Aguaje is a tree from the palm group, with the scientific name Mauritia flexuosa. It is native to tropical areas of South America and the Caribbean, where it normally grows in very wet areas such as swamps. It can be found in the entire area between Brazil and Trinidad, including Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.
Aguaje is a large upright tree that can reach a height of up to 35 m. Like all palms, it has sizeable leaves that grow on top, resembling the shape of a crown. The flowers start growing in December and can last until April, with a yellow color, followed by the fruits that ripe from December to June.
Fruits are protected by scales, with yellow flesh and a very tough nut inside. An interesting aspect of this water-loving tree is that the nuts can float, this being the most common way of propagation of aguaje.
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This tree is one of the most important and useful in its area. It is very common in the large basins of the Amazon and Orinoco, often mixed with other species of palm. Palm forests can be extremely dense and cover large surfaces, some of them can continue for tens of kilometres.
Aguaje is usually found mixed with acai and beach palm. Its importance is significant in stabilizing river line and swamp ecosystems, also as a source of food for the locals.
The fruits of this palm are packed with nutrients and vitamins. They are eaten by the locals but also sold in cities in its native range. While the fruit is not commonly exported, it might eventually gain international recognition. Like other species of palm, aguaje fibers are used to manufacture various items such as belts, while the dry leaves can be woven to make baskets.
Its many uses also make it popular as a cultivated tree, in both gardens and villages in the area. Dead fallen trunks become infested with a beetle grub that can be extracted and eaten, being considered a special delicacy all across the Amazonian forests.
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The aguaje has the distinction of being one of the few fruits in the world to be classified as a super food. This is because of its balance of vitamins and nutrients, as well as the large electrolyte content, a powerful package that provides a sizeable boost to both beauty and health.
Besides its obvious refreshing and nourishing qualities, natives in tropical areas of South America use it to fix hormonal imbalance. Elder women consume it after they enter menopause, in order to balance their estrogen levels and limit the effects of hot flashes. Natives are convinced the fruit has very strong influence on hormones and it can even improve or restore fertility, they believe eating too many of them can have dreadful hormonal consequences.
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Modern research tests have found that aguaje has one of the highest contents of carotenoids of all known fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are sources of vitamin A and it seems their concentration in aguaje is about five times higher than in carrots.
Vitamin A has very important benefits for both health and beauty, being essential in the well-being of skin, bones, teeth, mucus membranes and other tissues. In addition, the fruit is a rich source of proteins, as well as vitamin C and several fatty oils.
The best known product made from aguaje nuts is buriti oil. This is used as a cosmetic product applied on the skin, mainly because of its content of natural emollients and vitamin E. The main quality of buriti oil is the ability to go through the layers of skin and transport nutrients to the deeper parts. Beta-carotene is important because it is transformed into vitamin A, the most potent antioxidant for skin.
After reaching the deeper layers, buriti oil feeds the skin at the source and can prevent or even remove wrinkles and thin lines. When applied on the face, its rich nutrient content can balance the skin, moisturizing the tissues and restoring their elasticity and firmness.
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It is a great source for oleic and palmitic acid and other fatty acids, which shield fibroblast cells and hydrate the skin. Fibroblast cells have a structural role and work with elastin and collagen. It is also used to provide a hormonal boost to women during the worst periods of menopause, since it increases the overall level of estrogen.
All of these uses are well-known to natives, who use the fresh nuts to relieve all kinds of skin issues, in particular scars and burns. The high vitamin C content is helpful in increasing immunity and boosting the production of collagen and nut consumption can regulate the hormonal flux during menopause.
Being rich in female hormones, such as phytoestrogen, aguaje can fight low levels of estrogen, stop osteoporosis and alleviate the worst menopause symptoms. It is an excellent food choice for women. Some researchers believe that the stunning beauty of tribal women in the jungles of Peru can be linked directly to their constant eating of aguaje nuts.
It can be extremely helpful for people who have critically low levels of estrogen for whatever reason, such as castrated ones or females after menopause. The effects of the nuts can be significant, due to the high phytoestrogen content.
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The fruit of aguaje is also very rich in vitamin A, being recommended in hypovitaminosis A, which is the scientific name for a disease associated with a severe deficiency of this vitamin. The vitamin A content is even more concentrated in the palm oil prepared from aguaje. Since vitamin A is one of the best antioxidants at skin level, the oil can be applied on burns and scars. It relieves the pain, speeds up healing and boosts the formation of scar tissue.
As a plentiful source of vitamin C, the nuts are a good counter against scurvy. In addition, vitamin C helps stop other diseases that are cause by more general metabolic problems, such as dysentery or tuberculosis. Aguaje plays a wider role in the organism and can increase libido and regulate body hair by stopping its loss while at the same time reducing its growth in unwanted places.
The oil has a superb color, between gold and orange, and can be produced after the nuts are grounded and pressed. Its qualities have made it a primary ingredient of an entire range of cosmetic and beauty products for both the skin and the hair. It contains a massive quantity of carotenoids, which further evolve into vitamin A. Buriti oil is also rich in the superior antioxidants named tocopherols, as well as palmitic, linoleic and arachidic acids.
The nuts are rarely exported but can be commonly found in markets all across the Amazon, where they are consumed as snacks. The fruit can be eaten raw but also processed, its yellow flesh can be ground after peeling and prepared as a drink. These beverages will have a creamy taste cause by the high oil content. This unique flavour is also passed to all of the other products that can be made from buriti: alcoholic drinks, jams, chutneys, juices and all sorts of sweets.
For the Amazonian natives, the fruit is an important staple meal for its starch content. Natives consider aguaje one of the key cultivated food sources in their diet. They make a flour from the dried flesh and commonly brew various drinks, with or without alcohol, such as buriti wine. The pulp becomes liqueurs, jams or desserts, all with a massive vitamin C content. Starch can also be extracted directly from the trunk. Amazonian houses are sometimes built using the trunks and leaves.