Marula

The marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea) is related to the mango and grows in abundance in all eight countries represented by PhytoTrade Africa. It is a single stemmed tree – up to 18m in height – with grey mottled bark and a wide spreading crown. It is drought-resistant and most common at low altitudes in open woodlands.

The fruit of the marula is about the size of a plum with a leathery skin that is butter yellow when ripe. The scented juicy white flesh clings to a hard brown stone, inside which are two or three seeds that are so rich in oil that even a squeeze with the hand can release a rich yield.

The flavour of the fruit has been compared with a cocktail of guava, lychee, apple and pineapple, and is popular not only with people but also with elephants which have been known to travel miles to gorge on the fruit. The popular African liqueur Amarula is based on the marula fruit. The marula harvest takes place between February and June.

Map of Marula distribution and the members actively involved in harvesting Marula

Traditional Uses

Marula’s healing oil has long been used as a cosmetic by Southern African women who massage it into their hair and onto the skin of their face, feet and hands. Its moisturising properties make it especially popular as a treatment for dry, cracking skin. In Swaziland it is used traditionally by pregnant women and new mothers to reduce stretch marks.

The fruit is used to make jam and a seasonal marula beer which is hugely popular throughout Southern Africa.

Archaeological evidence confirms that the marula tree has been part of the Southern African way of life for thousands of years; hoards of Stone Age marula stones have been found in Zimbabwean caves with carved tools and piles of shells close by. Similar tools are used to this day to crack the stones and extract the oil-rich seeds.

Marula Oil

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Marula oil is a popular ingredient for skincare products because it naturally softens, nourishes and revitalises the skin. It is easily absorbed and contains high proportions of oleic acid and linoleic fatty acid, making it ideal for topical application. It is high in natural antioxidants and one of the most stable oils available, being ten times more resistant to oxidation than olive oil.

Marula oil has also been shown to improve skin hydration and skin smoothness, and to reduce redness. In studies it performed better than sweet almond oil for each of these properties.

Interested in using marula oil? Find out more on our oils site.

Product Applications

  • Skin care products to treat dry and chapped skin.
  • Anti-ageing face creams.
  • Products to hydrate, smooth and reduce skin redness.
  • Eye creams.
  • Lipsticks.
  • Hair care products especially for dry, damaged and fragile hair.
  • Massage oil.