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Laportea aestuans (L.) Chew

Gard. Bull. Sing. 21: 200 (1965).
Fleurya aestuans (L.) Gaudich. (1830), Laportea bathiei Leandri (1965).
Vernacular names
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).
Genetic resources
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.
Major references
• Adebajo, A.C., Aladesanmi, A.J. & Oloke, K., 1991. Antimicrobial activity of Laportea aestuans. Fitoterapia 62: 504–505.
• Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
• Chew, W.L., 1967. A monograph of Laportea (Urticaceae). Gardens’ Bulletin Singapore 25: 111–178.
• Friis, I., 1989. Urticaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 64 pp.
• Friis, I., 1991. Urticaceae. In: Launert, E. & Pope, G.V. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 6. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 79–116.
• Jacques-Félix, H. & Rabéchault, H., 1948. Recherches sur les fibres de quelques Urticacées Africaines. Agronomie Tropicale 3: 339–384, 451–488.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H., 2001. Laportea Gaudich. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 324–327.
Other references
• Adjanohoun, E.J., Adjakidjè, V., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Akoègninou, A., d’Almeida, J., Apovo, F., Boukef, K., Chadare, M., Cusset, G., Dramane, K., Eyme, J., Gassita, J.N., Gbaguidi, N., Goudote, E., Guinko, S., Houngnon, P., Lo, I., Keita, A., Kiniffo, H.V., Kone-Bamba, D., Musampa Nseyya, A., Saadou, M., Sodogandji, T., De Souza, S., Tchabi, A., Zinsou Dossa, C. & Zohoun, T., 1989. Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques en République Populaire du Bénin. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 895 pp.
• Ayensu, E.S., 1978. Medicinal plants of West Africa. Reference Publication, Michigan. 330 pp.
• Boiteau, P., Boiteau, M. & Allorge-Boiteau, L., 1999. Dictionnaire des noms malgaches de végétaux. 4 Volumes + Index des noms scientifiques avec leurs équivalents malgaches. Editions Alzieu, Grenoble, France.
• Focho, D.A., Ndam, W.T. & Fonge, B.A., 2009. Medicinal plants of Aguambu - Bamumbu in the Lebialem highlands, southwest province of Cameroon. African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 3(1): 1–13.
• Friis, I., 1989. Urticaceae. In: Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia. Volume 3. Pittosporaceae to Araliaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 302–325.
• Hauman, L., 1948. Urticaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., De Wildeman, E., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Lebrun, J., Louis, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 1. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 177–218.
• Jones, D.R., 2003. Plant viruses transmitted by whiteflies. European Journal of Plant Pathology 109: 195–219.
• Kalanda, K. & Omasombo, W.D., 1995. Contribution à la connaissance des plantes médicinales du Haut-Zaïre - Plantes utilisées dans le traitement des maux d'estomac dans la ville de Kisangani. Revue de Médecines et Pharmacopées Africaines 9(1): 59–69.
• Keay, R.W.J., 1958. Urticaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 616–623.
• Leandri, J., 1965. Urticacées (Urticaceae). Flore de Madagascar et des Comores (plantes vasculaires), famille 56. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. 107 pp.
• Letouzey, R., 1968. Urticaceae. Flore du Cameroun. Volume 8. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 67–216.
• Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.
• López, C.R., 1982. Determinación de los nematodos fitoparásitos asociados al plátano (Musa acuminata × M. balbisiana, AAB) en Río Frío. Agronomía Costarricense 4(2): 143–147.
• Marais, W. & Jellis, S., 1985. Urticacées. In: Bosser, J., Cadet, T., Guého, J. & Marais, W. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Familles 161–169. The Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius, l’Office de la Recherche Scientifique Outre-Mer, Paris, France & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 36 pp.
• Medina, J.C., 1959. Plantas fibrosas da flora mundial. Instituto Agronômico Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil. 913 pp.
• Otchoumou, A., N’Da, K. & Kouassi, K.D., 2005. L’élevage des escargots géants comestibles d’Afrique: inventaire de végétaux sauvages consommés par Achatina achatina (Linne 1758) et préférences alimentaires. Livestock Research for Rural Development 17(3): article 28.
• Pinto Basto, M.F., 2002. Urticaceae. In: Martins, E.S., Diniz, M.A., Paiva, J., Gomes, I. & Gomes, S. (Editors). Flora de Cabo Verde: Plantas vasculares. No 8. Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical, Lisbon, Portugal & Instituto Nacional de Investigação e Desenvolvimento Agrário, Praia, Cape Verde. 16 pp.
• Quénéhervé, P., Chabrier, C., Auwerkerken, A., Topart, P., Martiny, B. & Marie-Luce, S., 2006. Status of weeds as reservoirs of plant parasitic nematodes in banana fields in Martinique. Crop Protection 25(8): 860–867.
• Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
• Williamson, J., 1955. Useful plants of Nyasaland. The Government Printer, Zomba, Nyasaland. 168 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.
M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
E.G. Achigan Dako
PROTA Network Office Africa, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi, Kenya

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.
Distribution Map wild

1, flowering stem; 2, part of inflorescence.
Source: Flore analytique du Bénin