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Botanical Name : Cleome gynandra
Family: Cleomaceae /Capparaceae (APG: Brassicaceae)
Species: C. gynandra
Synonyms : Cleome pentaphylla L. (1763), Gynandropsis pentaphylla (L.) DC. (1824), Gynandropsis gynandra (L.) Briq. (1914).
Common Names : Cat whiskers,African cabbage,African cabbage, spider wisp (Eng.); oorpeultjie, snotterbelletjie (Afr.); Morotho (Northern Sotho); Muruthu (Venda)
Vernacular names : Spiderplant, cat’s whiskers, spider flower, bastard mustard (En). Caya blanc, brède caya, mouzambé (Fr). Musambe (Po). Mgagani, mkabili, mkabilishemsi, mwangani mgange (Sw).
Habitat : The origin of Cleome gynandra is not known. There are claims that it has a southern Asian origin, but others suggest that it originates from Africa or Central America. Cleome gynandra occurs throughout the tropics and subtropics. In Africa, it is mainly found near human settlements, possibly escapes from earlier introductions. It occurs probably in all countries of tropical Africa, has now become widespread in many tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world.
Erect annual herb up to 150 cm tall, strongly branched, with long taproot and few secondary roots; stem densely glandular. Leaves alternate, palmately compound with (3–)5(–7) leaflets; stipules absent; petiole 2–10 cm long, glandular; leaflets almost sessile, obovate to elliptical or lanceolate, 2–10 cm × 1–4 cm, cuneate at base, rounded to obtuse, acute or acuminate at apex, margins finely toothed, sparsely to distinctly hairy. Inflorescence a terminal raceme up to 30 cm long, bracteate. Flowers bisexual, white or tinged with purple; pedicel 1.5–2.5 cm long; sepals 4, free, ovate to lanceolate, up to 8 mm long; petals 4, elliptical to obovate, up to 1.5 cm long, clawed; androgynophore 1–1.5 cm long; stamens 6, purple; ovary superior, stalked, 2-celled. Fruit a long, narrow, cylindrical capsule up to 12 cm × 1 cm, stalked and beaked, usually green or yellow, dehiscing from below with 2 valves, many-seeded. Seeds subglobose, 1–1.5 mm in diameter, grey to black, irregularly ribbed. Seedling with oblong cotyledons; first leaves 3-foliolate.
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Fresh leaves are cooked and eaten as spinach or dried and stored for later use as a relish with porridge. They are rich in magnesium, iron and nicotinic acid.
The tender leaves, young shoots and occasionally flowers are eaten boiled as potherb, relish, stew or side dish. The leaves are utilized in fresh form or dried as powder. Sometimes the leaves are bitter and then cooked with milk and/or with other leafy vegetables such as cowpea leaves, amaranth, nightshades (Solanum spp.) and Cleome monophylla L. In other areas the leaves are boiled and the cooking water is discarded. In several countries, pounded groundnut paste (peanut butter) is added to improve the flavour. The leaves may be blanched, made into small balls and sun- or air-dried. This is a popular product in southern Africa, which finds a ready market when available during the rainy season. These balls or leaf powder can be stored up to a year and are soaked in water before being used in cooking. The seeds may be used as a substitute for mustard.
Nutrition analysis has found it to be high in certain nutrients including amino acids, vitamins and minerals as a result it forms an important part of diets in Southern Africa.
A study has shown that Cleome gynandra uses NAD-malic enzyme type C4 photosynthesis and has the characteristic traits associated with this including changes in “leaf biochemistry, cell biology and development”. Cleome gynandra is closely related to Arabidopsis thaliana (a C3 photosynthetic plant) in an evolutionary manner and therefore offers comparison with this well studied model plant.
In several communities, boiled spiderplant leaves are traditionally given to mothers before and after delivery of a child, and in other situations where blood has been lost, e.g. to warriors. Similarly, an infusion of the leaves is used to treat anaemia. The leaves and seeds are used medicinally as rubefacient and vesicant, and to treat rheumatism, externally as well as internally. An infusion of the roots is used as a medicine for chest pain, the leaves to treat diarrhoea. Spiderplant seeds thrown in water can kill fish, which then float to the surface. The glands on the stems and leaves have insect repellent properties; cabbage and related crops intercropped with spiderplant suffer less from diamond back moth larvae. Similarly, in French bean intercropped with spiderplant, the beans are less affected by flower thrips and are therefore of better quality for export.
The seeds are used to feed birds. The seed contains an edible polyunsaturated oil, which is extracted by simple pressing and does not need refining. The seed cake can be used as animal food.
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.