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Spirulina is the descendant of one of the first photosynthesizing life forms to develop on earth. The single celled blue green algae has existed for 3.5 billion years. In the beginning, it added oxygen to the atmosphere which allowed other life to develop. Today, algae is one the most plentiful life forms and it helps to regulate the earth's biosphere.

Spirulina thrives in alkaline conditions that most other organisms can't survive in. It appreciates sunshine and moderate temperatures.

It is likely that Spirulina has been harvested and eaten for thousands of years. There are records of its historical use in two distinct places - Central America and Central Africa.

Record of Spirulina being used as food dates to the 9th century ce in the great Kanem Empire of Central Africa, which included Lake Chad in the south. In parts of Africa where it is readily available, it is still part of the daily diet.

In Central America, it was called Tecuitlatl by the Aztecs and grew in many freshwater lakes, ponds and anywhere there was still, alkaline water. It's use was described by the Cortez expedition.

Lake Texcoco Basin circa 1519 By Lago_de_Texcoco-posclásico.png: YavidaxiuValley_of_Mexico_c.1519-fr.svg: historicair 13:51, 11 September 2007 (UTC)derivative work: Sémhur (talk) - Lago_de_Texcoco-posclásico.png, itself from :(fr) Niederberger Betton, Christine (1987) Paléo-paysages et archéologie pré-urbaine du Bassin de Mexico, México: Centro de estudios mexicanos y centroamericanos (CEMCA), pp. 500 ISBN: 3785726.Valley_of_Mexico_c.1519-fr.svg, itself from :(en) Coe, Michael; Snow, Dean; Benson, Elizabeth (1986) Atlas of Ancient America, New York: Facts On File, pp. 240 ISBN: 978-0816011995.(en) Townsend, Richard F. (1992) The Aztecs, London: Thames & Hudson, pp. 224 ISBN: 978-0500021132.(es) This picture incorporates information from La cuenca de México, special edition of Arqueología Mexicana, july-august 2007, Mexico.(es) This picture incorporates information from this version of the article Lago de Texcoco on the Spanish Wikipedia., FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9263087

Tecuitlatl was gathered from the water using nets and dried into cakes that were sold in markets. The Europeans compared the way it was eaten to cheese, and noted that people traveled with it and ate it daily. It was still a food source in the late 1500s, but as the ponds and  lakes were drained to build cities and towns it became rare and it's use as food declined. Lake Texcoco still has an active living Spirulina culture.

In the 1960s, it was "discovered" again by French researchers in both Mexico and Africa.  In Africa, a researcher noticed that the flamingo lived on Spirulina and krill which also consumed Spirulina algae and that the birds had a long life span. The betacarotenes in Spirulina are what make the color of flamingos vary from pink to orange to red. Flamingos feed close to shore and the bird developed a filter in it's beak to perfectly isolate the krill and Spirulina.

Flamingoes wading on lake in Kenya

The Great Rift in Africa - extending from Ethiopia in the north to Botswana in the south along the eastern side of the African continent - provides perfect conditions. Rainwater moves through the volcanic soil collecting mineral salts as it is filtered. The water gathers in ancient lake beds and adds to the mineral rich, akaline soda lake. A similar process occurs in central Africa around the Lake Chad. Lake Chad is huge, and important both historically and in the present day. It is thought to be the site of a much larger ancient sea. Spirulina grows on approximately one third of the lake's surface area and is also present in the smaller ponds and lakes near Lake Chad.

Map of Africa showing Lake Chad and Kanem Empire

Around Lake Chad, the Spirulina harvest has been passed from mother to daughter for generations. After the rainy season, the wet algae is scooped into clay pots.It is then drained through a cloth and dried or baked in the sun on ircles of sand. After 20 minutes of drying, it is cut into squares called dihé. The dihé are sold in market throughout the region and is eaten as a sauce served over millet, beans, fish or meat. Spirulina is a complete protein, the only vegetable source of vitamin B12, high in iron and rich in vitamins, carbohydrates, enzymes and essential fatty acids.

In the late 1960s, the French started harvesting Spirulina on a larger scale. In 1974 the United Nations declared Spirulina a superfood.

Spirulina is a single celled organism that is in the shape of a spiral that can be .5 millmeters in length. It is cylindrical and an open, left-handed helix.

Spiral shape of Spirulina - from Algaeindustrymagazine.com

The high nutrient profile makes Spirulina a valuable food source. It is used to nourish and bring health back to malnourished people. Most of the nutrients are readily bio-available - meaning that the body doesn't need to expend much energy to process and transform the nutrients into substances it can use - and it is easily digested.

Because of its powerful nutritive profile, it can benefit the body internally and in skincare products.

The spectrum of cartenoids work synergistically as powerful antioxidants, and scavenge for free radicals. The antioxidants neutralize the free radicals and help the body to eliminate them and also act to repair the damage done to the cells. The antioxidants in Spirulina are especially effective on the dermis and epidermis layers of the skin.

The blue pigment called phycocyanin is a protein known to inhibit the development of cancer.

Spirulina powder in small wooden scoop

Spirulina also has anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. The essential fatty acids nourish the skin cells. Essential fatty acids, improve the skin's texture and help the cells retain necessary moisture and reduce inflammation.

 Bring home the benefits of Spirulina in our Bamboo & Walnut Foaming Body Polish. The antioxidants and nourishing essential fatty acids of Spirulina combine with the gentle exfoliate powdered walnut and cell regeneration encouraging essential oils.

Written by Jen Bator — March 06, 2017

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