Whenever I travel somewhere new, I’m always amazed at how many amazing foods I had never even heard of before. This was the case with mongongo (aka manketti) before I went to Namibia. After seeing locals cracking open the strange nuts, I learned all about the benefits of mongongo nuts, especially the oil for hair and skin.
What Is Mongongo?
Mongongo is a huge tree which grows in Southern Africa, particularly in Namibia and Botswana. It produces oval, plum-sized fruits. A single tree can produce around a 1,000 fruits.
The mongongo fruits ripen around March. The fruits have a tough outer skin which isn’t edible. You can peel away the skin to get to a tasty, sweet fruit inside. It kind of tastes like dates.
While locals do eat the fruit, it is the mongongo nut which is particularly prized. The fruits fall off the tree around October and leave behind a nut. Crack it open and you’ve got a really delicious, creamy nut which is somewhat similar to macadamia nuts. You can eat the nut raw or roasted.
Other Names for Mongongo
- Schinziophyton rautanenii (Latin name)
- Wilde okkerneut
Why Mongongo Is Called Elephant Nut
I was lucky enough to have a mongongo nut tree in the yard of the home I was staying in. We picked the mongongo nuts right from the ground and cracked them open (my host was 10x faster than I was at opening the nut shells!).
But another way of harvesting mongongo nuts is to pick them from elephant dung. Yes – elephant poop!
This is because elephants love the sweet mongongo fruit. They can easily reach and pick the fruits with their trunks. They swallow the entire fruit, digest the flesh, and pass out the nut unharmed.
Instead of gathering mongongo nuts from the tree, locals will sometimes just gather them out of piles of elephant poop. Don’t worry – the shells are cleaned before cracking and the inner nut never comes in contact with the elephants!
*It’s worth noting that most fruit seeds can pass through the digestive track of animals. This is an evolutionary trait which allows fruit trees to disperse their seeds.
Nutrients in Mongongo Nuts
Around 50% of mongongo nuts is oil. This makes it ideal for producing oils for skin and hair. The oil has massive amount of healthy fats and nutrients, including:
- Elaeostearic acid
- Oleic acid
- Linoleic acid
- Palmitic acid
- Stearic acid
- Erucic acid
- Vitamin E
These components of mongongo oil are responsible for its benefits for skin and hair.
Hair and Skin Benefits of Mongongo Nut Oil
1. Dry Skin
The obvious benefit of mongongo oil is for moisturizing skin. Many of the locals I met in Namibia moisturized with mongongo oil or used mongongo soaps. Considering that the climate is so hot and dry, they have very nice, not-ashy skin!
The fatty acids in mongongo oil help you fight acne in multipole ways. Foremost, they are natural antibacterial agents. Secondly, they reduce inflammation and redness so your acne heals faster and looks better as it does. Interestingly, mongongo oil can also help unblock clogged pores and is a lot less harsh than using detergent cleansers.
The healthy acids and vitamins in mongongo oil, particularly the vitamin E, linoleic acid, and eleosteraic acid, have anti-inflammatory benefits. In this sense, they will actually help treat your eczema and not just moisture it to reduce itchiness.
4. Revitalizing Hair
Mongongo oil absorbs into hair really nicely. The healthy fats create a barrier in the hair so it stays strong. The oil also helps repair damage to hair.
5. Natural Sunscreen
The elaeostearic acid found in mongongo oil is a natural sunscreen. When UV light comes in contact with it, the oil forms a polymer which protects against the sun. This makes mongongo oil particularly useful for protecting your skin and also hair from getting damaged by UV light.
6. Skin Repair
Mongongo oil is often used to repair damaged skin. If you have wounds or acne marks, it can help them heal faster and prevent scarring.
Why Choose Mongongo Oil Over Other Oils?
There are a dozens of different types of oil for your hair and skin. It is worth choosing mongongo oil over these oils for these main reasons:
- Absorbs better: Especially compared to coconut oil, mongongo oil absorbs better in the skin and doesn’t leave you as oily.
- Great nutrient profile: There are lots of nutrients in mongongo oil. It really outshines many other hair and skin oils, even the ones which cost much more to produce.
- Eco-friendly: Compared to other nut oils, mongongo is eco-friendly to grow and doesn’t require a lot of water.
- Support local communities: Mongongo only grows in parts of Africa. When you buy mongongo oil, you are sending money to the local communities who grew it and not massive corporations.
- Long shelf life: Mongongo oil has a very high amount of vitamin E. This acts as a natural preservative so it won’t go bad as fast as some skin/hair oils do.
How to Use Mongongo Oil
For the Skin:
Wash your hands first. Then put a small amount of mongongo oil on your fingertips and rub it into your skin.
Mix a small amount of oil (about a teaspoon) with a bit of water. Carefully rub it onto clean, wet hair. Let sit for 5 minutes and then rinse.
Hot Water Treatment for Natural Hair
You can use mongongo oil for moisturizing natural hair. To use the hot oil method:
- Put the mongongo oil in an applicator bottle.
- Boil a cup of water and put the applicator bottle into the cup to heat the oil.
- Divide your hair into sections.
- Starting at the ends of your hair and working towards the roots, rub the mongongo oil into your hair and scalp.
- When you finish a section, put it in twists.
- After completing, put a cap over your head and leave the oil on overnight.
- Wash or rinse your hair the next morning.
Best Brands of Mongongo Oil
Pure cold-pressed mongongo oil. Available in larger sizes. This is one of the best values you’ll find. Buy it here
Pure cold-pressed mongongo oil. It comes in a spray bottle and is very popular, but also one of the pricier options. Buy it here
This conditioner is meant for natural hair and contains mongongo oil as well as shea, coconut, avocado, grape seed, and other oils. Buy it here
*Miella also makes a lot of other mongongo products for natural hair. You can see them here.
This is a nice sulfate-free shampoo which uses apple cider vinegar to clean your hair and oils to keep it moisturized. Buy it here
This pre-shampoo for natural hair is wildly popular. It’s a bit pricy but is a great product if your hair is prone to breaking. Buy it here