Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Gard. Bull. Sing. 21: 201 (1965).
Fleurya podocarpa Wedd. (1869), Fleurya ovalifolia (Schumach.) Dandy (1952).
Origin and geographic distribution
Laportea ovalifolia is widespread in tropical Africa from Sierra Leone to southern Sudan and south to Angola and Tanzania. Further south it is obviously rare with a single specimen collected in Zimbabwe.
Leaves of Laportea ovalifolia are eaten cooked as a vegetable in Cameroon, DR Congo, Kenya and Tanzania. In Tanzania chopped and boiled young leaves are often mixed with beans or peas and served with a staple food. Although they have a mild taste, they are eaten in small amounts.
In Nigeria the leaves are used as a haemostatic on cuts and wounds and as an anti-irritant, whereas the fruit is used as a poison antidote. In Gabon cooked leaves are eaten as a remedy for stomach-ache and cooked with peanuts they are given to pregnant women. In Cameroon the fresh leaves are used to relieve headache. In DR Congo the leaves are used as a diuretic, as a cure for blenorrhoea and chest problems and as a fish poison. In Tanzania an infusion prepared by pounding and soaking leaves in water is taken to help deliver the placenta after childbirth, and a decoction made by boiling roots in water is taken to prevent excessive menstrual bleeding. In Gabon Laportea ovalifolia is used during initiation rituals.
The taste of the young leaves is said to be mild. No data have been published on nutritive value or chemical composition, but they are probably similar to those of Laportea aestuans (L.) Gaudich., which is also eaten as a vegetable, but is better known as a fibre plant and for its uses in traditional medicine. Fresh leaves of the latter species contain per 100 g edible portion: water 80 g, energy 222 kJ (53 kcal), protein 5.8 g, fat 4.0 g, carbohydrate 10.0 g, fibre 3.0 g, Ca 440 mg, P 114 mg, Fe 1.5 mg (Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968).
Monoecious, stoloniferous, perennial herb, with scattered stinging hairs; main stem often prostrate with erect shoots up to 2 m tall. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules fused almost to the apex, up to 1 cm long; petiole 5–10 cm long; blade ovate, 8–10 cm × 4–6 cm, base subcordate to rounded, apex acute to acuminate, margin crenate to serrate. Inflorescence unisexual; male inflorescence paniculate, arising from stolons, rarely axillary on the erect stems, up to 50 cm long; female inflorescence shortly racemose or paniculate, mostly axillary on the erect stems. Flowers unisexual, pedicellate, perianth up to 2 mm long; male flowers with 5 tepals and stamens; female flowers with 4 tepals and superior 1-celled ovary, stigma 3-branched. Fruit an ovoid achene up to 3 mm long.
Laportea comprises 22 species, the majority of them in Africa and Madagascar. Several species are used as vegetables, for their fibre and in traditional medicine.
Laportea ovalifolia occurs in forest, also in swamp forest and along streams, at 900–2000 m altitude. It can be very common in disturbed habitats such as cleared forest patches, fallow land and close to habitation.
Laportea ovalifolia is a noxious weed in perennial crops such as cacao, oil palm and bananas.
Genetic resources and breeding
Laportea ovalifolia has a wide distribution and is often very common in disturbed habitats. Therefore it is not at risk of genetic erosion.
Laportea ovalifolia will continue to be of local use as a vegetable. Some other Laportea species are obvious candidates for pharmacological investigations, and if the results are promising, attention may be drawn to Laportea ovalifolia as well.
• Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
• 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.
• Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 2002. Edible wild plants of Tanzania. Technical Handbook No 27. Regional Land Management Unit/ SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 766 pp.
• Chew, W.L., 1967. A monograph of Laportea (Urticaceae). Gardens’ Bulletin Singapore 25: 111–178.
• Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 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.
Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Laportea ovalifolia (Schumach.) Chew In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.