CTFA: Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax
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Candelilla is a woody, spineless shrub native to Texas, and the southwestern United States to Zacatecas, Mexico.1,2 It grows on dry, rocky, sandy soil and thrives in desert areas, thus is often associated with cacti.1 Candelilla, which means ‘little candle’,3 grows to 3 feet, is almost leafless, and has many branches that are covered with hard wax which is collected for commercial use.2 It photosynthesizes through the stems and produces many small pink flowers on the stems also.3
History and Cultural Significance
The species name, antisyphilitica, refers to a Mexican folk belief that the plant could be used to treat venereal disease.3 The wax secreted by the stems of the plant provides a moisture barrier to prevent dehydration and repel water. This wax is used commercially to protect canvas, machinery, and weapons as well as to insulate electrical components. In addition, the wax is employed as a hardener for beeswax, chewing gum, and cosmetics.1 The hydrocarbon and latex from the plant can be used in the chemical industry, and the remainder is useful in manufacturing organic chemicals.1
Currently there are no clinical studies available on any topical medicinal uses of candelilla wax. Candelilla is used as a preservative and to block pores in the peels of fruit, including apples. Apples coated with candelilla wax have a more natural, non-coated appearance.4
Traditionally, candelilla has been harvested from the wild and commercial cultivation is in its infancy.1 Sustainable cultivation is a necessity as candelilla has been overharvested. The Universidad Autónoma Agraria Antonio Narro in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico has developed a candelilla germplasm (total hereditary makeup of an organism) bank in order to domesticate the plant. Due to its drought tolerance, candelilla could become a valuable alternative agricultural crop in Arizona and California where water is at a premium.
1 Scora GA, Ahmed M, Scora RW. Epicuticular hydrocarbons of candelilla (Euphorbia antisiphylitica) from three different geographical areas. Industrial Crops and Products: An International Journal. 4(1995).179-184.
2 Bailey LH, Bailey EZ. Hortus Third: A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company; 1976.
3 Deacon J, von Broembsen S. Candelilla. Desert Ecology. Available at: http://helios.bto.ed.ac.uk/bto/desbiome/candelil.htm. Accessed February 2,2005.
4 Bai J, Hagenmaier RD, Baldwin EA. Coating selection for ‘Delicious’ and other apples. Postharvest Biology and Technology. 28 (2003) 381-390.