Scientific name: Crambe abyssinica
Part used: Seed, Leaves
Common names: Crambe, Abyssinian Kale, Abyssinian Mustard, Colewort
Crambe abyssinica, syn. Crambe hispanica subsp. abyssinica, is a member of the Brassicaceae family which includes rapeseed and mustard. It is a primarily grown as an oilseed crop due to the high erucic acid content of its oil.
Erucic acid, an Omega 9 fatty acid, it is widely used in cosmetics as a natural lubricant and as a substitute for synthetic mineral oils and silicones which is why we use it in our award-winning, multi-purpose oil here in Modern Botany to give it a great silky feel.
Crambe is native to the Mediterranean and north-east Africa, but is now cultivated in various countries including Poland, Denmark, Germany, Lithuania and Sweden in Europe and in the USA and Canada 1. The name abyssinica refers to Ethiopia, an area from where it originates and crambe oil is often commercially referred to as Abyssinian oil.
Crambe is a multi-branched annual plant which can grow up to a meter in height. The small, compact flowers are white or yellow and the greenish-brown seeds are held in little capsules. The leaves are oval shaped. Crambe abyssinica likes well-drained, weed-free soils. It has a long tap root which gives it a high resistance to drought. It is grown as a spring crop and adapts well to cold weather 2.
Traditional Medicinal Uses:
Traditionally, the Crambe fruits have been used to treat snake bites 3.
The leaves are eaten in Kenya and in the Caucasus region, they have been used as an antiscorbutic (anti-scurvy) agent 4.
It has been used as an emollient, it is great for hydrating and moisture retaining, it is also used for softening of skin, and has been shown to have anti-foaming and shine-enhancing properties 5,6.
Crambe contains the essential fatty acids, linolenic acid (Omega 3), linoleic acid (Omega 6), oleic acid (Omega 9) and Erucic acid, also an Omega 9 fatty acid.
Crambe is an ingredient in many cosmetic products for the face, body and hair. It has emollient and soothing properties 7. Erucamide, which is a natural lubricant and a substitute for synthetic mineral oils and silicones, is obtained from erucic acid. This gives crambe oil a natural slip quality without any greasiness (a dry oil). Erucic acid can make the lipid membranes of the skin more fluid and elastic and can give a natural shine to the hair without making it greasy 6.
Crambe seed oil is used as an industrial lubricant and to manufacture synthetic rubber, plastic films, nylon and adhesives 2.
Crambe flour has a well-balanced amino acid composition and can be used as a protein supplement for livestock. The feed is suitable for ruminants only as they can break down the glucosinolates which can be toxic to other animals 2.
Contaminants and adulterants:
Rapeseed oil also contains high amounts of erucic acid and is sometimes used as a substitute 3. Adulteration tests need to be undertaken to ensure the purity of the extract. GC-MS (Gas Chromatography, Mass Spectrometry) could be used as a tool in identifying contamination
A 2014 study found that Crambe seed bio-oil contains a high amount of phenols which indicates potential for its use in chemical and pharmaceutical industries 4.
Selection or cultivation processes can increase seed yield of Crambe abyssinica 8.
Silicones, a synthetic chemical, have been used in cosmetics and hair care for decades because they give a dry silky skin feel and they improve spread ability of the product. However, todays’ customers are more eco-aware and want to know that the products they use are sustainable and do not damage the environment nor contain Parabens and Petrochemicals. At the same time, they do not want to sacrifice product performance. They are looking for natural, eco-friendly products and silicone-free products are seeing a strong year on year growth of 10% 9. Crambe seed oil is a natural and eco-friendly substitute for synthetic silicones. It has the same properties as silicones and is biodegradable.
Many countries in Europe and South America have shown a scientific interest in cultivating crambe due to its high erucic acid content and its potential uses in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and industry 10.
Crambe shows similar performance to rapeseed, which already grows well in Europe 1. Crambe has been grown commercially since the 1990’s in the UK and is considered an excellent break crop. Crambe abyssinica could be an ideal crop for Irish growers to consider, but test crops would need to be considered.
(1) Crops Industry. Availabe at: http://cordis.europa.eu/docs/results/227299/final1-publishable-summary.pdf
(2) Falasca, S., Flores, N., Lamas, M., Carballo, S. and Anschau, A. (2010). Crambe abyssinica: An almost unknown crop with a promissory future to produce biodiesel in Argentina. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 35(11), pp.5808-5812.
(3) Grubben, G. (2004). Plant Resources of Tropical Africa (PROTA). 1st ed. Wageningen: PROTA Foundation - Backhuys Publ.
(4) Onorevoli, B., Machado, M., Dariva, C., Franceschi, E., Krause, L., Jacques, R. and Caramão, E. (2014). A one-dimensional and comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography study of the oil and the bio-oil of the residual cakes from the seeds of Crambe abyssinica. Industrial Crops and Products, 52, pp.8-16.
(5) Sarwar, M. (2014). Determination of Erucic Acid Content in Traditional and Commercial Mustard Oils of Bangladesh by Gas- Liquid Chromatography. Advances in Biochemistry, 2(1), p.9-13.
(6) Essentialingredients.com. (2010). Research and Development Report FANCOR® ABYSSINIAN OIL. [online] Available at: http://www.essentialingredients.com/pdf/ AbyssinianOilResearchReport.pdf
(7) Burlando, B. (2010). Herbal principles in cosmetics. 1st ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC.
(8) Huang, B., Yang, Y., Luo, T., Wu, S., Du, X., Cai, D., Loo, E. and Huang, B. (2013). Correlation, Regression and Path Analyses of Seed Yield Components in <i>Crambe abyssinica</i>, a Promising Industrial Oil Crop. American Journal of Plant Sciences, 04(01), pp.42-47.
(9) Minoggio I. (2015). The Power of Nature with a Silicone Touch! Global AD – Personal Care, In-Cosmetics Barcelona 2015, 14.04.2015
(10) Lalas, S., Gortzi, O., Athanasiadis, V., Dourtoglou, E. and Dourtoglou, V. (2012). Full Characterisation of Crambe abyssinica Hochst. Seed Oil. Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, 89(12), pp.2253-2258.