Economic Botany

, Volume 72, Issue 4, pp 496–542 | Cite as

Feeding the Forgotten: Wild and Cultivated Ceratotheca and Sesamum (Pedaliaceae) That Nourish and Provide Remedies in Africa

  • Dorothea BedigianEmail author


The usage and cultural importance of wild and weedy edible leaves of wild relatives of sesame, Ceratotheca and Sesamum in Africa, is reported from herbarium records, published sources, and firsthand observations. They contribute not only nutritionally—protein, lipid, and micronutrients, especially calcium and iron—but release a little scrutinized valuable product, water-soluble polysaccharide mucilage, that serves as a source of fiber and provides beneficial dietary bulk, enhances gastrointestinal function, alleviates constipation, protects against diabetes, and lowers cholesterol. Dissimilar genera and species are used in similar ways. Their utility was discovered by women gathering edible leaves to accompany dry cereal staples. African vernacular names from several disparate cultures refer to their slimy consistency. Corresponding nutritional and mucilage constituents of several other popular African vegetables are evaluated for comparison.

Key Words

Dietary fiber disturbance vegetation edible weeds gendered knowledge herbarium vouchers mucilage nutrition sesame relatives vernacular names women’s health 



I gratefully acknowledge the Missouri Botanical Garden, where herbarium study commenced in 1978. Kenya’s National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, and National Museums of Kenya; Sudan’s Ministry of Agriculture, and Agricultural Research Corporation; Tanzania’s Commission for Science and Technology; and Uganda’s National Council for Science and Technology, granted research permits.

Christopher Ehret, UCLA, scholar of African history and African historical linguistics known particularly for his efforts to correlate linguistic taxonomy, has generously commented on these vernacular names for nearly two decades. The Missouri Botanical Garden and New York Public Library provided reference support. N.R. Farnsworth granted access to the NAPRALERT database for 2 months (2007). F. Abiodun shared unpublished data about nutritional constituents of sesame leaves (2018). Input by colleagues and reviewers enriched the manuscript. Lastly, the ingenious practical knowledge of African peoples is rightfully applauded.

Funding Information

The African Studies Program, University of Illinois initiated this study with a Regional Africanist Fellowship for library research (1992). The Knight Foundation covered travel expenses to Kenya (1993); the Institute for Advanced Study, and the Botany Department at Maseno University, hosted me for 9 weeks, supported by Antioch College Faculty Development Award (1994). National Geographic Society Research and Exploration Grants NGS #6218-98, NGS #7732-04, and NGS #9813-15 financed recent fieldwork.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Missouri Botanical GardenSt. LouisUSA

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