Wednesday, 13 April 2011


The Argan tree is to the Souss valley as the great crested newt is to Flintshire. That is to say it is a globally extremely rare species which  is locally so common as to be unable to move without falling over one. At least the argan trees stay put and do not require roaming areas.
Nevertheless the future of the argan tree needs some consideration. It is found only in the Souss valley around Taroudant and north towards Essaouira and nowhere else in the world. It has spiny leaves of rapacious sharpness and deep roots penetrating 30ft or more below ground. This means it is ideally suited to arid conditions and can also act as an "elevator" plant for the whole eco-system drawing water to the surface. With the advent of irrigation  farmers are looking to clear argan trees and replace them with orange groves which are a more reliable cash crop. All undeveloped land for sale in the area is described by the immoblier as "with argan trees".
The flying goats are a vital part of the argan agricultural cycle. The argan tree has berries containing an extremely hard stone. When pressed this stone yields oil which is the valuable commodity of the plant. It can be used on salads or as a dipping oil or increasingly in cosmetics. The oil is extremely difficult to extract and and some point in the mists of history some bright spark discovered that if the goats are allowed to feed on the tree they will eat the berries but excrete the stones seemingly whole. However these excreted stones are just sufficiently digested that when recovered they can be pressed for oil. The mind boggles as to what set of circumstances made anyone first attempt this process.
Nevertheless there are numerous woman's co-operatives  in the area sorting the goat dung and producing argan oil. It is an extremely labour intensive process taking between 8 and 16 woman hours to produce a litre of oil depending which cooperative you believe and needing a large number of trees to do so. It takes over 30 times the number of argan nuts to produce a litre of oil than the number of olives and so argan oil remains a somewhat exotic rarity. Despite all this labour litre bottles sell for only about 90 dirhams (£7) and it can be bought from any co-operative, roadside stalls or the market.
I myself am not fond of argan oil finding it rather too pungent for my taste. There is an argan "museum " off the main square in Taroudant which I have never visited suspecting it to be like the chinese jade and silk museums - a small display attatched to a huge shop, but we are returning next week with sweetheart and chum and maybe chum would like to visit??

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