Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Mem. Acad. Sci. St.-Petersb., Ser. 7, 15(1): 4 (1869).
Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
Astragalus abyssinicus Steud. ex A.Rich. (1847).
Origin and geographic distribution
Astragalus atropilosulus occurs from Sudan and Eritrea south to northern South Africa, extending west into the extreme east of DR Congo. It is also found in Yemen and southwestern Saudi-Arabia.
In Malawi the cooked leaves are eaten as a side dish, sometimes mixed with leaves of Solanum nigrum L. In Kenya a decoction of the roots is added to hot milk and given to women with uterine pains after childbirth.
Phytochemical analysis of the whole plant showed the presence of alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins, volatile oils and sterols/triterpenes. An ethanolic extract produced a decrease in heart contractions and a fall in blood pressure in rabbits, neuromuscular blocking activity in rats and frogs, and hypernatraemia in rats.
Erect, perennial herb. Leaves alternate, up to 25 cm long, imparipinnate with 11–51 leaflets; stipules large, leaf-like, entire, broadly triangular-ovate; rachis nearly glabrous, sometimes pubescent; leaflets opposite, narrowly elliptical or lanceolate, up to 3 cm × 1.5 cm, apex obtuse. Inflorescence a many-flowered raceme; bracts linear, whitish. Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous, 5-merous; calyx tube 1.5 mm long, upper teeth 0.5 mm long, lower teeth up to 2 mm long; corolla purplish, white or yellow, with standard up to 1.3 cm long. Fruit a lanceolate pod up to 4 cm × 7 mm.
Astragalus comprises about 2000 species and is mainly north temperate in distribution, with the largest number of species in western and central Asia. A few species are known in northern Africa from dry areas. In the more humid highlands of Africa Astragalus is represented by a single variable species, Astragalus atropilosulus, in which several subspecies and varieties have been distinguished.
Astragalus atropilosulus is found in upland grassland and scrub vegetation, along streams, forest margins and in disturbed habitats, at 800–3800 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
A few accessions of Astragalus atropilosulus from Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe are held in genebanks in Ethiopia, Kenya, Australia and Colombia. The variation present in the species is not likely to have been captured in these collections. Even so, as Astragalus atropilosulus is widely distributed and common it is not likely to be threatened by genetic erosion.
As a vegetable Astragalus atropilosulus is likely to remain of some importance only locally.
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Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Astragalus atropilosulus (Hochst.) Bunge In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.