posted by Jacqueline A. Soule
If you know how I title most of my blogs, you now have a hint on how to pronounce jojoba – it’s pronounced ho-ho-ba. (The “j” is an “h” sound in Spanish. Which reminds me of the time at the busy health clinic when “Hakalina” did not recognize her name called out by the nurse – but that’s another story.)
Jojoba is the O’odham name for the plant (Simmondsia chinensis) and it came into Spanish via the work of Father Kino. Indeed, Father Kino wrote in his journals about the plant. In Bolton’s 1919 translation of Kino’s journals, Kino writes of a visit with “Pima Indians” (pg. 93) and states that, among other items “. . . they also have bezoar, the medicinal fruit called jojoba, blankets, cotton fabrics, curious and very showy baskets or pitchers, macaws . . . and other conveniences.” Later, Kino describes the fruit as “. . . like the almond, and with a very salutary and effective remedy for different kinds of sickness.”
Other common names for the plant include goat nut, deer nut, pignut, wild hazel, quinine nut, coffeeberry, and gray box bush. Although there are references to jojoba as nuts, they are, botanically speaking, a seed.
Jojoba was used in most areas where it is native. The uses varied with tribe. O’odham would crush the seeds to yield an oily paste useful for dry cracked skin, chapped lips, cuts, scrapes, and burns. Seeds were ground and pressed into cakes, and small portions were eaten in moderation as food. Too much jojoba has a laxative action. Seri used seeds as an emergency food, but more commonly as part of a shampoo process. Seeds can also be made into necklaces.
Currently, jojoba is grown commercially for its “oil,” in reality a liquid wax ester, expressed from the seed. This oil is rare in nature. Technically it is an extremely long straight-chain wax ester and not a triglyceride, making jojoba and its derivative jojoba esters more similar to human sebum (body oil) and sperm whale oil than to vegetable oils. Jojoba oil is easily refined to be odorless, colorless and oxidatively stable, and is often used in cosmetics as a moisturizer and as a carrier oil for specialty fragrances. It also has potential use as both a biodiesel fuel for cars and trucks, as well as a biodegradable lubricant. Plantations of jojoba have been established in a number of desert and semi-desert areas.
Jojoba is currently the Sonoran Desert’s second most economically valuable native plant (overshadowed only by the Washingtonia palms used in ornamental horticulture). Plant breeders are doing selective breeding to develop plants that produce more seeds, seeds with higher oil content, and characteristics that will facilitate mechanical harvesting.
A few interesting taxonomic notes. Jojoba is the only species in its plant family, making it quite unique among flowering plants. While there are around 400 monotypic genera, this is the only monotypic flowering plant family. The scientific name, Simmondsia chinensis, is an example of the need for good penmanship. Jojoba does not originate in China! Johann Link, the botanist naming the species, misread Nuttall’s collection label “Calif” as “China.”
Harvesting and Use.
Jojoba seed on a single bush will ripen slowly over several months. This is one of the traits breeders are seeking to change. Seed is ready to be harvested when the hulls easily fall off and a slight tug releases it into your hand. If it resists, it isn’t ripe.
Store harvested seed in jars or even in the freezer. Grind jojoba seeds in a mortar and pestle for topical use. Alternatively toast the seeds and munch as an occasional snack.
If you have the technology, you can harvest seeds and press them for the oil. Or simply plant them in your native landscape and let the native wildlife use the seed.
Planting and Care will be covered in a future blog.
To learn more about jojoba and other native plants used as herbs, please come to my free presentation “Father Kino’s Native Herbs” at the Main Library on Saturday Sept 13 at 1:30. More at http://www.library.pima.gov/calendar/?ID=26635
Some of the information in this article is excerpted from my book “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today” (2011, Tierra del Sol Press, $15). I hope you will consider purchasing a copy locally at Antigone Books, Arizona Experience Store, Magic Garden, Mostly Books, or Rillito Nursery.
© 2014, Jacqueline Soule. All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact me if you have any questions.