Shea Butter has been used in Africa for many centuries to alleviate problems of the skin and scalp. It is produced from the edible nut of the fruit from the Karite tree grown in Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso and other Savanna Grasslands of West Africa. It is a wild growing tree that produces tiny, almond-like fruit from which Shea Butter is extracted. The tree itself is not cultivated and takes 40 to 50 years to mature. In most parts of West Africa, destruction of the Shea tree is forbidden due to its economic and health benefits. Many Africans regard Shea Butter as an invaluable agent for internal and external body purification. It is also used as an after-shave, hair balm for dry and brittle hair, and on the head of drums to prevent drying and cracking. It is a sacred food for many.
Characteristically, Shea Butter has a smooth and soft paste texture and is either yellow – white to ivory color depending on how it is processed. The tree resembles the American oak. The kernel is enclosed in a sweet pulp, under a thin green rind. The fruit from the kernel is first sun dried, the butter is prepared by boiling the kernel in water, and has the appearance of a Spanish olive. Women are usually responsible for the process of making Shea Butter. This process takes place in the rainy seasons from May to August when the Shea nuts are harvested and involves many days of carefully picking, gathering, drying, pounding and kneading.
Shea butter is revered by many as an anti-inflammatory agent and is popular for its cosmetic properties for the treatment of dry skin, blemishes, dark spots, skin discolorations, chapped lips, stretch marks, wrinkles and dry scalps. Commonly used by soapmakers, shea butter leaves a small amount of oil in the soap, which seals moisture into the skin after washing. Shea butter has been used in many capacities ranging from medicinal ointment and hairdressing to cooking, and is also now found in many high-end moisturizers and soaps.