Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Mant. pl.: 92 (1767).
2n = 32
Coronopus didymus (L.) Sm. (1800).
Lesser swine-cress (En). Corne de cerf didyme, cressonnette (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Lepidium didymum originates from South America, but has become an almost cosmopolitan weed. It occurs scattered in East and southern Africa, where it has been recorded from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and from the Indian Ocean islands. Lepidium didymum is still expanding its distribution area.
In Mauritius Lepidium didymum is credited with stimulant, tonic and antiscorbutic properties. A decoction of the whole plant is drunk to treat headache, and a leaf poultice is applied externally for the same purpose. The decoction is used internally to treat fever. In India the plant is valued in traditional medicine as a treatment for allergies and wounds. In Argentina Lepidium didymum is used as an expectorant, antiscorbutic, digestive and febrifuge, and to treat cancer, gangrene and haemorrhoids. The plant is eaten as a vegetable in South America.
Production and international trade
In local markets in South America (e.g. Argentina) dried aerial parts of Lepidium didymum are traded as a drug.
Phytochemical screening of Lepidium didymum showed the presence of flavonoids, saponins and tannins. The bioactive flavonoid chrysoeriol and its glycoside chrysoeriol-6-O-acetyl-4’-β-D-glucoside have been isolated. These compounds have free radical-scavenging and antioxidant properties. The sterol β-sitosterol has been isolated from the petroleum ether extract; it has hypocholesterolaemic activity. The seeds contain erucic acid and glucosinolate.
Tests with rats and mice in India showed wound-healing, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, antipyretic, hypoglycaemic and hepatoprotective activities of Lepidium didymum extracts.
Cows may produce off-flavoured milk when they have been fed with grass mixed with Lepidium didymum. It has been suggested that this is caused by the inhibitory actions of benzyl isothiocyanate present in the plant on microbial and/or enzymatic activities in the rumen of the cows.
Small annual or short-lived perennial herb, with an offensive smell; stems creeping or ascending, up to 40 cm long, usually strongly branched, finely hairy. Leaves alternate; stipules absent; first leaves in a rosette, bipinnate, later ones pinnately cleft, 1.5–3 cm × 0.5–1 cm, with lanceolate to elliptical, entire to deeply incised lobes, glabrous. Inflorescence a leaf-opposed raceme up to 5 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 4-merous, minute, greenish; pedicel 2–3 mm long; sepals elliptical, 0.5–1 mm long; petals shorter than sepals, very narrow, often reduced to small scales; stamens usually 2; ovary superior, flat, notched, 2-celled, with sessile stigma. Fruit a heart-shaped, flattened silique 1.5 mm × 2–2.5 mm, notched, wrinkled, divided into 2 ellipsoid 1-seeded halves. Seeds 1–1.5 mm long, finely reticulate, orange to reddish brown. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl 5–16 mm long, epicotyl absent; cotyledons lanceolate, leafy.
Lepidium comprises about 200 species and is distributed worldwide. In tropical Africa about 10 species are found. In most of the literature, Lepidium didymum is included in Coronopus, a genus of about 10 species which belongs to Lepidium according to recent morphological as well as molecular studies.
After germination, Lepidium didymum plants develop rapidly. They often complete their life cycle within a few months.
Lepidium didymum occurs on roadsides, open grassland, forest clearings and as a weed in fields, in East Africa at 1350–2800 m altitude, in Madagascar at 1000–2000 m, but elsewhere in tropical Africa occasionally also at lower altitudes. It prefers bare, not too dry soils.
In some regions Lepidium didymum is considered a serious weed, e.g. in wheat, potato, pea, carrot and onion in India and in onion in Brazil, but in Africa it does not seem to be causing problems yet. It is a host of several pathogens that attack crops, e.g. cucumber mosaic virus, the fungi Sclerotinia minor and Xanthomonas campestris and fungi causing powdery mildew, the nematodes Meloidogyne javanica and Rotylenchulus reniformis, and cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera).
Genetic resources and breeding
Being an extremely widespread weed, Lepidium didymum is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Interesting pharmacological properties have been demonstrated for Lepidium didymum, but it is still poorly known and little used in tropical Africa. In view of the common use of the plant in traditional medicine in South America and India and its increasing spread as a weed in Africa, more research attention seems justified.
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Correct citation of this article:
Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2006. Lepidium didymum L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
obtained from B. Wursten
obtained from B. Wursten