The endless possibilities of the Carnaúba palm

The Carnaúba palm is also known as the ‘tree of life’. If you get to know the endless applications of the different parts of the palm, you immediately understand this nickname. Even in periods of drought, the tree survives without problems. Every part of the tree can be used

1. The trunk
As the trunk of the Carnaúba palm is very resistant, it serves – already since the time of the indigenous populations – as construction material for houses. As a whole the trunk can be used as pillar, but fragmented pieces also serve to make construction materials or integrate some woodwork in houses. Moreover the wood is used to make furniture such as tables and beds, but also more decorative turned artefacts or small daily used domestic objects. Beautiful to see are the fences from Carnaúba wood, which enclose most houses.

2. The fruit
The oval, tree centimetre long fruit of the Carnaúba palm is greenish when it’s young, and purple when it’s ripe. The fruit grows in large quantities on the tree. To make an energetically tea the seeds should be immediately harvested from the tree between november and march. The fruit is eatable, both raw and cooked, and it provides a farina with the same nutritional value as manioc. When the fruit is green, it is used as food for young animals. If it’s dry, it produces refined oil. Roasted and grounded it becomes a powder that tastes like coffee.

3. The roots
The mostly white roots are traditionally known for their medical qualities in the treatment of some specific diseases. The roots have diuretic qualities and are used as tea in the treatment of rheumatism and syphilis.

4. The leaves
If you drive around Ilha Grande, you can still discover a lot of houses with roofs covered by Carnaúba leaves. But the leaves from young trees, the pindoba, also serve as animal food during the dry season. From the fibres of the leaves twines are produced, and the leaves themselves serve to make paper and fabrics. Moreover the strong leaf can be used to create the most diverse accessories such as bags or sun protecting hats out of it. The macerated and beaten straw is reduced to fibres, which are dried in the sun and afterwards used to make artisanal products such as baskets or hammocks.

5. The wax
Ever since the colonial period the Carnaúba wax, which the tree produces to fight the heat, attracted the attention of the Portuguese. In the early days it was used to make candles to light the houses of the European nobility. Later the consumption only augmented. Until it reached an amount of 100.000 tons in the fifties. Today it’s still a valuable ingredient for different industrial products, mainly produced in the United States, Europe and Japan. Brazil is the only country in the world, which produces this wax. What rests after the wax is removed becomes a fertilizer.


As every part of the Carnaúba palm can be used, the tree plays an important economic role in the North-East of Brazil. That’s why it appears on the flag of the states Rio Grande do Norte and Ceará. The most important economic uses are the powder to make the wax and the shredded straw – a bagana – that is used for the fertilisation and cooling of the ground of new plantations. Thanks to this protection the ground stays humid – even during the six dry summer months – and the temperature is more balanced, but it also protects the plants to heavy rainfalls. Moreover, with its beautiful shape the Carnaúba palm determines the panorama in this region, as well in the city centres as in natural environments.