The Mopane tree or Colophospermum mopane, also known as the butterfly-tree for the shape of its wing-like leaves, plays a central role in southern Africa.
Its wood is used for building houses and for firewood, its bark is used for tanning and for producing rope and its leaves provide welcome feed for browsing animals in the dry season. One of the first trees to feel the soft stirring of spring, it sprouts its protein-rich leaves while the rest of the land remains brown and dry, awaiting the first rains.
The leaves of the Mopane tree, resembling butterfly wings, are among the first to open before the rains.
The leaves of the Mopane are irresistible to the larvae of emperor moths that feast on the green leaves. These ‘Mopane worms’ as they are called, are regarded as a delicacy in Africa. They are dried and sold in local markets, forming an important food source for many cultures.
There also many medicinal uses of this beneficial tree. Among other applications, Mopane products are used in the treatment of sore eyes, stomach cramps and kidney stones, and as a disinfectant for wounds.
A rough covering encases the Mopane seed, which is dotted with tiny globules of golden resin.
Mopane’s many uses have been well-known over time. Recently, however, its gold-speckled seed pods have revealed other benefits. They hold a protein-rich oil containing chemical components that act as a natural insect repellent.
Mopane oil blends well with range of essential oils to create soothing and fragrant mélanges to refresh and revitalise body and soul. Mopane’s name Colophospermum, derived from the Greek words ‘kolophonios’ and ‘sperma’, translate as ‘resin seed’.
There is an abundant supply of the seeds that fall to the ground in an earth-coloured carpet. The dry hard casing protects the oil-speckled seedpods.
An abundance of Mopane seeds carpet the ground after the summer. They are collected by harvesters between June and September.
In 2006 the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) began organising harvesters from various conservancies in north-western Namibia to collect the seedpods. Once collected, the seedpods are taken to the Opuwo Processing Facility where they are steam-distilled to extract the essential oil. The processing facility began to process Mopane seeds in 2011.
Rich and radiant oil
New to the market, Mopane Oil is gaining popularity, with the essential oil already being added to several international beauty products.