be that simple? But at the time of arrival I did not notice anything outstanding at the yard. So, was it possible not to even notice those trees? And then, I realised it was the first sign nothing here is what it seems to be. I did not know it yet, that inside the building I’ll find even more signs and it’s going to be a lifetime memory.
I was trying to resist my impulse to quickly turn and look at that tree. I was a bit scared, not to get disappointed if my imagination doesn’t match the reality. I got the same thrill many years ago, when I saw my first olive tree in Greece. The same tickle when I saw for first time a Rambutan tree in Sri Lanka. My first wild and very natural Lychee tree in South Africa. Exactly the same stone frozen manner in front of my first Coconut tree in Barbados and the Date palm tree in Tunisia. It seems like the exotic trees temporarily paralyse me for some reason.
That particular tickle emerged along with the Argan tree, growing behind my back in Morocco. Taller than me, covered by argan fruits, the tree looked very regular, typical, unmemorable, just green and very…European. I was unable to recognise any exotic features, that’s why I focused on the fruits. They look like almonds. Just the skin is dark brown, dry and deformed. There is kind of a shell, which should be broken and the precious one is the nut inside. When the seed is released out of the shell, it looks exactly like a blanched almond.
The time travel gate
The time travel began at the moment I stepped over the doorstep and got inside the work shop. Everything inside looked like back to the 19th century. The environment with the simple colourful carpet walls. The floor, covered by local traditional rugs. The women, working inside, dressed in Moroccan rural clothes. Everything was handmade, no modern machines involved at all, just some unknown to me ancient devices and gears, used in the same way for centuries.
I was stunned by the picture in front of me. It was impossible to imagine something more surprising, immemorial and authentic. It looked like a museum of old crafts, been long time ago forgotten and preserved alive only at this spot. The description, which suits the environment most – it was like an atavistic folk song to me, where you hear about things, disappeared long ago, different life, lost in the past, traditions and way of work, you would never experience in person. I got the same sense from my grandmother’s songs. She loved singing after the sunset some archaic folk motives, inherited from her great-grandmother. Here I got exactly the same feeling.
Inside the work shop was quiet. No one spoke, only the sound of the weird tools was discerned. They looked mainly clay made, built to smash the argan nuts in many different ways till finally the pure argan oil was extracted. There was kind of a sweet smell in the air. When oil is extracted, I would expect the smell to be somehow …oily, the same we get when a bottle of sunflower or olive oil was opened. But here the scent was different. I would describe it as a blossomed flower with a barely felt cocoa aroma.
I had no idea what were the steps and the procedures, required for the argan oil extraction. But it looked as a long and hard process. As I was told, the Moroccan argan oil is much appreciated, not only because of its purity and quality, but because of the organic handmade free of chemicals way of treatment.
An archaic, but profitable business
This manufacture gives subsistence to the women from the nearby villages. It’s kind of a female cooperative. The labourers at the work shop gained this job as a heritage from their parents and grand parents, who did the same decades ago with the same instruments. There are not many job opportunities in this area appropriate for the local women, so this type of factories are highly valued as a source of income.
I was actually expecting a big refinery, equipped by computerised installations, full of huge modern machines and a large industrial park related to it. That’s the logic, we are in 21st century, where everything happens through machines. Especially such a precious liquid, used in a multi million cosmetic industry. What I found though was an old-fashioned female cooperative, working hard and following daily a well structured for centuries routine.
It’s a closed and completed cycle of manufacture – from the argan fruits collection, through the oil extraction to the production and packaging of quite contemporary cream boxes. What I was really impressed by, was the fact this small female cooperative is able to produce such a quantity and variety of cosmetic argan oil products. They sell the argan oil not only at the next door company shop, which is an attraction mostly for the tourists.
This single argan factory also supplies massive trade centres in the country. At the same time is able to cover big private orders (like mine), meeting the client’s demanding criteria. Actually, this funny looking and pretty archaic fabrication was cleverly turned to a well working and profitable business, with a reputable export far beyond the Moroccan borders.
Except the most distributed bottled product of 100 ml argan oil, I chose, ordered and collected boxes of foot and hand cream (based on argan oil, of course), hair conditioners, shampoos, facial and hair masks, etc… Totally 22 huge cardboard boxes, full of agan oil miraculous products, intended for clients based eight hour flight away. As a respected customer, I was invited to a Moroccan tea ceremony, where I received a special gift, an experimental product of the factory – cactus oil.
Let me tell you about that particular cactus oil bottle. It “cured” my wrinkles and erased my eye “laugh lines” in just a few weeks. I am not convinced yet in the magical effect of the argan oil, which is widely spread, because personally I am not such a big consumer. But the cactus oil, experimentally made at the Moroccan ancient 19th century work shop, definitely healed my age marks and improved my facial tone.
To summarise – this weird hunt for argan oil in Morocco provided lots of astonishment, confusion and wonders, but also equipped me with a younger face and plenty of naturally discovered supplies for my entire skin/ hair well-being. Should I go back for a new hunting adventure in Morocco? Most definitely, YES.