Scientific Name(s): Argania spinosa (L.) Skeels. Family: Sapotaceae syn. Argania sideroxylon Roem. & Schult.

Common Name(s): Argan , Morroccan ironwood , arganier (French); argane , ardjane (Berber) 1


The oil is used internally and externally and has been used for skin and cardiovascular diseases and hypertension, as well as for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and cholesterol-lowering effects. The seed kernel produces argan oil; the seed is roasted before the oil is expressed in order to eliminate saponins. While the nut is very bitter, the purified oil is as sweet as walnut oil and has been used in food and as a flavoring. The oil is also used for making hard yellowish soap. 1 No clinical trials are available to confirm traditional uses.


Food - The mean daily intake of argan oil is 15 g. 2 Hyperlipidemia - 1 mL per 100 g weight by gastric intubations. 3 Anti-inflammatory - 50 to 100 mg/kg. 3 Hypertension - 10 mL/kg. 4


Contraindications have not been identified.


Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

None known.


None well documented.


The Argan tree is thorny and approximately 8 to 10 m tall with a gnarled, black trunk. The dark green leaves are alternate, 2 to 4 cm long, simple, lanceolate, and spatulate at times, with a rounded apex. Spines occur at leaf axils. Inflorescences are in clusters in spring. The greenish yellow flowers are very small and bell-shaped with 5 petals, 5 sepals, pubescent, connate, 5 stamens, 5 staminols, and 1 style. The argan fruit is an oblong greenish golden drupe 2 to 4 cm long and 1.5 to 3 cm wide with a sweet-smelling, foul-tasting, pulpy pericarp. Inside the fruit is a very hard nut containing 3 almond-like, oil-rich kernels. The fruit ripens over the year, and by the following summer is black and dry and falls from the tree. 1

Argan tree fruits are round, ovoid, or conical. Inside the fruit is a milky pulp covered by a thick peel and a hard-shelled seed (argan nut) that is approximately one-fourth of the fresh fruit weight. Argan nuts contain up to 3 oil-rich, white kernels containing 30% to 55% argan oil yield, depending on the extraction method. 5


Argania spiniosa can live up to 200 years and requires little care or cultivation, surviving in poor, arid soils. There are 20 million trees growing in over 320,000 square miles in southwestern Morocco, Libya, Israel, and Spain. The argan tree is a very important economic product in these countries, which provides 25% of lipids for the local diet and is an ingredient in cosmetics. 5

The Acacia-Argania ecoregion of Africa is mainly a maritime, subtropical area of west-facing valleys that extends to 800 m in elevation in southwestern Morocco, the Canary Islands, and the northwest tip of the Sahara. Soils are poor, and rainfall ranges from 51 to 100 cm per year. Temperatures remain mild if growing near maritime influence, but can vary more if located farther inland. 5 , 6


The fat composition of the argan seed kernel oil is 45% monounsaturated fatty acid, 35% polyunsaturated fatty acid, and 20% saturated fatty acids. The ratio of alpha linolenic/linoleic acid is 0.003. The ratio of oleic/linoleic acid is 1.25. Other minor compounds are phenolic compounds (3.3 mg/kg), plant sterols (295 mg per 100 g), and tocopherols (637 mg/kg), and these compounds have antioxidant effects. 2 , 7

Two new oleanene saponins were isolated from the methyl alcohol extract of the shell of A. spinosa . They possess protobassic acid and 16-alpha-protobassic acid as aglycones. The disaccharide moiety linked to C-3 of the aglycon is made up of 2 glucose units; the pentasaccharide moiety linked to C-28 is made up of arabinose, xylose, and 3 rhamnose units.

Fatty acid composition of argan oil triglycerides includes myristic 0% to 0.2%; pentadecanoic 0% to 0.1%; palmitic 11.7% to 14.3%; palmitoleic 0% to 0.2%; heptadecanoic 0% to 0.1%; stearic 5% to 5.9%; oleic 45.2% to 48.1%; linoleic 31.5% to 34.9%; linolenic 0% to 0.6%; nonadecenoic 0% to 0.1%; arachidic 0% to 0.4%; gadoleic 0% to 0.5%; and behenic 0% to 0.1%. 5

The unsaponifiable-matter composition was reported in 1984. It contains the following: carotenes (37%), tocopherols (8%), triterpene alcohols (20%), sterols (20%), and xantophylls (5%). The 3 major triterpene alcohols are butyrospermol (18.1%), tirucallol (27.9%), and beta-amyrine (27.3%); the 4 minor are lupeol (7.1%), 24-methylene cycloartanol (4.5%), citrostadienol (3.9%), and cycloeucalenol (less than 5%). 5

Argan oil is approximately 2 times richer in tocopherol than olive oil (620 mg/kg vs 320 mg/kg). The main tocopherol is by far alpha-tocopherol (69%), while beta- and gamma-tocopherol are found in roughly equal proportions (16% and 13%, respectively); delta-tocopherol is a minor component (2%). Beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol, known antioxidative agents, are probably responsible for the good storage properties. Argan oil is less sensitive to oxidation and rancidity than olive oil. This stability has been attributed to the presence of tocopherols (620 mg/kg) and polyphenols, such as caffeic acid and oleuropeine. 5


Four sterols have been found in argan oil. The major sterols are spinasterol and schottenol (44% and 48%, respectively), with 2 minor sterols (stigmasta-8,22-dien-3b-ol [22- E , 24-S] and stigmasta-7,24-28-dien-3b-ol [24-Z]) both isolated in 4% yield. There are no D-5 sterols, which are most common in vegetable oil. 5 , 8

The kernel produces argan oil; the seed is roasted before the oil is expressed in order to eliminate saponins. Then the nut is ground and mixed with tepid water. The oil floats and is separated by precipitation. At this stage, it is brownish and has an acrid, unpleasant taste. When left to rest, residues deposit and the color lightens, but the oil keeps a very strong flavor. It is sometimes consumed in that form or purified through emulsion with water or by adding some bread. While the nut is very bitter, the purified oil is as sweet as walnut oil. The oil content rarely drops below 66% in healthy seeds. The oil is also used for making a hard, yellowish soap. 1

Uses and Pharmacology

Cardiovascular disease

Evidence from observational and experimental studies, as well as interventional trials, suggests that consumption of argan oil may reduce cardiovascular risk by a variety of biological mechanisms, including effects on blood pressure, plasma lipid profile, and antioxidant status. However, only a few studies have specifically investigated the benefit of dietary intake of argan oil on cardiovascular disease. More investigations are needed to elucidate the beneficial effects toward cardiovascular disease, as well as its anticancer properties. 7

Anti-inflammatory effects and analgesic activity

Anti-inflammatory effects and analgesic activity have been demonstrated. Rat paw edema, induced by carrageenin and experimental trauma, was reduced by administration of crude argan saponin at a dose of 10 mg/kg orally. At doses of approximately 50 to 100 mg/kg orally, anti-inflammatory activity of crude argan saponin was similar to that found with indomethacin treatment.

Both peripheral and central analgesic effects have been studied. For the crude saponins, peripheral analgesic activity was obtained at doses between 50 and 500 mg/kg per oral administration, with maximal effectiveness at 500 mg/kg. No central analgesic activity was observed. 5


Long-term treatment with argan oil prevented the development of hypertension in an animal model, substantially modifying mean blood pressure from the fifth week of treatment without altering heart rate and body weight in 4-week-old spontaneously hypertensive male rats (n = 12) compared with normotensive Wistar-Kyoto rats (n = 12). 4

Dermatological effects

Argan oil and preparations including argan oil have been used in traditional Moroccan medicine for centuries to cure skin diseases. 9 As a cosmetic, the oil is traditionally indicated to eliminate pimples, particularly juvenile acne and chicken pox pustules. It is also recommended to relieve dry skin and slow the appearance of wrinkles. Argan oil is applied topically when used in rheumatology. 5 , 9

Cholesterol-lowering effects

Argan oil is rich in oleic and linoleic acid. Oleic acid is an unsaturated acid that is difficult to oxidize. It is involved in the fluidity of lipoproteins and, as a consequence, the generation of high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Dietary linoleic acid serves as a precursor for biosynthesis of arachidonic acid through cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase. It has long been accepted as having hypocholesterolemic effects. More recently, linoleic acid derivatives, particularly gamma-linolenic acid, were found to be even more potent in reducing blood cholesterol in humans and rats. It has also been reported that a dietary intake of 3 to 8 mmol of gamma-linolenic acid per day reduced serum total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. However, linoleic acid in artisan argan oil extract is more stable because of the low concentration of conjugated dienes, which are the main precursors in oxidative reactions. 3

Argan oil extract protects LDL from oxidation by direct or indirect antioxidant activity. The extract increases cholesterol efflux by increasing HDL lipid-bilayer fluidity. However, further studies are needed to clarify the exact action on lipoprotein oxidation and reverse cholesterol transport. These results support the use of argan oil as a dietary supplement. 10

The decrease in cholesterol concentration could be due to low intestinal absorption of cholesterol because of the activity of saponins in argan oil. Other compounds present in argan oil that could prevent lipoprotein structural alteration are beta-carotenes and alpha-tocopherol. 3

Consumption of virgin argan oil is associated with low levels of plasma LDL cholesterol in healthy subjects compared with nonconsumers living in Southwest Morocco. In addition, a higher plasma content of vitamin E accompanied with lower lipoperoxides suggests an antioxidant effect of the studied oil. The values of lipid, lipoprotein, and apolipoprotein parameters in plasma between argan oil consumers and nonconsumers are presented as follows: LDL cholesterol levels were significantly lower in the consumers group compared with nonconsumers (2.47 ± 0.81 mmol/L vs 2.83 ± 0.77 mmol/L, P < 0.05); lipoprotein (a) concentrations were lower in the consumers group (25.14 ± 17.73 mg/dL vs 33.67 ± 20.01 mg/dL, P  < 0.05); plasma total cholesterol and apolipoprotein B levels were lower in consumers without reaching statistical significance; a significant reduction of apolipoprotein B in LDL particles was observed in the consumers group (41.14 ± 13.89 mg/dL vs 54.96 ± 27.35 mg/dL, P < 0.05). 2


Moroccans have traditionally used the rich oil of the argan tree for cooking or for eating on toast. 5 , 9 The oil is reportedly high in vitamins A and E and unsaturated fatty acids and is also used as a flavoring. 6

Other uses

Argan oil is taken internally when traditionally prescribed as a choleretic and hepatoprotective agent, and in the case of hypercholesterolemia and atherosclerosis. 5 , 9



Mean daily intake of argan oil was 15 g 2 (1 mL per 100 g weight) by gastric intubations for hyperlipidemia. 3


50 to 100 mg/kg for anti-inflammatory activity. 3


10 mL/kg for blood pressure regulation. 4


Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

None known.


None well documented.


1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Argania spinosa (L.) Skeels. Grassland Species Profiles. . Accessed July 6, 2011.
2. Drissi A, Girona J, Cherki M, et al. Evidence of hypolipemiant and antioxidant properties of argan oil derived from the argan tree ( Argania spinosa ). Clin Nutr . 2004;23(5):1159-1166.
3. Berrougui H, Ettaib A, Herrera Gonzalez MD, Alvarez de Sotomayor M, Bennani-Kabchi N, Hmamouchi M. Hypolipidemic and hypocholesterolemic effect of argan oil ( Argania spinosa L.) in Meriones shawi rats. J Ethnopharmacol . 2003;89(1):15-18.
4. Berrougui H, Alvarez de Sotomayor M, Pérez-Guerrero C, et al. Argan ( Argania spinosa ) oil lowers blood pressure and improves endothelial dysfunction in spontaneously hypertensive rats. Br J Nutr . 2004;92(6):921-929.
5. Charrouf Z, Guillaume D. Ethnoeconomical, ethnomedical, and phytochemical study of Argania spinosa (L.) Skeels. J Ethnopharmacol . 1999;67(1):7-14.
6. Argania spinosa . Campus Arboretum. The University of Arizona. . Accessed July 6, 2011.
7. Cherki M, Berrougui H, Drissi A, Adlouni A, Khalil A. Argan oil: which benefits on cardiovascular diseases? Pharmacol Res . 2006;54(1):1-5.
8. Farines M, Charrouf M, Soulier J. The sterols of Argania spinosa seed oil. Phytochemistry . 1981;20(8):2038-2039. 10.1016/0031-9422(81)84065-4 .
9. Bellakhdar J, Claisse R, Fleurentin J, Younos C. Repertory of standard herbal drugs in Morrocan pharmacopoea. J Ethnopharmacol . 1991;35(2):123-143.
10. Berrougui H, Cloutier M, Isabelle M, Khalil A. Phenolic-extract from argan oil ( Argania spinosa L.) inhibits human low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation and enhances cholesterol efflux from human THP-1 macrophages. Atherosclerosis . 2006;184(2):389-396.

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