Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Kew Bull. 43: 335 (1990).
Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Cassia biensis (Steyaert) Mendonça & Torre (1955).
Origin and geographic distribution
Chamaecrista biensis is widely distributed throughout southern Africa from Angola, Botswana and Mozambique to South Africa.
In Namibia the raw or boiled root of Chamaecrista biensis is eaten to cure stomach disorders. It is also eaten as a staple food. It is further used to bring luck; when a piece of root is chewed, undertakings such as hunting and hitchhiking are believed to become successful. The foliage is browsed by livestock.
The foliage of Chamaecrista biensis has been tested for palatability, toxicity and feeding value in tests with rats. The results showed no differences from lucerne (Medicago sativa L.). The seeds showed a low palatability and feeding value, but no toxicity.
Perennial herb up to 45 cm tall with woody rootstock and prostrate or decumbent stems, occasionally more or less erect; branches hairy. Leaves alternate, paripinnately compound with usually 13–24 pairs of leaflets; stipules lanceolate; petiole with a stalked or almost sessile gland, rachis channelled; leaflets sessile, obliquely linear, asymmetrical, up to 10 mm × 2 mm, apex rounded, apiculate. Inflorescence an extra-axillary raceme, usually 1-flowered. Flowers bisexual, nearly regular, 5-merous; pedicel up to 20 mm long; sepals acute, slightly shorter then petals; petals obovate, 4–7 mm long, yellow; stamens 10; ovary superior, 1-celled. Fruit an erect compressed pod 3–4.5 cm × c. 4 mm, glabrous to shortly hairy. Seeds rhombic-ellipsoid, c. 3 mm long, pale brown with dark brown spots.
Chamaecrista occurs throughout the tropics and subtropics and comprises about 250 species. It has its largest diversity in tropical Africa and tropical America. In continental Africa about 40 species occur, in Madagascar 10, 6 of them endemic.
Chamaecrista biensis forms N-fixing root nodules.
Chamaecrista biensis is widely distributed in savanna on deep sandy and loamy soils. It is most common in disturbed areas such as ploughed land and grazed areas. It is tolerant of low rainfall.
Genetic resources and breeding
Chamaecrista biensis is considered not threatened. Germplasm collections are preserved at the Institute of Crops and Pastures and the Grassland Research Centre in Pretoria, South Africa, at the Australian Tropical Crops & Forages Genetic Resources Centre, Biloela, Australia and at ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya.
The potential of Chamaecrista biensis as a pasture plant is high as far as nutritive properties are concerned, but few results seem to have been published on its productivity. Its tolerance of low rainfall and its nitrogen fixing ability have raised interest for use in intercropping and as a green manure. The medicinal properties have not been investigated.
• Leger, S., 1997. The hidden gifts of nature: A description of today’s use of plants in West Bushmanland (Namibia). [Internet] DED, German Development Service, Windhoek, Namibia & Berlin, Germany. http://www.sigridleger.de/book/. Accessed March 2006.
• Lock, J.M., 1990. Cassia sens.lat. (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae) in Africa. Kew Bulletin 43(2): 333–342.
• von Koenen, E., 2001. Medicinal, poisonous and edible plants in Namibia. Klaus Hess Verlag, Göttingen, Germany. 336 pp.
• Corby, H.D.L., 1974. Systematic implications of nodulation among Rhodesian legumes. Kirkia 9(2): 301–329.
• Laden, G. & Wrangham, R., 2005. The rise of the hominids as an adaptive shift in fallback foods: plant underground storage organs (USOs) and australopith origins. Journal of Human Evolution 49: 482–498.
• Mphinyane, W.N., 2001. Influence of livestock grazing within biospheres under free range and controlled conditions in Botswana. PhD thesis, University of Pretoria, South Africa. [Internet] http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-09042001-102434/. Accessed July 2006.
• Naisbitt, T., James, E.K. & Sprent, J.I., 1992. The evolutionary significance of the legume genus Chamaecrista, as determined by nodule structure. New Phytologist 122(3): 487–492.
• Ross, J.H., 1977. Fabaceae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae. In: Ross, J.H. (Editor). Flora of southern Africa. Volume 16, part 2. Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agricultural Technical Services, Pretoria, South Africa. 142 pp.
• Strickland, R.W., Lambourne, L.J. & Ratcliff, D., 1987., 1987. A rat bioassay for screening tropical legume forages and seeds for palatability and toxicity. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 27: 45–53.
• Torre, A.R. & Hillcoat, D., 1956. Caesalpinioideae. In: Exell, A.W. & Mendonça, F.A. (Editors). Conspectus Florae Angolensis 2(2). Ministerio do Ultramar, Lisbon, Portugal. pp. 162–253.
Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2007. Chamaecrista biensis (Steyaert) Lock. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.