Herbs & Plants

Oil palm

Botanical Name :Elaeis guineensis
Family: Arecaceae – Palm family
Genus :Elaeis Jacq. – oil palm
Species: Elaeis guineensis Jacq. – African oil palm
Kingdom :Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom :Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Class Liliopsida – Monocotyledons
Subclass : Arecidae
Order : Arecales
Common Name Oil Palm . The generic name is derived from the Greek for oil, elaion, while the species name refers to its country of origin.

:Center of origin of the oil palm is in the tropical rain forest region of West Africa in a region about 200-300 km wide along coastal belt from Liberia to Angola. The palm has spread from 16°N latitude in Senegal to 15°S in Angola and eastwards to the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar and Malagasy. Now introduced and cultivated throughout the tropics between 16°N and S latitudes. Sometimes grown as an ornamental, as in southern Florida.

Mature trees are single-stemmed, and grow to 20 m tall. The leaves are pinnate, and reach between 3-5 m long. A young tree produces about 30 leaves a year. Established trees over 10 years produce about 20 leaves a year. The flowers are produced in dense clusters; each individual flower is small, with three sepals and three petals.
Tall palm is erect, heavy, trunks ringed; monoecious, male and female flowers in separate clusters, but on same tree; trunk to 20 m tall, usually less, 30 cm in diameter, leaf-bases adhere; petioles 1.3-2.3 m long, 12.5-20 cm wide, saw-toothed, broadened at base, fibrous, green; blade pinnate, 3.3-5 m long, with 100-150 pairs of leaflets; leaflets 60-120 cm long, 3.5-5 cm broad; central nerve very strong, especially at base, green on both surfaces; flower-stalks from lower leaf-axils, 10-30 cm long and broad; male flowers on short furry branches 10-15 cm long, set close to trunk on short pedicels; female flowers and consequently fruits in large clusters of 200-300, close to trunk on short heavy pedicels, each fruit plum-like, ovoid-oblong to 3.5 cm long and about 2 cm wide, black when ripe, red at base, with thick ivory-white flesh and small cavity in center; nuts encased in a fibrous covering which contains the oil. About 5 female inflorescences are produced per year; each inflorescence weighing about 8 kg, the fruits weighing about 3.5 g each.

In wild areas of West Africa the forest is often cleared to let 75 to 150 palms stand per hectare; this yields about 2.5 MT of bunches per hectare per year. Normally oil palms are propagated by seed. Seed germination and seedling establishment are difficult. Temperature of 35°.C stimulates germination in thin shelled varieties. Thick-walled varieties require higher temperatures. Seedlings are outplanted at about 18 months. In some places, seeds are harvested from the wild, but plantation culture is proving much more rewarding. In a plantation, trees are spaced 9 x 9 m, a 410-ha plantation would have about 50,000 trees, each averaging 5 bunches of fruit, each averaging 1 kg oil to yield a total of 250,000 kg oil for the 410 ha. Vegetative propagation is not feasible as tree has only one growing point. Because oil palm is monoecious, cross-pollination is general and the value of parent plants is determined by the performance of the progeny produced in such crosses. Bunch-yield and oil and kernel content of the bunches are used as criteria for selecting individual palms for breeding. Controlled pollination must be maintained when breeding from selected plants. Seed to be used for propagation should be harvested ripe. Best germination results by placing seeds about 0.6 cm deep in sand flats and covering them with sawdust. Flats kept fully exposed to sun and kept moist. In warm climates, 50% of seed will germinate in 8 weeks; in other areas it may take from 64-146 days. Sometimes the hard shell is ground down, or seeds are soaked in hot water for 2 weeks, or both, before planting. Plants grow slowly at first, being 6-8 years old before the pinnate leaves become normal size. When planting seedlings out in fields or forest, holes are dug, and area about 1 m around them cleared. Young plants should be transplanted at beginning of rainy season. In areas where there is no distinct dry season, as in Malaya, planting out may be done the year round, but is usually done during months with the highest rainfall. Seedlings or young plants, 12-18 months old, should be moved with a substantial ball of earth. Ammonium sulfate and sulfate or muriate of potash at rate of 227 g per palm should be applied in a ring about the plant at time of planting. Where magnesium may be deficient in the soil, 227 g Epsom salts or kieserite should be applied also. In many areas oil palms are intercropped with food plants, as maize, yams, bananas, cassava or cocoyams. In Africa, intercropping for up to 3 years has helped to produce early palm yields. Cover-crops are often planted, as mixtures of Calopogonium mucunoides, Centrosema pubescens and Pueraria phaseoloides, planted in proportion of 2:2:1 with seed rate of 5.5 kg/ha. Natural covers and planted cover crops can be controlled by slashing. Nitrogen dressings are important in early years. Chlorosis often occurs in nursery beds and in first few years after planting out. Adequate manure should be applied in these early years. When nitrogen fertilizers, as sulfate of ammonium are used, 0.22 kg per palm in the planting year and 0.45 kg per palm per year until age 4, should be sufficient. Potassium, magnesium, and trace element requirements should be determined by soil test and the proper fertilizer applied, according to the region, soil type and degree of deficiency.

First fruit bunches ripen in 3-4 years after planting in the field, but these may be small and of poor quality. Often these are eliminated by removal of the early female inflorescences. Bunches ripen 5-6 months after pollination. Bunches should be harvested at correct degree of ripeness, as under-ripe fruits have low oil concentration and over-ripe fruits have high fatty acid content. Harvesting is usually done once a week. In Africa, bunches of semi-wild trees are harvested with a cutlass, and tall palms are climbed by means of ladders and ropes. For the first few years of harvesting, bunches are cut with a steel chisel with a wooden handle about 90 cm long, allowing the peduncles to be cut without injuring the subtending leaf. Usually thereafter, an axe is used, or a curved knife attached to a bamboo pole. A man can harvest 100-150 bunches per day. Bunches are carried to transport centers and from there to the mill for oil extraction.

Chemical Constituents:
As oil is rich in carotene, it can be used in place of cod liver oil for correcting Vitamin A deficiency. Per 100 g, the fruit is reported to contain 540 calories, 26.2 g H2O, 1.9 g protein, 58.4 g fat, 12.5 g total carbohydrate, 3.2 g fiber, 1.0 g ash, 82 mg Ca, 47 mg P, 4.5 mg Fe, 42,420 ug ß-carotene equivalent, 0.20 mg thiamin, 0.10 mg riboflavin, 1.4 mg niacin, and 12 mg ascorbic acid. The oil contains, per 100 g, 878 calories, 0.5% H2O, 0.0% protein, 99.1% fat, 0.4 g total carbohydrate, 7 mg Ca, 8 mg P, 5.5 mg Fe, 27,280 ug ß-carotene equivalent, 0.03 mg riboflavin, and a trace of thiamine. The fatty composition of the oil is 0.5-5.9% myristic, 32.3-47.0 palmitic, 1.0-8.5 stearic, 39.8-52.4 oleic, and 2.0-11.3 linoleic. The component glycerides are oleodipalmitins (45%), palmitodioleins (30%), oleopalmatostearins (10%), linoleodioleins (6-8%), and fully saturated glycerides, tripalmatin and diapalmitostearin (6-8%).

Edible Uses:
Two kinds of oil are obtained from this palm, Palm Oil and Palm Kernel Oil. Palm oil is extracted from the fleshy mesocarp of the fruit which contains 45-55% oil which varies from light yellow to orange-red in color, and melts from 25° to 50°C. For edible fat manufacture, the oil is bleached. Palm oil contains saturated palmitic acid, oleic acid and linoleic acid, giving it a higher unsaturated acid content than palm kernel or coconut oils. Palm oil is used for manufacture of soaps and candles, and more recently, in manufacture of margarine and cooking fats. Palm oil used extensively in tin plate industry, protecting cleaned iron surfaces before the tin is applied. Oil also used as lubricant, in textile and rubber industries. Palm kernel oil is extracted from the kernel of endosperm, and contains about 50% oil. Similar to coconut oil, with high content of saturated acids, mainly lauric, it is solid at normal temperatures in temperate areas, and is nearly colorless, varying from white to slightly yellow. This non-drying oil is used in edible fats, in making ice cream and mayonnaise, in baked goods and confectioneries, and in the manufacture of soaps and detergents. Press cake, after extraction of oil from the kernels, used as livestock feed, containing 5-8% oil. Palm wine made from the sap obtained by tapping the male inflorescence. The sap contains about 4.3 g/100 ml of sucrose and 3.4 g/100 ml of glucose. The sap ferments quickly, and is an important source of Vitamin B complex in diet of people of West Africa. A mean annual yield per hectare of 150 palms of 4,000 liters is obtained, and is double in value to the oil and kernels from same number of palms. Central shoot or cabbage is edible.

Medicinal Uses:
Folk Medicine
According to Hartwell (1967-1971), the oil is used as a liniment for indolent tumors. Reported to be anodyne, antidotal, aphrodisiac, diuretic, and vulnerary, oil palm is a folk remedy for cancer, headaches, and rheumatism (Duke and Wain, 1981).

Other Uses:
Leaves used for thatching; petioles and rachices for fencing and for protecting the tops of retid walls. Refuse after stripping the bunches used for mulching and manuring; ash sometimes used in soap-making.

Palm biomass as fuel:
Some scientists and companies are going beyond using just the oil, and are proposing to convert fronds, empty fruit bunches and palm kernel shells harvested from oil palm plantations into renewable electricity, cellulosic ethanol, biogas, biohydrogen and bioplastic. Thus, by using both the biomass from the plantation as well as the processing residues from palm oil production (fibers, kernel shells, palm oil mill effluent), bioenergy from palm plantations can have an effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Examples of these production techniques have been registered as projects under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism….CLICK & SEE THE PICTURES

By using palm biomass to generate renewable energy, fuels and biodegradable products, both the energy balance and the greenhouse gas emissions balance for palm biodiesel is improved. For every tonne of palm oil produced from fresh fruit bunches, a farmer harvests around 6 tonnes of waste palm fronds, 1 tonne of palm trunks, 5 tonnes of empty fruit bunches, 1 tonne of press fiber (from the mesocarp of the fruit), half a tonne of palm kernel endocarp, 250 kg of palm kernel press cake, and 100 tonnes of palm oil mill effluent. Oil palm plantations incinerate biomass to generate power for palm oil mills. Oil palm plantations yield large amount of biomass that can be recycled into medium density fibreboards and light furniture. In efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientists treat palm oil mill effluent to extract biogas. After purification, biogas can substitute for natural gas for use at factories. Anaerobic treatment of palm oil mill effluent, practiced in Malaysia and Indonesia, results in domination of Methanosaeta concilii. It plays an important role in methane production from acetate and the optimum condition for its growth should be considered to harvest biogas as renewable fuel.

Unfortunately, palm oil has detrimental effects on the environment and is not considered to be a sustainable biofuel. The deforestation occurring throughout Malaysia and Indonesia as a result of the growing demand for this plant has made scarce natural habitats for Orangutan and other rainforest dwellers. More carbon is released during the life cycle of a palm oil plant to its use as a biofuel than is emitted by the same volume of fossil fuels

Malayan folkculture:
Since the days when the ‘guineesis’ was first introduced by the British, Indian laborers were brought in to work the estates. It was there that Hindu beliefs mixed with the local Malay culture and started the usage of palm seeds by traditional healers suffixed with tok ‘bomoh’ or ‘pawang’ in the local language. It was found that every bunch of palm fruit usually bears a single ‘illustrious’ seed which looks like a shiny black pearl called ‘sbatmi’ in Tamil and ‘shakti’ in Malay. These are used as accessories by the ‘bomoh’ and ‘pawang’ in the mixed ritual for peace with nature as these are believed to contain mystical healing properties, and those wearing it are blessed by nature.

Modern usage has seen more common people keeping these as a charm/fashion item to feel at peace, owing to its use by celebrities. It must be noted that all palm seeds contain acid and these sbatmi are no different and should be handled with care. Sbatmi lost some popularity when it was used in a grisly ritual by Mona Fandey in 1993.

The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider


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