The providential tree
The Tamanu is a plant indigenous to the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia region. It is known as « Calophyllum inophyllum » for scientists. For a long time, it was wrongly considered as a plant native to French Polynesia. Nowadays, the Tamanu can be found in all our archipelagos. This tropical tree measures up to 65ft. It has a massive trunk, knotted branches, a brown-black tree bark and red wood. All year round, the Tamanu tree provides spherical fruit (4cm in diameter). The fruit is a small seed covered with a thin hull and edible pulp.
Before the Christianization of the Polynesian people, the Tamanu was considered as a “sacred” tree. Thus, it was planted near the royal Marae (open temple). The story tells that the Polynesian Gods attended to the human sacred ceremonies (offering, sacrifice…) comfortably installed in the shadow of the trees. The trees offered a place of tranquility away from prying eyes to the divinity.
The Tamanu tree has always been useful to the Polynesian people. All parts of the plant have a useful purpose. The wood is used to build houses and canoe outriggers. It is also used to make handcrafted objects as the famous Tiki (statue) or the Umete (traditional vase). After maceration, the leaves are used as an ophthalmic sedative. The leaves are also used to perfume the “Mono’i de Tahiti” oil.
The most interesting part of the plant is the fruit. Indeed, the Tamanu fruit is used to produce a ‘miraculous’ oil called the « Tamanu oil ». This oil preparation follows different steps. First, the ripe fruits are lightly crushed to extract the seed. Then, the seeds are spread in thin layers on a drying area exposed to direct sunlight. During the drying step, the seeds have to be protected from any source of humidity. This period of slow drying allows the fruit to retain its oil content. After two months, the seeds are ready for extraction. We need approximately 220lbs of fruits to produce 40lb of oil.
Once extracted, the yellow-green oil is a “miraculous” product. It possesses numerous analgesic and healing properties. In Tahiti, it is used against allergies or skin diseases (burn, acne, herpes, stretch mark…). All these benefits have been demonstrated in studies of researchers (Chevalier in 1951, Lederer in 1953…) and the Tamanu oil is now considered as a natural remedy.
The Tamanu tree really appears like a providential plant for Polynesian people. Thus, during your next stay in Tahiti, buy your own small bottle of Tamanu oil and be the judge of these breathtaking benefits.