Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Syst. nat. 2: 552 (1821).
2n = 16
African pepperwort, pepperweed, Cape peppercress (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Lepidium africanum occurs from eastern DR Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia south to Namibia and South Africa, and in the Indian Ocean islands. It has been introduced in Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
In Namibia the leaves are used in traditional medicine to treat cough, bronchitis and sore throat. Dried unripe seed is added to food for the treatment of stomach ulcers. The leaves are eaten as a vegetable. In South Africa, Lepidium africanum is grazed by sheep during the dry season.
Annual or short-lived perennial herb up to 75(–100) cm tall; stems erect or straggling, usually much branching, finely hairy. Leaves alternate, simple, first leaves in a short-lived rosette; stipules absent; petiole short; blade lanceolate to oblanceolate, up to 6 cm long, cuneate at base, acute at apex, irregularly toothed, sparsely hairy or glabrous. Inflorescence a terminal raceme up to 15 cm long, many-flowered. Flowers bisexual, regular, 4-merous, minute, greenish; pedicel 2.5–4 mm long; sepals ovate, 0.5–1 mm long; petals absent or narrowly spatulate or linear and up to 0.5 mm long; stamens 2; ovary superior, broadly elliptical, flat, 2-celled, with projecting style. Fruit an elliptical to ovate, flattened silique 2–3.5 mm × 1.5–2.5 mm, slightly notched, with style not projecting outside the sinus, 2-seeded. Seeds 1–1.5 mm long, bright red-brown.
Lepidium comprises about 200 species and is distributed worldwide. In tropical Africa about 10 species are found. Two subspecies are distinguished within Lepidium africanum: subsp. africanum and subsp. divaricatum (Aiton) Jonsell (synonym: Lepidium divaricatum Aiton); the latter is confined to Namibia and South Africa and differs from subsp. africanum mainly in its stems branching from the base (in subsp. africanum only in upper half of stem) and its slightly larger fruits and seeds.
Lepidium africanum occurs on roadsides, open grassland and as a weed in fields, at (100–)1100–2600 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
Lepidium africanum occurs widespread and often in disturbed habitats, and is thus not threatened by genetic erosion.
Research on the phytochemistry and pharmacological properties of Lepidium africanum is desirable to confirm its medicinal activity. This may lay the foundation for an increasing use in folk medicine, comparable to garden cress (Lepidium sativum L.), which is not only a well-known vegetable but also much used as a medicinal plant with proven pharmacological activities.
• Jonsell, B., 1975. Lepidium L. (Cruciferae) in Tropical Africa. Botaniska Notiser 128(1): 20–46.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
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• du Toit, P.C.V., 1998. A comparison of the diets selected by merino and dorper sheep on the three range types of the Karoo, South Africa. Archivos de Zootecnia 47(177): 21–32.
• Jonsell, B., 1982. Cruciferae. Flore de Madagascar et des Comores, familles 84–87. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 3–32.
• Jonsell, B., 1982. Cruciferae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. pp. 15–17.
• Jonsell, B., 2000. Brassicaceae (Cruciferae). In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 121–154.
• Marais, W., 1970. Cruciferae. In: Codd, L.E., de Winter, B., Killick, D.J.B. & Rycroft, H.B. (Editors). Flora of southern Africa. Volume 13. Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agricultural Technical Services, Pretoria, South Africa. pp. 1–118.
Correct citation of this article:
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2006. Lepidium africanum (Burm.f.) DC. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
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