Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Tent. fl. abyss. 2: 260 (1850).
Origin and geographic distribution
Urtica simensis is endemic to Ethiopia.
The leaves and young shoots are edible, eaten mainly in times of famine.
The boiled leaves give a burning sensation in the mouth if not crushed before boiling. Acetylcholine, histamine and 5-hydroxytryptamine have been implicated in itching from the stinging hairs of other Urtica species.
Dioecious, erect, perennial herb up to 1 m tall, almost unbranched; rhizome creeping; petioles, leaf blades and inflorescences with c. 2.5 mm long stinging hairs. Leaves opposite, simple; stipules fused, interpetiolar, 0.5–1 cm long; petiole c. 4 cm long; blade ovate, 5–12 cm × 3–8 cm, base rounded to slightly cordate, apex broadly acute or acuminate, margin simply serrate. Inflorescence an axillary, lax, cymose panicle up to 5 cm long, 4 at each node. Flowers unisexual, regular, 4-merous, c. 1.5 mm long, with free tepals in 2 unequal pairs; male flowers with 4 inflexed stamens and rudimentary ovary; female flowers with superior, ovoid, 1-celled ovary. Fruit an achene c. 2 mm long.
Urtica comprises about 80 species and is almost cosmopolitan, with most species in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere and about 5 in Africa, 2 of which are introduced weeds. Urtica massaica Mildbr. is also used as a vegetable in East Africa; it can be distinguished by larger stipules and usually double -serrate leaf margins, and it is more robust. Urtica dioica L. has been reported from tropical Africa (DR Congo, Ethiopia), probably as an introduced weed in gardens, but its presence is not confirmed by herbarium specimens. In South Africa and many other regions of the world its leaves are used as a vegetable.
Urtica simensis is found in grassland and is common in disturbed localities, often plentiful near houses. It is found at 1500–3500 m altitude. It is considered a weed in fields and pastures.
The plants grow throughout the year and can be harvested whenever there is a need. For collection the hands should be covered to protect against the stinging hairs. The leaves are cut and spread between two hides on the ground and crushed by stamping or rubbing. After boiling for about 3 hours, the leaves are crushed once more to obtain a smooth puree.
Genetic resources and breeding
Urtica simensis is common in its area of distribution and therefore not threatened with genetic erosion.
As a vegetable Urtica simensis will remain important only locally. The widespread interest in other Urtica species because of their medicinal properties might eventually attract attention from phytochemical research for Urtica simensis.
• 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.
• Lemordant, D., 1971. Contribution à l'ethnobotanique éthiopienne. Journal d'Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 18(1–3): 1–35.
• UN-EUE, 2001. Typical 'famine-food' plants. Urtica simensis. [Internet] Famine food field guide. United Nations Emergency Unit for Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. http://www.africa.upenn.edu/faminefood/ category1/cat1_Samma_ok.htm. Accessed August 2003.
• Friis, I., 1989. Urticaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 64 pp.
• Westphal, E., 1975. Agricultural systems in Ethiopia. Verslagen van landbouwkundige onderzoekingen 826. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 278 pp.
• Zemede Asfaw & Mesfin Tadesse, 2001. Prospects for sustainable use and development of wild food plants in Ethiopia. Economic Botany 55(1): 47–55.
Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Urtica simensis Hochst. ex A.Rich. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.