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Karité: The West African Wonder Balm

With one single pot of Karité (or Shea Butter as it’s more commonly known) you would be well equipped to deal with most of your skin and haircare needs, and many of your medicinal ones too. This multi-purpose wonder balm, a staple in most West African homes, is truly a superfood for the skin.

Karitè nuts, photo by Andrea Moroni
Karitè nuts, photo by Andrea Moroni

Karité is an edible oil that comes from the nut of the Karité tree, a species indigenous to West and Central Africa. As it’s extracted by hand, the oil retains all of its amazing natural properties such as vitamins A and E and essential fatty acids, which are the key to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and healing powers.

When raw and unprocessed, it’s thick and golden, with a wonderfully sweet, minty smell. It’s sold at markets all over West Africa in huge slabs, of which smaller pieces are sliced off. Though solid, like a bar of soap, it melts easily when rubbed into warm hands for a few seconds.

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Karitè at the Malian market in Dakar
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The Karitè I purchased was being kept wrapped in a tree root to preserve its freshness

Women in the region have known about its beautifying and anti-aging properties for thousands of years; it provides deep moisture for dry skin and hair.

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Karitè is an excellent moisturiser for dry and curly hair
Karitè is an excellent moisturiser for dry and curly hair

Because it’s anti-inflammatory, it helps soothe a host of skin conditions such as acne, scars, stretch marks, psoriasis and eczema. And as its 100% natural, it’s suitable for even the most sensitive of skins, as evidenced by its widespread use for baby massage, and protecting against nappy rash.

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I use Karitè as a lip balm and on the delicate neck and chest area as it has low levels of naturally occurring UV to help protect against the sun

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Karité also has medicinal properties; it soothes muscle pains and works wonders when rubbed into an aching lower back. It can help ease cold symptoms when rubbed into the chest, and sinus congestion in the nose. Mildly antiseptic, you can even use it as an ointment for minor cuts, burns and insect bites.

Karité is, quite simply, a miracle product. I’m not sure how I ever managed without it!

You can find Karité at markets across West Africa. US based company 24KariteGold produce high quality 100% raw and wild crafted Shea butter, made for them by a women’s cooperative in Ghana. By purchasing this product you actively support a sustainable economy for the women employed at the cooperative and their families.

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Marvellous Market Finds

Dakar has a thriving market scene; you can find arts and crafts, antiques, textiles, food and much more from all over Africa. It’s particularly well known as a mecca for textiles, with a huge variety to choose from.

There are markets that specialise (such as HLM for fabrics, Soumbedioune for crafts, Cour des Orfèvres for jewellery) and markets that sell everything (Sandaga, Colobane). Year round markets, and seasonal markets such as the DWG Christmas Fair and La Braderie at Place du Souvenir.

Recently we have had two very welcome additions on the market scene, Lou Bess?  a monthly farmers market, and Keur Marie Ganaar in Mermoz. Look out for more on both in a future post.

This year as a Christmas present, I thought I’d put together a ‘goodie bag’ of some of my recent finds.

Wax print bags from the DWG Christmas fair
Wax print bags from the DWG Christmas fair

Here’s what’s inside:

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Wax print earrings from the craft market at Marche Kermel
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Handmade soaps from Senegalese natural cosmetics company Chouette Mama (in karité, Bissap and Argile flavours). You can find their stock at Layu.

My best find were these small leather coin purses from one of the stalls by the Monument de la Renaissance. (Cheikh’s stall to be precise, in the middle with the orange tarpaulin over it).

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And not exactly a market find, but I thought this tropical jam gift set from local company Zena were great.

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The flavours are unusual (Baobab, Tamarind, Cashew etc.) and the jams are sample sized, so your lucky recipient gets to try all the flavours. They also do a range of chillies and savoury sauces, and are available in most supermarkets in Dakar.

The completed 'goodie' bag
The completed ‘goodie’ bag

Other ideas of what you could include: wax fabric, peanuts/cashew nuts, and dried Bissap flowers for making tea.

What would be your must haves for a Dakar Christmas goodie bag?

Lou Bess? takes place this Saturday  5th December from 9-15h along the Corniche des Almadies. La Braderie is on Saturday and Sunday  5th and 6th  December from 10-19h at Place du Souvenir.

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