Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
DC., Prodr. 8: 551 (1844).
Asclepiadaceae (APG: Apocynaceae)
Cynanchum lanceolatum Poir. (1811), Cynanchum lancifolium Schumach. & Thonn. (1827), Leptadenia lancifolia (Schumach. & Thonn.) Decne. (1838).
Origin and geographic distribution
Leptadenia hastata is widely distributed in tropical Africa: from Mauritania and Senegal eastwards to Cameroon, Ethiopia, northern Kenya and to Uganda. In some locations, e.g. locally in Ethiopia, it is also cultivated.
Everywhere in its distribution area, leaves, young shoots and flowers of Leptadenia hastata are eaten as a cooked vegetable and in soups. In Uganda chopped and boiled leaves are mixed with beans, pigeon peas or cowpeas. In many parts it is a famine food, but poor people also eat this vegetable in normal times. In an interview on the preference for 14 wild herbaceous vegetables held in Burkina Faso in 1999, Leptadenia hastata ranked 3rd; its taste was considered good, and its tolerance of drought, insects and poor soil conditions as very good.
The plant is an important camel, goat and cattle fodder. Medicinally, Leptadenia hastata has many applications. The latex is applied on wounds and put in the nose against headache. Decoctions and macerations of roots and leaves are applied (alone or in combination with preparations of other plants) against abdominal complaints such as constipation, urethral discharge, gonorrhoea, stomachache and diarrhoea. In veterinary medicine the plant is used against colic in horses and cattle.
Fresh leaves of Leptadenia hastata contain per 100 g: water 81 g, energy 226 kJ (54 kcal), protein 4.9 g, fat 0.2 g, carbohydrate 11.3 g, fibre 4.7 g, Ca 417 mg, P 94 mg, Fe 5.4 mg, vitamin A 4915 mg, thiamin 0.25 mg, riboflavin 0.35 mg, niacin 1.9 mg, ascorbic acid 78 mg (Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968). The latex contains the triterpene lupeol and derivatives of it, which possess anti-inflammatory activity.
Climbing, latex-containing herb, becoming woody at base, with strongly branched, finely pubescent stems becoming corky with age. Leaves opposite, simple; petiole 0.5–1.5 cm long; blade variable, usually ovate, 2.5–12.5 cm × 0.5–4 cm, base rounded to cordate, apex acuminate, margin entire, both sides puberulous, often glabrescent. Inflorescence umbellate, minutely tomentose in all parts, many-flowered; peduncle up to 1.5 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, yellowish, scented; pedicel up to 0.5 cm long; calyx lobed nearly to the base, lobes 2–4 mm long; corolla rotate-campanulate; tube 2 mm long, lobes linear-lanceolate, twisted, 4–5 mm long, densely bearded inside; corona of 5 fleshy lobes 1–3 mm long, inserted at the sinuses of the corolla, apex hairy. Fruit a pair of follicles, each one conical, up to 10 cm long, greenish, glabrous, many-seeded. Seeds with a tuft of hairs at apex.
Leptadenia comprises 4 species. Leptadenia pyrotechnica (Forssk.) Decne. is an erect leafless shrub of hot arid areas from Mauritania to Eritrea and Somalia, Egypt, Israel and extending to Pakistan. The other 3 species are twining leafy shrubs (in addition to Leptadenia hastata these are Leptadenia arborea (Forssk.) Schweinf. and Leptadenia reticulata (Retz.) Wight & Arn.). The identity of these 3 species is not clear. In fact they form a species complex, and further taxonomic research might reveal that they should be considered as a single species.
Leptadenia hastata is characteristic of dry savanna vegetation in semi-arid zones.
Propagation of Leptadenia hastata is by seed and sometimes it is intentionally sown near houses so that it is available when the need arises. In some parts of Ethiopia the fresh vegetable is also marketed.
Leptadenia hastata is frequently parasitized by the aphid Aphis nerii, which is eaten by the coccinelid Cydonia vicinia. Cydonia vicinia has been used in biological control of Aphis craccivora, Aphis gossypii and Melanaphis sacchari, which are said to cause transmission of rosette disease of groundnut and to attack sorghum and cotton. The cultivation of parasitized Leptadenia hastata in areas of these crops has been recommended as a measure to generate a population of the predatory coccinelid. More research, however, is needed to confirm activity and the practicality of planting it.
Genetic resources and breeding
Leptadenia hastata is widespread in tropical Africa and is not in danger of genetic erosion.
Leptadenia hastata will remain an important emergency food in Africa, still producing under circumstances when other plants die. Its taste and nutritional value are considered appropriate and further research seems worthwhile to determine superior genotypes and possibilities for commercial cultivation. Its value as a medicinal plant and its potential role in the biological control of several diseases in groundnut, sorghum and cotton indicate the need for further investigations.
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Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2004. Leptadenia hastata (Pers.) Decne. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.