Meliaceae are trees or shrubs from tropico-equatorial regions.
Many have a desirable wood and have been overexploited such as African mahogany (Kaya), the Caribbean mahogany (Swietenia), or mahogany "female" or mahogany fragrant (Cedrela) used to make cigar boxes or small furniture.
Some have multiple uses such as "neem" or white lilac from India (Azadirachta): medicinal plant, reforestation species, crop protection, source of pest control products.
The genus Carapa is tropical and among the many species described only two are commonly used for their medicinal properties.
The CARAPA or ANDIROBA, Carapa guyanensis is a large tree that was quite common in the primary forest of South America and old secondary forest, it was very exploited for its wood that resembles the fragrant mahogany (Cedrela).
It is also found in the caribbean region and Central America.
The TOULOUCOUNA or KOBI, Carapa procera is present in western tropico-equatorial Africa and eastward to Uganda and Tanzania.
These two species are medicinal by the oil contained in the seeds and to a lesser extent by their leaves and their bark.
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND PROPERTIES
CARAPA OR ANDIROBA OIL
The fruit of carapa (andiroba) is a woody capsule with 4 angles of 7 to 10 cm, which contains 10 to 12 seeds.
There are several techniques to extract andiroba oil.
The Guyanan Indians boil these oilseeds for a long time, then they wait a few days for the oil to collect in the softened and slightly rotting integuments; they then collect it by exposing the mass of seeds to the sun (or by heating them in rainy weather) in a natural container, the spar of a palm tree, with one end pierced. The oil flows slowly by gravity.
In some parts of Brazil, the nuts that float in the streams are collected and the oil is collected after the seeds have been rotten by heating or pressing them.
These traditional techniques give a colored oil in brown or red and which does not keep long.
A pale yellow first cold pressure andiroba = carapa oil of good quality is obtained using more modern mechanical means.
By the traditional technique 6 kg of seeds give about 1 kg of oil and at least 2 times more by modern means.
Average percentage composition of fatty acids of CARAPA oil :
- oleic acid 45 to 50%
- palmitic acid 25 to 30%
- 9% to 10% linoleic acid
- arachidic acid 2%
- stearic acid 7 to 9%
- 1% hexadecinoic acid
- 0.7% linolenic acid
It is an oil dominated by oleic acid and that freezes at low temperatures.
CARAPA oil is very bitter in its content of limonoids and other oxygenated triterpenes which have many pharmacological properties especially studied in vitro or only in animals and not yet in humans (to my knowledge) :
- anti-cancer properties,
- anti-plasmodial property (malaria)
- anti-inflammatory, anti-oedematous and anti-rheumatic properties
- insecticidal and repellent properties for insects.
Moreover the oil of CARAPA or ANDIROBA is:
- and a researcher has filed a patent (USA) describing its use as a treatment for localized cellulite; carapa oil inhibits certain enzymes responsible for the accumulation of fat and the conversion of cells into adipocytes.
LEAVES AND BARK OF CARAPA
The leaves, the wood and especially the bark contain in varying proportions the meliacin-limonoid bitter substances interesting for their pharmacological properties.
CARAPA OIL or ANDIROBA oil cosmetic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and against biting insects
Amerindian populations in amazonian regions mix roucou (red pigment of Bixa orellana) and carapa oil.
They smear themselves with this mixture, helping one another and regularly perform this ritual.
The roucou is very aesthetic and has a magical power, repelling the evil spirit always ready to invade the human body, carapa oil has the power of physical protection (cold and rain, itching, insects).
It is also used as a liniment for massaging the hunter's sore muscles after long runs in the forest.
Guyanese creoles used to treat all kinds of dermatosis: eczema , burning due to stinging plants or caustic latex, insect bites (the calming and anti-inflammatory effect is remarkable).
Andiroba = carapa oil has skin protective properties because, despite their life in the great outdoors and weather, their agricultural work in places full of thorny bushes and stinging insects, the Indians who live almost naked have in general a beautiful skin.
In Brazil, andiroba oil (the Portuguese name) is commonly used in main cities as a massage oil (therapeutic massage, martial arts) and to calm skin irritations, treat small wounds or bruises.
Finally it is a cosmetic oil giving shine and flexibility to the hair (while removing lice).
The oil of CARAPA is therefore:
- softening and protective for the skin (one can test one's own reaction in case of eczema or psoriasis).
- relaxing and slightly analgesic for muscles and joint areas (good massage oil for athletes)
- slightly repulsive for biting insects and very useful against ticks and pest of the amazonian forest.
It is also used in South America to treat livestock (wounds, ticks and parasites of the skin).
Unpurified crude or virgin oil is the only really effective one, combining the calming trophic effect of fat with the anti-inflammatory, antipruriginous effect of triterpenoids-limonoids.
Carapa oil is poorly preserved and rancid quickly if it is not kept cool and protected from light.
Several companies offer carapa or andiroba oil on the internet.
There was a time when soap was made in Brazil where it is common.
In the Caribbean on the island of Dominica, survivors of the Caribbean Indians sometimes sell it but it is difficult to know if it is pure oil, it is often mixed with castor oil easier to obtain ; moreover, the Caribbean creoles confuse the two oils which they call indifferently oil of carapate.
LEAVES AND BARK OF CARAPA
The leaves are traditionally used in South America as an infusion or decoction (very bitter) to lower fever (viral infections or malaria) to treat diarrhea and accelerate wound healing.
The bark is very concentrated in active substances and therefore difficult to use because too bitter but it is a source of new chemical molecules for the research of new drugs.
The infusion or decoction can be used with caution externally : ticks, infected wounds by insects in animals and humans.
To my knowledge there is no industrial cultivation of Carapa because young trees are attacked by a parasite (Hypsipyla grandella) difficult to eradicate.
This moth, whose caterpillar attacks the young branches of meliaceae, is present in almost all warm regions of the Americas and causes many problems for nursery growers who grow mahogany or cedrela for planting along avenues and in parks.
In the Guyana forest the problem is less acute because the trees are isolated from each other, the parasite density is lower and the predator regulation is done naturally.
The carapa is now considered a species to be protected in South America (especially in Brazil) because of deforestation and over-exploitation of CARAPA for its wood.
KOBI (Bambara, Fulani)
Carapa Procera is present in Africa from Senegal to Angola and east to Uganda and Tanzania. It has various vernacular names.
It varies in size and often grows in the shade of larger trees, including in the southern Sahel in gallery forests.
It is known and used mainly for its oily seeds which produce an inedible oil (because containing very bitter substances) but usable for medicinal purposes or to make soap.
Traditional healers also use its bark which contains anti-inflammatory and insecticides compounds .
It is therefore a tree whose traditional use is very close to that of Carapa guyanensis in South America:
- skin care,
- elimination of cutaneous parasites in humans and animals,
- protection against insect bites,
- massage oil,
- manufacture of handmade soaps,
- crop protection (oil spraying on cultivated crop or incorporation of carapa nut powder into the soil),
- Very bitter bark tea to soothe digestive disorders: gastroenteritis.
A MEDICINAL AND COSMETOLOGICAL OIL FROM AMAZON BASIN AND AFRICA
The seeds of Carapa (andiroba in Brazil) provide an oil that contains substances repellent to insects, which protects the skin of physical elements and which by its cosmetological properties beautifies it.
The Indians of Amazonia have known for a long time andiroba oil which they smear themselves daily.
. It is useful as a liniment and as a massage oil because it is slightly anti-inflammatory, it also soothing irritated skin.
In Africa, the oil of Carapa procera (touloucouna or kobi) has similar properties
Copyright 2019 : Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel