Vitellaria paradoxa is native to the Savannah region of Guinea and Sudan, from Senegal to Sudan, western Ethiopia and Uganda in a belt 500-700 km wide. It is found inside, separated from the Gulf of Guinea by forests. It occurs within 50 km of the coast only in Ghana and Nigeria.
The kernels of the seeds vitellaria paradox (often incorrectly called ‘nuts’) contain a vegetable fat known as shea butter. High-quality shea butter is consumed as a cooking fat throughout West Africa. Refined fat was marketed as margarine and baking fat. It is used in pastries and confectionery because it makes the dough flexible. It is a substitute for cocoa butter with similar properties. Many cosmetics, especially moisturizers, lotions, and lipsticks, use shea butter as a base because its high unsaponifiable content gives it excellent moisturizing properties. Low-quality shea butter, often mixed with other oils, is the base ingredient for soap. It also has a high melting point, making it very suitable for candle making.
Shea butter is a suitable base for topical medicines. Its application relieves rheumatic and joint pain and treats wounds, swelling, dermatitis, bruises and other skin problems. Traditionally used to relieve inflammation in the nostrils. Shea butter is given externally and internally to horses to treat inflammation and bile.
Shea butter is used as a waterproofing agent and as a coating for earthen walls, doors and windows. The black sticky residue left after oil extraction is used to fill cracks in walls and is also used as a waterproofing material.
Wastewater from shea butter production has insecticidal properties and has been blended with eastern bean seeds stored in Burkina Faso to protect it from being eaten by the weevil Callosobruchus maculatus. Press cakes contain anti-nutritional compounds, making them unsuitable for livestock feed. However, detoxified meals can be fed in small proportions. In Europe, cakes are used as non-nutritious bulks of compound cakes. Press cakes and shells are also potential fertilizers and fuels.
Flowers and fruits are important foods. Flowers are sometimes made by frying. Despite having some laxative properties, mature fresh fruits are commonly eaten in savannah areas as they ripen during the land preparation and planting season. The sweet pulp of fallen ripe fruit can also be fed to livestock.
The leaves are used to treat stomach pain. They are also added to steam baths to treat headaches and for eye baths. The leaves soaked in water make a good lather for washing. The root and bark are used to treat diarrhea, jaundice and stomach pain. The root is used in equine veterinary medicine.
Bark infusion has medicinal and antibacterial properties. About dysentery. They are used as eye drops to combat the venom of spitting cobras. Bark decoction has been used in baths to promote childbirth and among nursing mothers.
Red latex (gutta shea or red kano rubber) from deep cuts in the bark is made into children’s game glue, chewing gum and balls. Musicians use it to repair drums.
Only unproductive and unhealthy trees are cut for timber. Wood is used for columns, house posts, rafters, flooring, household items and furniture. It is a good firewood for firewood, generates a lot of heat and turns into charcoal.
The shea butter tree is an important source of honey. Beehives placed on branches are well supplied with honey and pollen. The widely-collected edible and protein-rich Cirina butyrospermi caterpillar eats only leaves.
The tree is considered sacred by many tribes. Oil is used for anointing in rituals. In some areas, leaves are hung on doorways or used to make masks to protect newborns.
production and international trade
Vitellaria paradoxa is one of the most important sources of vegetable oil in rural areas of the savannah region of West Africa. Most of the seeds produced are for domestic consumption and local trade. Nigeria is a major seed producer. 355,000 tonnes in 1999, accounting for 58% of Africa’s production, but a decrease of 10,000 tonnes compared to 1996. Mali and Burkina Faso are other major producers. At the end of the 1990s, they produced 85,000 tonnes/year and 70,000 tonnes/year respectively, followed by Ghana (55,000 tonnes), Côte d’Ivoire (20,000 tonnes), Benin (15,000 tonnes) and Togo (6500 tonnes). Up-to-date statistics on seed production are not available in most countries. According to a report on Burkina Faso, production in 2005 increased markedly to 222,000 tonnes. A similar trend will be seen in other West African countries.
In 1998, Africa exported 56,000 tonnes of seeds, of which 60% were imported from Ghana. Benin’s exports decreased from 15,000 tonnes in 1995 to 5,600 tonnes in 1998, and Togo slightly decreased from 6,500 tonnes in 1994 to 5,100 tonnes in 1998, but Burkina Faso’s exports increased from 5000 tonnes in 1994 to 76004.