What it is: A perennial woody shrub; Jojoba (pronounced ho-HO-ba), is grown for the liquid wax (commonly called jojoba oil) in its seeds.

Where it comes from: The shrub is native to the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of Arizona, California, and Mexico. Today, 40,000 acres of jojoba are under cultivation in the southwestern U.S. and many plants are capable of producing more beans with a higher wax content through selective breeding.

Properties: The color and shape of jojoba seeds are reminiscent of coffee beans, however jojoba seeds are far larger, and their sizes and shapes are not uniform. Jojoba wax (called oil) makes up 50% of the seed’s dry weight. The physical properties of jojoba oil are high viscosity, high flash and fire points, high dielectric constant, high stability, and low volatility. The chemical structure of jojoba oil is different from that of other vegetable oils. Rather than being an oil, it is actually a polyunsaturated liquid wax that is similar to sperm whale oil, though without the fishy odor. It is made of fatty acids as well as esters composed entirely of straight chain alcohols. The extracted oil is relatively pure, non-toxic, biodegradable, and resistant to rancidity.

What it’s good for: Native Americans extracted the oil from jojoba seeds to treat sores and wounds centuries ago. Collection and processing of the seeds from naturally occurring stands in the early 1970s marked the beginning of jojoba domestication. In addition, the ban on the importation of sperm white whale products in 1971 led to the discovery that jojoba oil is in many regards superior to sperm whale oil for applications in the cosmetics and other industries. Jojoba oil is a natural mimic of the oil secreted by human skin so it can be used to protect and lubricate skin and hair. It is soothing, combats many skin problems, and protects against premature aging caused by exposure to UV radiation.

Where you’ll find it: It is often used in skin and hair care products as a moisturizer and as a carrier oil for specialty fragrances.

Other uses: It has potential use as both a biodiesel fuel for cars and trucks, as well as a biodegradable lubricant.

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