WALA Plant Library
Synonyms: wax palm, carnauba palm, Brazilian Tree of Life, caranda palm, caranday palm
Scientific Name: Copernicia prunifera (Mill.) H.E. Moore
Family: Arecaceae (palm family)
Carnauba wax consists primarily of saturated higher fatty acids: myricyl cerotate, carnaubic acid and cerotic acid
The carnauba is a fan palm native to Brazil with a straight, cylindrical trunk that can grow up to 15 metres high. A crown of fan-shaped fronds which may reach two metres in length radiates from the tip of its trunk. Gradually the lower leaves wither and drop, leaving behind a spiral of scars on the trunk. The young leaves in particular are covered on their upper and lower surfaces with numerous wax flakes. The leaf secretes these flakes to protect itself against dehydration. Carnauba flowers produce elongated yellowish berries each containing oneseed.
Carnauba wax is a very hard, pale yellow to green wax and has the highest melting point of all the natural waxes (80-88 °C). When mixed with a soft wax it raises the melting point of the softer wax. It is added to ointments, creams and lipsticks to improve their consistency and lend a gloss and is used in pharmacy as a tablet-coating agent. It is also used in the manufacture of vinyl records, in paper finishing and in the manufacture of candles and polishes. This indigestible wax is free from all fragrances and is completely eliminated after ingestion. This makes it suitable for use as a separating agent in foodstuffs such as jelly beans or chocolates with a hard shell, and as a protective coating for apples and citrus fruits (reference number E 903). Fruits with a carnauba coating are labelled 'waxed'.
The carnauba palm was given the scientific name Copernicia in honour of the famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543). The epithet prunifera is made up of the Latin prunum = plum and -fer = bearing, and describes the fruits of the palm. In its native Brazil the carnauba palm is also called carnaúbeira. About 300 years ago in the North East of Brazil Spanish Jesuits learned the diverse uses of the carnauba palm from the indigenous Tremembé Indians, who knew the palm as the Tree of Wisdom. Preparations from its roots combat inflammation. The cherry-sized fruits make good animal feed and, when boiled and ground, can be used as a kind of coffee substitute. The shoots make a tasty soup, the pith provides a starchy flour and palm syrup can be made from the sap - this in turn can be made into a kind of wine or vinegar. The hard wood makes a durable building material and high-quality veneer, the leaf fibres can be made into ropes, mats and hats and the fronds into roof coverings and hammocks. The wax is the only produce of the palm that has achieved economic significance. To obtain the wax the young, cut fronds of the carnauba palm are dried. During the drying process the leaf shrinks and the wax flakes can then be threshed or scraped from the leaves. The yield is relatively small, however. One leaf produces two grams of wax. Each tree yields 160 grams of wax per year. The first load of wax was shipped to Europe in 1824 on the initiative of the Englishman James
Frederick Clark. Until the outbreak of the Second World War the export of carnauba wax to Europe played an important economic role in many areas of Brazil. Then synthetic substitutes ousted carnauba wax from the market and this export sector collapsed.
Use in Skin Care and Remedies
Carnauba wax protects the skin against external influences. It contributes to the heat stability of the Dr.Hauschka Lip Care stick, Rose Day Cream and all lipsticks, increasing their breaking strength and providing the desired shine.