Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Gard. Bull. Sing. 21: 200 (1965).
Fleurya aestuans (L.) Gaudich. (1830), Laportea bathiei Leandri (1965).
Stinging nettle, West Indian nettle, West Indian woodnettle (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Laportea aestuans is widely distributed in tropical Africa, from Senegal eastward to Eritrea and southward to Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and in Madagascar. It also occurs in Yemen, tropical Asia and tropical America.
The stem yields a fibre used for thread, string and rope. The slightly mucilaginous leaves are often eaten as a vegetable and in soup. The plant is a preferred food of the edible giant snail Achatina achatina.
Laportea aestuans is widely used in African traditional medicine. The pulped whole plant is eaten or the plant sap is drunk as an anthelmintic and for the treatment of hernia. Pulp of the whole plant is applied on the body in case of oedema and ulcers. The pulverized dried plant is rubbed into scarifications to cure headache and syphilitic yaws. A plant extract is drunk against cough or rubbed on the body to treat fever in children. Slightly scorched or smoked leaves are applied to burns and used against migraine. To treat gonorrhoea, the leaf is wrapped, roasted and ground in water, after which the liquid is drunk. In case of leucorrhoea, the leaf is ground in water and the liquid is drunk. Soup made from the leaf is considered good against indigestion. Boiled leaves are taken against constipation, but pounded with clay and water they are applied in enemas against dysentery. The pulverized leaf or leaf sap, mixed with palm oil or kaolin, is applied on abscesses and wounds, and on the head of children to close the fontanel. Leaf sap is rubbed on against toothache, and applied on the abdomen to ease childbirth. Liquid obtained by boiling the leaf is applied on swellings, and instilled in the eye to treat minor eye infections. A maceration of the fresh leaf is used to massage the body for the treatment of intercostal pain and stitches in the side. A leaf decoction is used against stomach-ache, as an embrocation to strengthen rachitic children and to relieve fever. An infusion of the leaf is taken for the treatment of filariasis, rheumatism and menopausal disorders. A decoction of the leaf and root is drunk as an antidote to any case of poisoning. The inflorescence mixed with the seed of Aframomum melegueta K.Schum. is eaten for the treatment of sore throat and hoarseness.
The bark yields 45% fibre, which is irregularly distributed in the bark. The ultimate fibres are (15–)37–130(–252) μm wide, with an average cell wall thickness of 20 μm. The fibre is white and does not contain any lignin. The tensile strength is low. Degumming is moderately easy.
The fresh leaves contain per 100 g edible portion: water 80 g, energy 222 kJ (53 kcal), protein 5.8 g, fat 0.4 g, carbohydrate 10.0 g, fibre 3.0 g, Ca 440 mg, P 114 mg, Fe 1.5 mg (Leung, Busson & Jardin, 1968).
A methanol extract, before and after filtering through charcoal, and various fractions were assayed against 12 species of pathogenic bacteria and fungi. Extracts were active against 7 of them, especially Staphylococcus aureus. In subsequent phytochemical screenings, reactions were positive for steroids, but negative for alkaloids, flavonoids and anthraquinones. In another study a trace of alkaloid was detected in the plant.
Contact of the skin with the stinging hairs causes pain and blisters, but this effect is lost when plant parts are dried.
Annual, little-branched herb up to 1(–3) m tall; stem fleshy, slightly woody at base, densely covered with stinging hairs up to 1 mm long and soft glandular hairs 1–2(–3) mm long. Leaves alternate, restricted to the top of the stem, simple; stipules linear-lanceolate, fused for about half their length, up to 1 cm long, glabrous except for a few stinging hairs; petiole up to 16(–20) cm long, usually densely covered with soft glandular hairs, with a few stinging hairs intermixed; blade ovate to broadly ovate, (2–)6–20(–30) cm × (1–)3.5–15(–22) cm, base broadly cuneate to cordate, apex acute to acuminate, margin toothed, with on each side 30–40 teeth up to 5 mm long, chartaceous, upper surface with scattered stiff and stinging hairs and punctiform mineral concretions, lower surface with stinging hairs on the veins, lateral veins in 4–9 pairs. Inflorescence bisexual, rarely unisexual, paniculate, in the axils of upper leaves, up to 20(–40) cm long, covered with glandular and stinging hairs, with flowers in clusters c. 5 mm in diameter; peduncle 4–10 cm long. Flowers unisexual; male flowers scattered in the inflorescence and mixed with female ones or mostly at the base, 4–5-merous, pedicel c. 1 mm long, perianth 1–2 mm in diameter, usually with glandular hairs, soon falling; female flowers densely clustered, pedicel c. 0.5 mm long, tepals 4, unequal, the 2 lateral ones c. 0.5 mm long, the dorsal one half as long, the ventral one shorter, ovary superior, 1-celled, stigma filiform. Fruit an ovoid achene 1(–2) mm × 1(–2) mm, stipitate, laterally compressed, on each side with a ring enclosing a warted area, dispersed with the perianth.
Other botanical information
Laportea comprises 22 species, the majority of them in Africa and Madagascar. The bark of Laportea amberana (Baker) Leandri, a shrub up to 1.5 m tall endemic to Madagascar, also yields a good fibre.
Growth and development
In Madagascar Laportea aestuans flowers in January–May.
Laportea aestuans occurs from near sea level up to 1300 m altitude, in farmland, along roads and in other disturbed locations in forest or woodland areas, always in partial shade, sometimes in rock crevices. It is very common, and is often considered a weed.
Diseases and pests
In Costa Rica and Martinique Laportea aestuans was shown to be a host for root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.), which are pests in banana plantations. It is also a host of African cassava mosaic virus (ACMV).
In view of its widespread distribution and common occurrence, Laportea aestuans is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Laportea aestuans will continue to be of local use as a fibre plant, vegetable and medicinal plant, although the presence of stinging hairs makes handling of the plant difficult. In view of its wide application in traditional African medicine, it is an obvious candidate for pharmacological investigations, but so far remarkable little research has been carried out in this field.
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Sources of illustration
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Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2009. Laportea aestuans (L.) Chew. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, flowering stem; 2, part of inflorescence.
Source: Flore analytique du Bénin