The candlenut (scientific name Aleurites moluccanus) belongs to the spurge family known as Euphorbiaceae. This is a flowering tree having its origin in the Indian sub-continent and some other regions of South East Asia. Later, this plant was introduced into the United States and the Caribbean islands, where it began to flourish. People in Malaysia and Indonesia use the candlenut plant in the form of a spice. On the other hand, people in Hawaii use this plant for a variety of purposes.
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The candlenut plant grows up to a height of anything between 15 meters and 25 meters and it produces spreading and pendulous branches. The leaves of this plant are simple and have a light green hue. Their form may vary from ovate, trilobed and occasionally five-lobed. The leaves measure 10 cm to 20 cm in length with an acute apex. The fruits of this plant are basically nuts that are round in shape and measuring 4 cm to 6 cm in diameter. The seeds of candlenut not only have an extremely hard external coat, but also contain high amounts of oil. This oil is used for making candles. This is where this tree derives its name from.
Traditionally, people of many cultures have employed candlenut for medicinal purposes. Different parts of this tree have various therapeutic applications which have been used for treating a variety of conditions.
Since long people have been using different parts of the candlenut tree in the form of natural anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal agent. In fact, the oil extracted from the seeds of the candlenut is employed in the form of an anti-microbial agent. A number of studies have found that this oil is very effective against HIV-1 virus. These therapeutic properties of candlenut oil are attributed to a variety of phytochemical enclosed by this oil. People in Fiji use the sap of this tree for treating conjunctivitis.
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The leaves of candlenut tree contain flavonoids that possess pain killing as well as anti-pyretic properties. In folk medicine, the leaves of this tree were employed for curing toothache and fever. A research undertaken to examine the therapeutic properties of candlenut found that that an extract from the dried leaves of the tree is effective in alleviating pain and also healing wounds. Findings of another study undertaken on animals were successful in ascertaining the anti-nociceptive actions of the dried extract of candlenut leaf in curing neuropathic pain and inflammation. The findings of this study hinted that it has the potential for successfully treating chronic pains in humans.
Yet another study undertaken on rabbits to examine the medicinal properties of candlenut found that it was beneficial in regenerating the tissues of eyes and also curing corneal wounds. Hence, it can be said that the seeds of kukui (candlenut) as well as the different parts of the tree can be used successfully to alleviate various types of pains. People in Hawaii used the candlenut leaves for treating arthritic joint pains, headaches and even fevers. At the same time, the seed oil of kukui can be applied externally for relieving cramps or stomach aches.
These days you will find a variety of skin care and cosmetic products in the market that contain extracts from candlenut seeds and candlenut oil. The oil extracted from candlenut seed supplies our body with the valuable omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are indispensable for healthy skin. At the same time, this oil also provides with many vital nutriments that are necessary for the growth of the skin. It is also an effective anti-inflammatory agent and, hence, this oil helps to lessen skin inflammation and you can also use it for treating various skin problems like eczema, psoriasis, and sun burns. Candlenut seed oil also provides us with the essential fatty acids in addition to vitamin E, which are effective in protecting our skin from the harmful free radicals. This oil is non-greasy and also serves as an excellent moisturizer. When it is used in a combination with other essential oils, the results are remarkable.
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Aside from the above mentioned applications of candlenut seed oil, it is also used for massage as well as in spa. People in Hawaii apply candlenut oil topically with a view to get rid of stretch marks and blemishes left behind by burn injuries. Candlenut tree exudes a sap that is employed for treating fungal infections. Similarly, the bark and leaves of this tree are employed for treating septic wounds.
In Hawaii, people grind the candlenut seeds and use them to cure wounds and ulcers. The oil of kukui nut is also effective in removing stretch marks from the abdomen of pregnant women. In Hawaii even cancer patients use this oil to treat burns caused by radiation treatment.
Since long people have considered kukui nut or candlenut oil to be beneficial for the health of the scalp. In Hawaii and Fiji, people consider this oil to promote hair growth. It is believed that this oil supplies vital nutriments necessary for hair growth and also protects the hair from various types of damages. This oil possesses anti-fungal properties and thereby helps to protect the scalp from various diseases as well as dandruff.
People in Hawaii use an infusion prepared from the sap of candlenut tree, especially the flowers and bark, for curing sore throat, oral thrush, tonsillitis, bad breath, toothache and mouth sores. However, still there is not enough scientific evidence to prove the benefits of using this infusion. It is believed that the phytochemicals present in candlenut tree possess anti-microbial as well as anti-inflammatory properties that are very helpful in oral care.
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People in Polynesia prepare an infusion from the candlenut tree bark and use it in the form of gargle. Similarly, people in Tonga use the leaves of this tree to cure pediatric mouth infections.
A study undertaken to examine the therapeutic properties of candlenut tree hinted that this tree helps in lowering the levels of fat and glucose in the blood stream. It was found that methanol extract of candlenut tree (Aleurites moluccanus) was helpful in lowering the cholesterol and blood sugar levels in rodents. Another study hinted that candlenut hinders the metabolism of fat and sugar in the body. Currently, scientists are conducting further studies on candlenut as well as the effectiveness of using the various parts of this tree in treating cancer.
It has been proven that candlenut supplies our body with sufficient amount as well as the appropriate ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are said to be the building blocks of our brain tissues. These omega fatty acids are essential for the optimal performance as well as growth of our brain. As a result, candlenut oil, which is rich in PUFA, possesses the aptitude to support the proper functioning of the brain and also prevent occurrence of various disorders associated with the functioning of the brain as well as damages to the brain cells. It also protects our brain from conditions like oxidative stress and helps put off neurodegenerative ailments such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
In the folk medicine of Hawaii and South East Asia, candlenut is employed for treating a variety of ailments related to the stomach. In fact, candlenut oil serves as a mild laxative and promotes bowel movements. A decoction prepared from the leaves and bark of the candlenut tree is employed for curing diarrhea, dysentery and other stomach disorders. People in Papua New Guinea use the leaves of this tree to provide relief from food poisoning.
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Aside from the therapeutic applications of the various parts of candlenut tree, the nuts may be used for culinary purpose in the form of a substitute for macadamia nuts. However, these nuts should never be consumed raw because of their saponin content. In addition, the nuts of this tree also contain a number of toxic substances.
The seed shells as well as the seeds of candlenut are also utilized for making jewellery. They may be varnished or even unpolished. The oil extracted from candlenut seeds is also utilized by the cosmetic industry. This oil may also be utilized in the form of fuel in diesel engines. However, the oil needs to undergo certain chemical modifications before it can be used as fuel in engines. In addition, candlenut seed oil is also employed in the form of a base for varnish and paint. The trunks of candlenut trees are used for making canoes. However, as the wood of this tree is not very durable, these canoes have a very short life. In addition to making canoes, candlenut tree wood is also used for making floats for fishing nets. Following the extraction of the oil from the seeds, the remainder cake is utilized as a cattle fodder.
Since the oil extracted from candlenut seeds is an irritant, it is applied on the scalp to encourage hair growth. The seed kernels are made into a pulp and employed in poultices to alleviate headaches, sores, swollen joints, ulcers on skin and fevers. People in Java used a decoction prepared from the bark of candlenut tree to treat dysentery. On the other hand, the hot leaves of this tree are used for providing relief from headaches and treating gonorrhea. These hot leaves are applied topically for these purposes.
In Hawaiian, kukui denotes light. Traditionally, the tree has been referred by this name in earlier days; people burned the nut of this tree to generate light. When burned, each kukui lasts for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. In addition, the husk of kukui nut is utilized in the form of a black dye in tattooing or other ornamental works. In 1959, the kukui or candlenut tree was endorsed as Hawaii's emblem and currently it is the state tree there. The seeds of candlenut are roasted and crushed into a powdered form and combined with chili pepper, Hawaiian sea salt (locally known as pa'akai) and seaweed to prepare a condiment called inamona in local Hawaiian dialect.
It is, however, worth mentioning here that the leaves, bark as well as the unripe fruit of candlenut tree are toxic to some extent. On the other hand, the ripened fruit is used both as a food and also for therapeutic purposes. Candlenut contains rich amounts of oil. This oil is extracted and utilized in the form of kukui nut oil. The green (unripe) fruit locally known as waikea contains a sap and is used for therapeutic purpose. In addition, the juice obtained from the green nut (called kohu kukui) is also utilized for a variety of therapeutic purposes in Hawaii.
Chemical analysis of candlenut has revealed that it is mostly composed of fatty acids that comprise almost 60 percent of its weight. About one fifth of candlenut comprises protein. In addition, it also encloses dietary fibers, thiamine and some essential minerals like iron, calcium and potassium in significant amounts. Other minerals such as copper, zinc and selenium are also present in candlenut, but in just trace amounts. Moreover, candlenut contains a variety of phytochemicals such as flavonoids, saponins and polyphenols. The oil extracted from candlenut contains an excellent blend of a number of polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. These omega acids primarily include linoleic acid and palmitic acid. Aside from these, candlenut also encloses gamma-tocopherol, which is soluble in fat. Other natural chemical compounds present in candlenut include amino acids like aspartic acid and glutamic acid.