Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Journ. Bot. 50: 212 (1912).
2n = 10, 12
Senecio rubens Juss. ex Jacq. (1776), Gynura cernua Benth. (1849), Crassocephalum sarcobasis (DC.) S.Moore (1912).
Yoruban bologi (En). Brède yorouba (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Crassocephalum rubens is found throughout tropical Africa including the Indian Ocean islands, where it is probably introduced; it is also reported from Lesotho, South Africa and Yemen.
The leaves of Crassocephalum rubens are commonly eaten in south-western Nigeria, less so in other humid zones of West and Central Africa. They are mucilaginous and used for soups and sauces. In Uganda the leaves are dried, chopped and cooked with peas or beans. In Malawi the leaves and young shoots are cooked with groundnuts and tomatoes added.
Crassocephalum rubens is used medicinally as a stomachic and to treat liver complaints and colds, and externally to treat burns, sore eyes (filaria), earache, leprosy and breast cancer. In East Africa it is used as an antidote against any form of poisoning. Like garlic, the whole plant is said to repel crocodiles.
The taste is variously described from ‘mild’ (Uganda) to ‘slightly stinging’ (Malawi). The smell of the leaves is characterized from ‘bad’ (Uganda) to ‘agreeable’ (West Africa). Fresh leaves contain per 100 g edible portion: water 79.9 g, energy 269 kJ (64 kcal), protein 3.2 g, fat 0.7 g, carbohydrate 14.0 g, fibre 1.0 g, Ca 260 mg, P 52 mg (Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968). Traces of alkaloids have been recorded in stems and leaves and an abundance of tannins in the roots.
Erect, annual herb up to 80 cm tall. Leaves arranged spirally, sessile; stipules absent; blade of lower leaves elliptical, oblanceolate or obovate, 4.5–16 cm × 2–5 cm, either not lobed, 2–4-lobed or rarely pinnately lobed; blade of upper leaves narrowly lanceolate, elliptical or ovate, not lobed or 6–8 lobed. Inflorescence a head, up to 18 heads arranged in a terminal corymb. Flowers bisexual, equal; corolla tubular, 8–10 mm long, violet, mauve or purple. Fruit a ribbed achene, up to 2.5 mm long, crowned by white pappus hairs 8–12 mm long.
In tropical Africa Crassocephalum comprises about 24 species, many of which have medicinal uses. The genus is placed in the tribe Senecioneae. Until recently Crassocephalum rubens and Crassocephalum sarcobasis were considered distinct species with considerable variation within each species. Variation has resulted in the distinction of 2 types in northern Sierra Leone. Variation in taste in Malawi means that some types are regularly eaten, others only in times of shortage. This variation is not yet fully understood.
Crassocephalum rubens occurs as a weed in arable land, along riversides and roadsides, mostly at higher altitudes. In Uganda it prefers sandy loams and is found up to 1800 m in areas with an annual rainfall of 1000–1600 mm.
Cultivation of Crassocephalum rubens is restricted to south-western Nigeria. It is grown in well-drained soils with a high organic matter content. It requires support and shade and is often grown among cocoa trees. Propagation is by stem cuttings 20–25 cm long, obtained from mature shoots. Removal of the flowering shoots encourages leaf production.
Genetic resources and breeding
As Crassocephalum rubens is widespread in the tropics it is not threatened with extinction. However locally, for example in Cameroon, it has virtually disappeared through over-exploitation, and cultivation in Nigeria appears to be a response to decreased availability from the wild.
Research on the use as a vegetable would benefit from a better understanding of the variation within the species. Selection for desirable characteristics seems possible. Although widely considered a weed, it can be easily controlled, and promoting its cultivation as a vegetable or medicinal plant is not likely to aggravate the weed problems.
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Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Crassocephalum rubens (Juss. ex Jacq.) S.Moore In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.