Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Index sem. hort. petrop. 5: 35 (1839).
2n = 14, 16, 30, 32
Brassica schimperi Boiss. (1842).
Ethiopian kale (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Erucastrum arabicum possibly originates from montane eastern Africa, but is now found from Sudan to Arabia, throughout eastern and central Africa, to Botswana and Namibia. It is also an introduced weed in many other regions of the world.
Erucastrum arabicum is a leafy vegetable collected from the wild. Its above-ground parts are chopped and boiled in salty water for about one hour, and eaten as a vegetable in sauce or soup. The young leaves can also be eaten raw as salad. In some areas it is considered a typical famine food, in other areas as a normal wild vegetable. It is also grazed by domestic stock. In Ethiopia the seed is occasionally sold on local markets with the same vernacular name as Brassica carinata A.Br. (‘meshisha’), which is a highly appreciated vegetable and which has a useful seed oil for burning, cooking (after refining) and traditional medicine. This suggests that Erucastrum arabicum seeds are occasionally used for the same purposes.
In Ethiopia it is believed by some that eating Erucastrum arabicum can have side effects such as drowsiness and drying of the skin. The seed contains about 35% oil with as major fatty acids erucic acid, linoleic acid and linolenic acid.
Annual herb up to 1 m tall, branched or unbranched, sparsely hispid on stem and leaves. Leaves alternate, simple, lower leaves largest and with short petiole, upper leaves sessile, smaller and less divided; blade spatulate to lyrate-pinnatifid, up to 18 cm × 5 cm, terminal lobe large and rounded, lateral lobes up to 4 pairs and triangular to oblong, margins irregularly dentate, sinuate or slightly uneven. Inflorescence a terminal, dense raceme, in fruit lax and up to 40 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 4-merous; pedicel slender, ascending, up to 2 cm long; sepals oblong, c. 3 mm long; petals spatulate to almost clawed with oblong blade, 3.5–6 mm × 2 mm, yellow; stamens 6, 4 longer ones c. 5 mm long; ovary superior, cylindrical, 2-celled, style short, stigma semiglobose. Fruit a straight silique 1.5–5 cm × 1.5 mm, with up to 4.5 mm long beak, dehiscent with 2 valves. Seeds ellipsoid, c. 1 mm long, brown, smooth to finely reticulate.
Erucastrum comprises about 20 species and is distributed in Africa, Arabia and Europe. In Africa 5 species occur. Erucastrum arabicum is often confused with some Brassica carinata types, which however, have wider fruits.
Erucastrum arabicum grows in disturbed localities in upland forest and as a weed in cultivated land, from sea-level up to 2500 m altitude, but it is most common at 1500–2000 m.
Genetic resources and breeding
Erucastrum arabicum is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion. Several Brassica genebanks have a few accessions of Erucastrum arabicum. Because it spread widely as a weed it is now the most common crucifer in eastern Africa. Its variability is largely explained by different growing conditions.
Erucastrum arabicum will remain of importance locally as a wild vegetable, certainly in times of food scarcity. Its nutritional composition and chemical properties need research.
• Jonsell, B., 1982. Cruciferae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. pp. 15–17.
• Maundu, P.M., Ngugi, G.W. & Kabuye, C.H.S., 1999. Traditional food plants of Kenya. Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (KENRIK), Nairobi, Kenya. 270 pp.
• Robyns, W. & Boutique, R., 1951. Cruciferae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., Demaret, F., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Jurion, F., Lebrun, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 2. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 522–544.
• Seegeler, C.J.P., 1983. Oil plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Agricultural research report 921. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. 368 pp.
• Westphal, E., 1975. Agricultural systems in Ethiopia. Verslagen van landbouwkundige onderzoekingen 826. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 278 pp.
• Chweya, J.A., 1985. Identification and nutritional importance of indigenous green leaf vegetables in Kenya. Acta Horticulturae 153: 99–108.
• Exell, A.W., 1960. Cruciferae. In: Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 1, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 182–194.
• Jonsell, B., 2000. Brassicaceae (Cruciferae). In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 121–154.
• Katende, A.B., Ssegawa, P. & Birnie, A., 1999. Wild food plants and mushrooms of Uganda. Technical Handbook No 19. Regional Land Management Unit/SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 490 pp.
• Marais, W., 1970. Cruciferae. In: Codd, L.E., de Winter, B., Killick, D.J.B. & Rycroft, H.B. (Editors). Flora of southern Africa. Volume 13. Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agricultural Technical Services, Pretoria, Republic of South Africa. pp. 1–118.
• Schippers, R.R., 2000. African indigenous vegetables. An overview of the cultivated species. Natural Resources Institute/ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, Chatham, United Kingdom. 214 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2004. Erucastrum arabicum Fisch. & C.A.Mey. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.