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Common Names: Brazil nut, castania, castanheiro do para, para-nut, creamnut, castana-
Parts Used: Nut, Seed Oil
From The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs:
| BRAZIL NUT |
| HERBAL PROPERTIES AND ACTIONS |
|fights free radicals
||Nut, Nut oil
The Brazil nut tree is enormous, frequently attaining the height of 40 to 50 m or more, and it can reach ages of 500-800 years old. The tree is called castanheiro do para in Brazil and is found throughout the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. The fruit is a large, round woody capsule or pod, about the size of a large grapefruit and weighing up to 2.2 kg. The fruit pods grow at the ends of thick branches, then ripen and fall from the tree from January to June, usually with a loud crashing sound as they fall 150 feet through the canopy like cannon balls. Inside each fruit pod, wedged in like orange segments, are 12 to 25 Brazil nuts, each within its own individual shell. Mature Brazil nut trees can produce approximately 300 or more of these fruit pods annually.
Today, the monetary value of exporting Brazil nuts from the Amazon (which began in the 1600s with Dutch traders) is second only to that of rubber. The United States alone imports more than 9 metric tons of Brazil nuts annually. Virtually all Brazil nut production comes from wild forest trees and wild-harvesting. The trees grow very slowly, taking as long as 10 to 30 years before producing nuts, and they require a specific species of bee to pollinate the flowers. Both of these factors make the trees unsuitable and unprofitable for plantation cultivation.
The Brazil nut tree is a good example of the intricate ecosystem of the Amazon, where plants and animals are inexplicably intertwined. Not only is the pollination of this tree so specialized, requiring one particular insect species to produce the fruit, but only one species of animal is capable of chewing through the extremely tough fruit pod to disburse the seeds for new tree growth. The agouti, a rather large rat (up to 10 pounds!) with extremely sharp front teeth, is solely responsible for reseeding the forest with Brazil nuts and ensuring the next generation of trees. In the Amazon rainforest, the tree, bee, and agouti are all dependent on one another for survival.
TRIBAL AND HERBAL MEDICINE USES
The Brazil nut is a three-sided nut with white meat or flesh that consists of 70% fat and 17% protein. For centuries the indigenous tribes of the rainforest have relied on Brazil nuts as an important and significant staple in their diet - so important, that the nuts have even been used as a trade commodity, much like money. Indigenous tribes eat the nuts raw or grate them and mix them into gruels. In the Brazilian Amazon, the nuts are grated with the thorny stilt roots of Socratea palms into a white mush known as leite de castanha and then stirred into manioc flour. This food is a valuable source of calories, fat, and protein for much of the Amazon's rural and tribal peoples.
With such a high oil content, fresh Brazil nuts will even burn like miniature candles when lit. The oil is extracted from the nuts and used by indigenous and rural people for cooking oil, lamps, soap, and livestock feed. The empty seed pods, often called "monkey's pots," are used to carry around small smoky fires to discourage attacks of black flies, as cups to collect rubber latex from tapped trees, and as drinking cups. The husks of these seed pods have also been used in Brazilian folk medicine to brew into tea to treat stomachaches, and the tree bark is brewed into tea to treat liver ailments.
Brazil nut oil contains mainly palmitic, oleic, and linoleic and alpha linolenic acids and small amounts of myristic and stearic acids and phytosterols. In addition to protein and fat, Brazil nuts provide the highest natural source of selenium. One single Brazil nut exceeds the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of selenium. The proteins found in Brazil nuts are very high in sulfur-containing amino acids like cysteine (8%) and methionine (18%) and are also extremely rich in glutamine, glutamic acid, and arginine. The presence of these amino acids (chiefly methionine) enhances the absorption of selenium and other minerals in the nut.
In addition to the chemicals discussed above, Brazil nuts contain antimony, cerium, cesium, europium, fatty acids, lanthanum, lutetium, samarium, scandium, selenoprotein, tantalum, tungsten, and ytterbium.
BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES AND CLINICAL RESEARCH
Since the Brazil nut has long been a common food, rather than an herbal remedy, it hasn't been the subject of any clinical research outside of that concerning its selenium content. Anyone using it "therapeutically" employs the nuts for their high content of natural selenium. Selenium is an essential trace mineral in the human body with antioxidant, anticancer, and cancer-preventative properties (especially, it seems, for prostate cancer).
CURRENT PRACTICAL USES
Brazil nuts and its oil are mainly used as a food in the United States. Brazil nut oil is clear yellowish oil with a pleasant, sweet smell and taste. It makes a wonderful light oil for salad dressings: try combining it with raspberry vinegar for tasty vinaigrette. In addition, Brazil nut oil is often used in soaps, shampoos, and hair conditioning/repair products in South America, and this use is beginning to catch on in the United States as well. It is a wonderful hair conditioner, bringing shine, silkiness, and softness to hair and renewing dry, lifeless hair and split ends. Brazil nut oil in skin creams helps lubricate and moisturize the skin, provides antioxidant benefits with its high selenium content, helps prevents dryness, and leaves skin soft, smooth, and hydrated.
| BRAZIL NUT PLANT SUMMARY |
Main Preparation Method: eaten as a food |
Main Actions (in order): nutritive, antioxidant, emollient
Properties/Actions Documented by Research: antioxidant
- as a nutritive
- as an antioxidant (for its selenium content)
- as an emollient (oil is used for the skin and hair)
Other Properties/Actions Documented by Traditional Use:
emollient, wound healer
Cautions: Brazil nuts can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Traditional Preparation: A Brazil nut a day is a great way to get the daily recommended amount of natural selenium.
Contraindications: Brazil nuts, like many other nuts, can cause allergic reactions in some sensitive individuals. If you are allergic to other nuts, like peanuts, you might be allergic to Brazil nuts as well.
Drug Interactions: None.
WORLDWIDE ETHNOMEDICAL USES
||for liver problems, stomachache, and used as a food, emollient, soap, and
||used as a food and insect repellant |
- Vonderheide, I. P., et. al. "Characterization of selenium species in Brazil Nuts by HPLC-ICP-MS and ES-MS." J. Agric. Food Chem. 2002; 50(20): 5722-28.
- Ampe, C., et al. "The amino-acid sequence of the 2S sulfur-rich proteins from seeds of Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa H.B.K.)." Eur. J. Biochem. 1986 Sep 15; 159(3): 597-604.
- Sun, S., et al. "Properties, biosynthesis and processing of a sulfur-rich protein in Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa H.B.K.)." Eur. J. Biochem. 1987 Feb 2; 162(3): 477-83.
- Thorn, J., et al. "Trace nutrients. Selenium in British food." Br. J. Nutr. 1978 Mar; 39(2): 391-6.
- Chang, J. C., et al. "Selenium content of Brazil nuts from two geographic locations in Brazil." Chemosphere. 1995 Feb; 30(4): 801-2.
- Klein, E. A., et al. "The selenium and vitamin e cancer prevention trial." World J. Urol. 2003 May; 21(1): 21-7.
- Ip, C., et al. "Bioactivity of selenium from Brazil nut for cancer prevention and selenoenzyme maintenance." Nutr Cancer. 1994; 21(3): 203-12.
- Ip C, et al. "Characterization of tissue selenium profiles and anticarcinogenic responses in rats fed natural sources of selenium-rich products." Carcinogenesis. 1994 Apr; 15(4): 573-6.
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Last updated 12-17-2012