Shea butter originates from the Karite Nut tree, also called the Mangifolia tree, found in the semi-arid savannahs of West and Central Africa.
The Karite Nut tree, also called the "tree of life" can live for 300 years and almost all parts of the tree have some practical use. The bark is an ingredient in traditional medicines against certain childhood illnesses and minor scrapes and cuts. The shell of the nuts can repel mosquitoes.
The fruity part of the nut, when crushed, results in a vegetable oil that can be used in soap-making, cooking, and skin and hair care. The oil extracted has a relatively high melting point and is used in rural areas in the making of foods, traditional drugs and cosmetics. Shea is mainly exported as smoked kernels and can be used as an extender in chocolate as its properties are similar to cocoa butter.
Although in the last few years, Shea butter has become popular in the United States, it has been used by the women of West Africa for centuries. Shea butter can also help to protect the skin against the damaging effects of the sun, while repairing cellular degeneration.
It contains vitamins A and E, and has demonstrated both antimicrobial (kills or inhibits the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, or protozoa), and anti-inflammatory properties.
In most parts of West Africa, destruction of the Shea tree is prohibited because this little nut provides a valuable source of food, medicine, and income for the population. In fact, Shea butter is sometimes referred to as "women’s gold" in Africa, because so many women are employed in the production of Shea butter.
Shea butter may also help treat skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis; however, keep in mind that you should always consult a physician or dermatologist about serious or persistent skin problems. Shea butter is not recommended for people with nut or latex allergies.
Check out these videos on how shea butter is made...
The first is called - From Tree to Nuts
The second one is called - From Nuts to Butter
I thought these were really interesting. There are other videos on YouTube that show shea butter production as well - I didn't want to get too carried away posting them :o). The Greenpeople Company, Ltd has a YouTube channel with videos of making organic shea butter and how fair trade shea butter has helped villages in Ghana which are also interesting.
The Shea Project
Peace and Blessings...