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Alternanthera sessilis (L.) DC.

Cat. pl. horti monsp.: 77 (1813).
Chromosome number
2n = 34, 96
Vernacular names
Sessile joyweed, dwarf copperleaf (En). Brède chevrette, magloire (Fr). Periquito-sessil (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Alternanthera sessilis possibly originates from tropical America but is now widespread in the tropics and subtropics of the world, including the whole of tropical Africa.
In many places of the world, the leaves of Alternanthera sessilis are eaten as a cooked vegetable or raw as a salad. In tropical Africa its use as a vegetable has been reported from Guinea (where it is used in place of rice as a staple and is said to be satiating), Benin (in sauces and soup), Nigeria (in soup), DR Congo, Tanzania and Zambia (as a relish), as well as from Madagascar and Réunion (as a potherb). In Sri Lanka the plant is tied in bundles and sold on markets for use in salads. It is also exported to Europe for clients of South-Indian origin.
Alternanthera sessilis is used for simple stomach disorders, diarrhoea, dysentery and as a plaster for diseased or wounded skin parts and against fever. In Ghana a decoction with some salt is taken to stop vomiting blood. In Nigeria the pounded plant is used against headache and vertigo, and leaf sap is sniffed up the nose to treat neuralgia. A paste is used to draw out spines or any other object from the body and it is also used to cure hernia. In Senegal and India leafy twigs, ground to a powder, are applied against snakebites. The plant is also used in veterinary medicine in Kenya. Alternanthera sessilis is used in local medicine in Taiwan, often in mixtures with other medicinal plants, to treat hepatitis, tight chest, bronchitis, asthma and other lung troubles, to stop bleeding and as a hair tonic. In India it is used as a cholagogue, abortifacient and febrifuge, in Thailand and Sri Lanka as a galactagogue.
The fresh leaves of Alternanthera sessilis contain per 100 g: water 80 g, energy 251 kJ (60 kcal), protein 4.7 g, fat 0.8 g, carbohydrate 11.8 g, fibre 2.1 g, Ca 146 mg, P 45 mg (Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968).
In Alternanthera sessilis the following compounds have been demonstrated to be present: the triterpenes α-spinasterol, β-spinasterol, stigmasterol, β-sitosterol, oleanotic acid and its derivatives and saturated (aliphatic) esters. The leaves contain dietary fibre (about 12 g per 100 g dry matter) and incorporation of about 75 g of this vegetable fibre in the daily diet of diabetics significantly reduced the postprandial blood glucose level.
In tests in India, leaf pastes of Alternanthera sessilis exhibited inhibition of mutagenicity in Salmonella typhimurium strains. They inhibited the formation of the potent environmental carcinogen nitrosodiethanolamine from its precursors such as triethanolamine. The aqueous alcohol extract of the entire plant exhibits hypothermic and histaminergic activities and relaxes smooth muscles. An ether extract of Alternanthera sessilis yielded an active principle having anti-ulcerative properties.
Perennial, sometimes annual herb up to 1 m tall, erect, ascending or creeping, often widely branched, with robust taproot; stem striate, terete below, slightly tetragonous above, solid, sometimes floating in water and fistulose in lower part, stem and branches with narrow lines of whitish hairs and branch and leaf axils with tufts of white hairs. Leaves opposite, simple; petiole up to 5 mm long; blade linear-lanceolate, oblong to ovate or obovate, 1–15 cm × 0.2–3 cm, glabrous to sparsely pilose. Inflorescence an axillary, sessile, subglobose head 5 mm in diameter, solitary or in clusters of up to 5. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; tepals free, equal, ovate to elliptical, up to 2.5 mm long, white to pinkish, 1-veined; stamens united at base into a very short cup, 2 without anthers; ovary superior, strongly compressed, 1-celled, style very short. Fruit an obreniform, corky, indehiscent capsule c. 2 mm long, dark brown, 1-seeded. Seed discoid, c. 1 mm long, shiny brown.
Alternanthera comprises about 200 species, distributed pantropically but most abundantly in tropical America. In tropical Africa about 6 species are found.
Alternanthera nodiflora R.Br. (synonym: Alternanthera sessilis (L.) DC. var. nodiflora (R.Br.) Kuntze), closely related to Alternanthera sessilis, originates from Australia, but is also widespread in Africa. Its tepals are 3–4 mm long and its fruits are pale brown to yellow. Its ecological requirements are similar to those of Alternanthera sessilis. It is eaten in Tanzania as a vegetable and as a famine food in Nigeria. It is grazed by all stock. Medicinally, it has more or less the same uses as Alternanthera sessilis. It showed molluscicidal properties against the freshwater snails Bulinus and Biomphalaria.
Alternanthera sessilis flowers and fruits throughout the year with most vigorous vegetative growth at the onset of the rainy season and the most vigorous reproductive growth at the end of it. The flowers are self-pollinated and the fruits are dispersed by wind and water.
Alternanthera sessilis is a very common plant of constant or periodically humid, open localities in roadsides, gardens, ditches, swamps, ricefields and tea plantations, on many types of soil, at up to 1800 m altitude. The dark, corky fruits often float in great quantities on the water. In fields (e.g. rice) and along watercourses, Alternanthera sessilis can become a noxious aquatic or terrestrial weed. It prefers loamy, alkaline soil, low in exchangeable calcium and rich in total nitrogen.
Alternanthera sessilis is collected from the wild and not cultivated. It can easily be propagated by seed and by rooted stem parts. The average number of seeds per plant is about 2000.
A leaf-spot disease caused by Fusarium pallidoroseum has been described in Nigeria. It may spread to crops in which Alternanthera sessilis occurs as a weed, e.g. okra, yams, potatoes, onions and carrots.
Genetic resources and breeding
Alternanthera sessilis is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion.
Alternanthera sessilis will remain a vegetable of minor importance. The medicinal properties of this common, always available species, deserve more scientific attention, although in many locations it is considered a noxious weed and focus is on its eradication.
Major references
• Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
• Lemmens, R.H.M.J. & Horsten, S.F.A.J., 1999. Alternanthera Forssk. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 105–109.
• Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.
• Townsend, C.C., 1985. Amaranthaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 136 pp.
• van der Zon, A.P.M. & Grubben, G.J.H., 1976. Les légumes-feuilles spontanés et cultivés du Sud-Dahomey. Communication 65. Département des Recherches Agronomiques, Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen, Amsterdam, Netherlands. 111 pp.
Other references
• Aruna Krishnakumar, Sivaramakrishnan, V.M., Sivaswamy, S.N., & Krishnakumar, A., 1991. Inhibition of nitrosation reaction by some spices/leafy vegetables. Advances in Plant Sciences 4(1): 189–193.
• Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
• Datta, S.C. & Biswas, K.K., 1979. Autecological studies on weeds of West Bengal 8. Alternanthera sessilis (L.) DC. Bulletin of the Botanical Society of Bengal 33: 1–2, 5–26.
• Kerharo, J. & Adam, J.G., 1974. La pharmacopée sénégalaise traditionnelle. Plantes médicinales et toxiques. Vigot & Frères, Paris, France. 1011 pp.
• Sreedevi & Chaturvedi, A., 1993. Effect of vegetable fibre on post prandial glycemia. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 44(1): 71–78.
• Townsend, C.C., 1988. Amaranthaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 1. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 28–133.
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Lemmens, R.H.M.J. & Horsten, S.F.A.J., 1999. Alternanthera Forssk. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 105–109.
P.C.M. Jansen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

G.J.H. Grubben
Boeckweijdt Consult, Prins Hendriklaan 24, 1401 AT Bussum, Netherlands
O.A. Denton
National Horticultural Research Institute, P.M.B. 5432, Idi-Ishin, Ibadan, Nigeria
Associate editors
C.-M. Messiaen
Bat. B 3, Résidence La Guirlande, 75, rue de Fontcarrade, 34070 Montpellier, France
R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2004. Alternanthera sessilis (L.) DC. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>. Accessed .
1, plant habit; 2, flower with bract and bracteoles; 3, flower with tepals removed; 4, fruit.
Source: PROSEA