Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Symb. bot. 2: 15 (1791).
2n = 26
Justicia sulcata (Vahl) Vahl (1791), Adhatoda flava (Vahl) Nees (1847), Justicia suaveolens (Nees) Lindau (1895).
Origin and geographic distribution
Justicia flava is widespread and occurs all over tropical Africa, but has not been reported from the Indian Ocean Islands; it is also found in the Arabian peninsula.
In Guinea the leaves of Justicia flava are used as a vegetable collected from the wild. They are cooked into soup or stew. The plant is also considered as a good forage. In Kenya the plant contributes to sand-binding vegetation in coastal dunes and sandy river banks and leaves are burnt to ash to produce a vegetable salt. In Tanzania the leaves are reported to be emetic, in Côte d’Ivoire haemostatic. Preparations are used on cuts and to treat menorrhagia, and blood in the sputum. The whole crushed plant, mixed with vegetable ash, seed of Aframomum species and capsicum pepper is administered by enema against painful menses, or, mixed with lemon juice, taken to induce menstruation. In Côte d’Ivoire the pulped leaves are rubbed on the skin to treat convulsions and feverish pains in babies. In Ghana the plant is used internally and externally against fever, yaws and diarrhoea in children. The inflorescence is said to be a cure for dysentery. An infusion of the plant is taken with egg albumen and coconut juice against palpitations of the heart and leaf sap is used as an eye lotion. In Tanzania leaf sap is taken against hookworm and to treat hydrocele, including bathing the affected parts. The bitter root is chewed by the Masai to cure diarrhoea and coughs.
The composition of fresh Justicia leaves per 100 g edible portion is: water 86.8 g, energy 138 kJ (33 kcal), protein 3.3 g, fat 0.4 g, carbohydrate 6.2 g, fibre 1.7 g, Ca 510 mg, P 70 mg (Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968). Four sterols and salicylic acid were isolated from the leaves, stems and roots of Justicia flava. In addition the leaves contain the 3 lignans helioxanthin, (+)-isolariciresinol and justicinol, as well as docosanoic acid and β-sitosterol-β-D-glucoside. The lignans were screened for pharmacological activity in mice, but only a mild effect on the central nervous system, demonstrated by decrease in motor activity and ataxia, was observed.
Erect or trailing, usually perennial herb up to 120 cm tall, pubescent; stem often woody at base. Leaves opposite, simple; petiole up to 1.5 cm long; blade ovate-lanceolate, up to 8 cm × 3 cm. Inflorescence a dense terminal spike up to 20 cm long, continuous or interrupted in the basal part; bracts linear-lanceolate. Flowers bisexual, c. 1 cm long, bright yellow; sepals 5, c. 3 mm long, white hairy; corolla tubular, 2-lipped, lower lip 2-lobed, upper lip 3-lobed; stamens 2, filaments glabrous, one anther cell below the other, tailed; ovary superior, 2-celled, subglabrous, style hairy below, ending in 2 short stigma branches. Fruit a 4-seeded capsule c. 8 mm long, densely hairy, splitting in 2 halves, but remaining connected at base. Seeds compressed globose, brown to black.
Justicia is a large genus comprising 300–600 species. Its taxonomy is badly known and opinions differ about its delimitation because differences between related genera are hardly distinctive. Numerous species can be found in the literature referred to by a variety of names within the genera Adhatoda, Duvernoia, Gendarussa, Justicia, Rostellaria and Rungia. A complete revision of all related genera is urgently needed. Justicia flava is classified in the section Tyloglossa, characterized by spike-like inflorescences and ammonite-like or rugose seeds, and by its pollen type.
The flowers of Justicia flava are much visited by bees and other insects.
Justicia flava grows in open habitats, with a wide ecological range from sea-level up to 2300 m altitude. In dry regions it can grow as an annual with smaller flowers.
Justicia flava is not cultivated but collected from the wild. In Guinea it is not removed as a weed when occurring in cultivated fields, but allowed to grow to collect its leaves for vegetable use.
Genetic resources and breeding
Justicia flava is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion.
Justicia flava will remain a vegetable of minor and local importance only. Its nutritional and medicinal properties need more investigation to discover potential value.
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Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2004. Justicia flava (Vahl) Vahl In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.