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Helpful Herbs: Jojoba

The Jojoba plant (pronounced "ho-ho-ba") produces valuable seeds that can be rendered into a helpful oil, and it is one of few plants that thrive in the deserts where drought is common. Its woody branches can brighten up sparse, dry landscaping and it has been used by Native Americans for a variety of purposes for centuries.

Jojoba grows wild in Arizona, Southern California, Mexico, and Baja California. It can also be grown in more northern climates, especially if cultivated in a greenhouse, but it will not overwinter if temperatures dip below 20° Fahrenheit. Started from seeds, especially from wild plants, Jojoba plants live up to ten years and can grow up to 15 feet in height. A healthy Jojoba plant needs very little in the way of care. It likes dry conditions and flourishes in long, hot summers. Growing well in full sun, Jojoba doesn't like strong winds or chilly conditions.

While many South Western gardeners grow Jojoba as a decorative plant where other plants might not thrive, its seeds can also provide a valuable harvest. Jojoba seeds or beans can be carefully picked when they are dark brown and hard, appearing similar to dark acorns. The seeds are then dried for about two weeks, pressed in a seed press, and rendered into a wax that has the consistency of olive oil.

Jojoba oil has gained recent popularity because of its many benefits. Its boom started in the 1970s, when Tom Janca of the Jojoja Oil & Seed Company in Mesa, AZ wrote for Mother Earth News that "I'd love to get everyone (...) all over the world growing jojoa. Research has shown that the shrub can produce a crop with a cash return five times larger per acre than cotton....and do it for 100 to 200 years with very little annual maintenance. This is bigger than all of the governments of the world put together! Jojoba is for the people of the earth....the people, and all other living things."{1}

At the very beginning of the Jojoba trend, it was claimed that its oil would cure baldness and cancer, but unfortunately those hypothesis have proven false. Because of its rapid rise to popularity, many farmers turned their entire farms into Jojoba plantations and took risky cross-border trips to Mexico to gather wild seeds. The dramatic increase in Jojoba production meant that many farmers went out of business, as the demand was not yet there for Jojoba products. Fortunately the oil has continued to gain traction over the decades, and the possible uses for it continue to expand.

While it hasn't (yet) gained quite the following that Janca was looking for, Jojoba continues to be included in more and more recipes, shampoos, moisturizers, and more. While it is part of many homemade shampoo recipes alongside other ingredients, Jojoba can be applied directly to hair to smooth frizzing and control dandruff. Used on the skin it will help soothe irritations and provide moisture, and it has a similar effect when used in caring for leather. Jojoba oil helps to prevent rust on metal objects, and it has been used to treat eczema and psoriasis.

The Native Americans knew about the properties of the Jojoba seed long before the 1970s, of course. They used the oil to help preserve animal hides, and believed that eating the seeds would help with childbirth. While it was not commonly eaten, the seed would also occasionally be ground to make a hot drink similar to coffee. Used by the O'odham people for skin and hair care, Jojoba is named for the O'odham word, Hohowi.

Jojoba oil is a valuable and helpful product for your skin and hair, and can even help to remove wrinkles. It grows heartily where other plants fall behind, and for the small farmer it is an excellent option to grow your own beauty products, removed from the mysterious ingredients of store bought options.

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information on this web site is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.


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