Jojoba plants are shrubs that are mostly grown commercially for their wax ester. This substance, also called jojoba oil, is a type of rare oil that can be squeezed from the seeds. The plant is native to deserts in the southwest U.S. and in Mexico. Goat nut, wild hazel, and gray box bush are other names for this the plant. The oil is used in cosmetics and biodegradable lubricants. It is also a food source for many animals native to the desert.
In arid regions food can be scarce. Jojoba plants provide a year-round food supply for the animals living in these areas. Deer, bighorn sheep, and other livestock often feast on the leaves and flowers, while rabbits and squirrels eat the acorn-shaped nuts. The oil inside the mature nuts is hard for most animals to digest and can be toxic to some if eaten in large quantities. For this reason, animals typically avoid the ripe nuts.
While the seeds are not poisonous to humans, the oil can act as a laxative, making the idea of ingesting the seed unappetizing. In its history, it is said that even local tribes known for eating anything that was safe to eat would avoid consuming jojoba plants. These peoples would only eat it out of dire necessity, and even then in very small quantities.
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In commercial use, jojoba plants are grown for their oil. Once it is extracted from the seeds and refined, it becomes clear and odorless and can be included in a variety of products. Jojoba oil also has a long shelf-life. Many companies like to include it in cosmetics as an extra moisturizer. The plant’s oil can also be found in cold creams, perfumes, and lotions.
In addition to oil's use for cosmetic purposes, the industrial sector has many uses for it. The oil from jojoba plants can be refined and used as biodiesel fuel, and in lubricants, esters, and alcohols. It can also be used as an active ingredient in fungicides used to protect crops.
While native to North America, the benefits of jojoba oil have caused many countries, including Australia and the Middle East, to cultivate jojoba plants in their arid regions. The dry climate in some of these countries can make it difficult to grow other crops, but can be the perfect environment to grow jojoba plants. Jojoba oil has become a substitute for whale sperm in many products as whale sperm has become increasingly difficult to obtain. The high demand for the oil can make it a profitable crop for many countries.