Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Mant. pl. 2: 562 (1771).
2n = 36, 72, 108
Gisekia linearifolia Schumach. & Thonn. (1827), Gisekia congesta Moq. (1849), Gisekia rubella Hochst. ex Moq. (1849).
Oldmaid, gisekia (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Most probably Gisekia pharnaceoides originated in tropical Africa and adjacent tropical Arabia. Later it spread to southern Africa and Asia, and was introduced into the New World. In tropical Africa it is widespread in drier areas.
Gisekia pharnaceoides is occasionally eaten as a vegetable, e.g. in Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. It is eaten as an emergency food in West Africa and India. In DR Congo and northern Chad it is eaten as a condiment.
Young plants are eaten by domestic stock, although they may cause diarrhoea; older plants are not recommended as fodder because the fruits are said to be poisonous. There are many medicinal uses. In East Africa the whole plant is eaten as a general strength restorative, e.g. after miscarriage. In northern Africa Gisekia pharnaceoides is considered a purgative, in Kenya, Tanzania, southern Africa and Madagascar it is taken to cure diarrhoea. In India, Indonesia, South Africa and Madagascar it is used as a taenicide, but the plant should be consumed with great caution. In West Africa leaves are rubbed on swellings and in Tanzania the stem, pounded in butter, is placed on aching muscles. In India plant sap is used against warts. In Tanzania cooked green leaves are eaten to treat asthma, in Kenya the roots are made into a chest medicine. The seeds probably possess anthelmintic properties.
In the vegetative parts of Gisekia pharnaceoides several phenolic acids have been identified: p-OH-benzoic acid, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid and vanillic acid. Ferulic and sinapic acids were absent, although these are usually present in Aizoaceae. In the seed the tannin-like principles α- and β-gisekia have been found. Tannins are present in the whole plant.
Slightly succulent, glabrous herb, green, often pinkish tinged; stem trailing, decumbent or prostrate, up to 80 cm long, sometimes longer. Leaves usually opposite, simple, subsessile; blade variable, from linear to linear-oblanceolate, oblanceolate-spatulate or elliptical, 0.5–6 cm × 0.1–2 cm, base attenuate, apex rounded to subacute, often obscurely apiculate, entire, surface closely streaked with numerous linear, short, whitish raphides. Inflorescence an umbelliform cyme, 3–40-flowered; peduncle up to 5.5 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, greenish -white, often tinged pinkish, mauve or yellowish; pedicel fairly stout, curved, 2–8 mm long; tepals free, in fruit 1.5–3 mm long; stamens with filaments broadened at base; carpels 5, free. Fruit consisting of 5 achenes. Seeds black, smooth, minutely pitted.
The status, affinities and systematic position of Gisekia is still a matter of dispute. It has been variously assigned to different families: Aizoaceae, Molluginaceae and Phytolaccaceae. It has been suggested that Gisekia constitutes a separate family, Gisekiaceae, and can be considered as a possible connecting link between betalain -containing Aizoaceae and Phytolaccaceae and anthocyanin-containing Molluginaceae. The variability of Gisekia pharnaceoides is considerable and has resulted in numerous names of species and varieties. Best known is var. pseudopaniculata C.Jeffrey (plants erect or ascending, flowers in diffuse terminal cymes, pedicel threadlike, erect, 1–1.5 cm long in fruit), which is now considered a separate species: Gisekia diffusa M.Gilbert. Specimens with prominently crested or winged fruits are classified in var. alata M.Gilbert.
Gisekia pharnaceoides is a weed found along roadsides, in grassland, bushland and woodland, mostly on sandy soils, from sea-level up to 1700 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
Gisekia pharnaceoides is common and widespread in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world and is not in danger of genetic erosion.
The phytochemistry of Gisekia pharnaceoides should be better investigated in order to determine the nutritional and medicinal values. Unless such studies indicate otherwise, its use as a vegetable should not be recommended because it contains poisonous compounds.
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Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2004. Gisekia pharnaceoides L. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.