The tamanu tree is indigenous to tropical countries, especially the Polynesian Islands. It grows up to 30 meters in height.
The scientific name of the Tamanu plant is Calophyllum inophyllum which means “beautiful leaf,” from the Greek ‘kalos’ meaning “beautiful” and ‘phullon’ meaning “leaf.” The tree trunk is typically thick with dark, cracked bark. The tamanu branches are covered with beautiful, shiny, dark green oval leaves. The tamanu tree blooms twice annually with fragrant, white flowers, which later yield clusters of yellow-skinned spherical fruit. The fruit’s pulp tastes similar to an apple, within which a large nut is embedded. The nut contains an odorless pale kernel, called punnai in some Pacific areas. When the fruits of the tree are collected and cracked open, the blond nut kernel inside contains no apparent oil. But when the kernel dries on a rack for a month or so, it turns a deep, chocolate brown, and becomes sticky with a rich, pleasant-smelling oil. Using a simple screw press, the oil is squeezed from the dark kernels. The resulting oil of tamanu is dark green and luxurious.
It takes 100 kilograms of tamanu fruit, the amount that one tree produces annually, to yield just 5 kilograms of cold pressed oil! Because of this reason, the Tamanu oil is very sacred and very limited.
Natives believed the tamanu tree was a sacred gift of nature and that gods hid in its branches.
In Pacific island folk medicine, tamanu oil is applied topically to help with cuts, scrapes, burns, insect bites and stings, abrasions, acne and acne scars, psoriasis, diabetic sores, sunburn, dry or scaly skin, blisters, and eczema.
Polynesian women believe that tamanu promotes healthy, clear skin and they use it on babies to prevent diaper rash and skin irritations.
Tamanu oil contains a high level of beneficial fatty acids, including about one-third oleic acid, one-third linoleic acid and about 10% stearic and palmitic acid. The remainder is made up of benzoic acid, terpenes, lipids, saturated fats, and antioxidants. The oil contains also unique fatty acid called Calophyllic acid, a natural antibiotic called Lactone, and a natural non-steroid anti-inflammatory called Calophyllolide.
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