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In our household avocado, both the fresh pears and the rich green oil, rules supreme – whether eaten with a spoon and some Herbamare salt, straight from the skin, or included in luscious, unctuous salads, or mashed with soy sauce and spread on hot toast, or in a spicy guacamole, or simply smeared all over my face!
I can remember my husband David (my boyfriend at the time) giving me some very strange looks when we first met 35 years ago, as I was often tinged pale green. When making salads the inside of the avocado skin became my instant face pack, or I used the whole fruit in a glorious green hair conditioning concoction. He obviously got used to this strange green-girl sight, because we’ve been married for over 30 years and he still loves avos (and me), and I’m still an avid natural oils advocate, for internal (kitchen cuisine) and external (kitchen cosmetics) pleasures. What’s in a name? Avocado pear, known as ‘alligator pear’ in some parts of the world (because of the knobbly skin of some varieties), has the Latin names of Persea americana or Persea gratissima. I think the species name ‘gratissima’, which means ‘most pleasing’ is a far more accurate description for this yummy fruit than its rather scary reptilian epithet. The word ‘avocado’ originally seems to have derived from the Aztec word ‘ahuácatl’, which means ‘scrotum’, since they considered this shapely delicacy a fertility fruit. The flesh and the oil Avocado belongs to the laurel or Lauraceae botanical family – the same fragrant family as bay laurel, camphor, cinnamon, cassia, may chang, rosewood and ravensara. The ripe, fresh fruit pulp is usually yellow or pale greenish in colour, depending on the variety, with a relatively non-specific aroma and a delicious buttery texture and fresh, creamy flavour. Cold-pressed, unrefined avocado oil is a verdant deep green, with a slightly earthy aroma, while refined oil is usually pale yellow or colourless, and odourless. Like olive oil, unrefined avocado can solidify somewhat when refrigerated, but it readily returns to its liquid state at room temperature. It is quite common for the oil to be slightly cloudy in cold conditions, and there may even be a deposit present; this can be considered a good sign, as it indicates that the oil has not been through an extensive refining process. Texture-wise, avocado oil is considered very oily. (I know this sounds a bit oxymoronic, but oils have textures!) It is also slightly viscous, for example compared with grapeseed oil. This texture and viscosity is fine for culinary purposes, but not ideal for personal care use, for example when making a massage oil. For the latter purpose it can be combined with other oils, such as grapeseed or almond, at a rate of 10 - 25%, though it can be used on its own for very dry skin conditions, as it is readily absorbed. It makes a deeply enriching body butter, which is great for skin that is very dry or exposed to harsh elements. The oil has a good shelf-life, generally about 12 months, owing to its inherent antioxidant properties. Although cosmetic-grade oil was originally expressed from dried avocado pears, or damaged fruit not good enough to market as fresh produce, these days extra-virgin avocado oil is available, extracted from top-quality fruit and suitable for both the discerning culinary and cosmetic markets. Vitamins, nutrients and other contents Avocados and their oils contain vitamins A, D, E, B1, B2 and pantothenic acid, and the minerals potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulphur, calcium, sodium and copper. They are also rich in lecithin and contain saturated and mono-unsaturated fatty acids and amino acids/protein. Therapeutic uses Internal The avocado is almost a complete food and is easily digested. According to various sources it helps with gastric problems, including constipation, as well as being beneficial for the natural treatment of liver and gallbladder conditions. Being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, avocados are also a healthy food choice for conditions such as Raynaud’s disease. External Where to start? There are myriad external indications, since it is a superb emollient that is moisturising, softening, anti-ageing (it softens wrinkles), and suitable for all skins. It is rich, nourishing and compatible with the skin’s own sebum, helping to prevent stretch marks, since it improves elastin. Avocado oil is especially recommended for dry and dehydrated skins, inflammation and eczematous conditions, and has a higher degree of penetration into the epidermis than many other fixed, or carrier, oils. It can be used instead of wheat germ oil in the case of wheat allergies, due to its antioxidant profile. Recipe Green goodness: avocado oil pesto pasta sauce 100 ml avocado oil ½ cup fresh basil leaves ½ cup fresh rocket 1 cup baby spinach leaves ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese ¼ cup raw almonds, or sunflower seeds, or pine nuts 1 - 2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed Black pepper and salt, to taste Whiz the whole lot together in a blender and stir into piping hot, freshly cooked, pasta. Mmmmmmm! Folk-lore and traditional plant uses According to Leung and Foster,1 avocado pulp has been used as a hair pomade to stimulate hair growth, to hasten suppuration, and as an emmenagogue. There are also anecdotal stories about it being used for treating solar keratosis. In Ayurvedic medicine it is regarded as a warming oil, which increases Pitta, so red-heads may want to use it with circumspection. And to top it all, avocado is purported to encourage the eyelashes to grow. Delicious, compact, and oh so versatile!
DR SANDI NYE, ND.
Tel: 021 531 3545
She is a naturopath with a special interest in aromatic and integrative medicine. She is multi-registered with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA), and represents Naturopathy on the AHPCSA Professional Board for Homeopathy, Naturopathy and Phytotherapy. She serves as editorial board member and/or consultant for various national and international publications. She is in private practice in Pinelands, Cape Town.
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