Caesar Weed's most edible part, the blossom

Urena Lobata: Cash crop to noxious weed

Once it was an invited money-maker, now it is a hunted money spender: Caesar weed, cash crop to noxious weed.

We have often discussed what is a weed, and what is a noxious weed. Many “weeds” were food for previous generations, and some noxious weeds were valuable plants until technology moved on. Such is the story of the Caesar Weed.

Caesar Weed, Urena lobata, is in the mallow family and was imported to Florida for cordage a little prior to 1882, which makes sense; its cousin is cotton. Caesar weed is a good substitute for flax and jute and was at one time an important crop, still is in Brazil where it is called Armina Guaxima or Armania fiber.  It’s also called Congo Jute. Now it‘s a “noxious weed” in Florida because it is not used anymore and spreads easily. While it grows  happily river side it can grow on dry land with enough rain.

If you remember, the foraging phrase is all mallows are edible in some way, except the cotton (it’s oil is edible after processing.) The Caesar Weed is one of those mallows on the cusp of edible/not edible. As a food, Caesar weed is not high on the list. It is a “famine food” in Africa. When you eat it the main issue is not taste but texture. It’s not like eating sandpaper but it’s heading in that direction… tender sandpaper perhaps. The leaves are best boiled as are the calyces. After eating it can make some feel queezy. The seeds have polyunsaturated oil and are used as a cereal and in the production of soap (as is the oil of its cousin, cotton.)  While Caesar Weed is low on the food list it has a saving grace in that it’s a traditional medicine that has the support of science.

Extracts from either the roots or the leaves have broad antibacterial activity against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial isolates, and it is anti-fungal as well. I think some antioxidants were also found and one other extract was nearly as good aspirin. It is a good plant to know if push ever comes to shove and there are no pharmacies around. The roots are also diuretic and used for stomach aches (which eating too much of the cooked leaves can give you.)  Leaves are pasted and applied to skin problems. Medicine were made from fresh and dried parts.

Young leaves are famine food

The lobed leaves are covered especially on the bottom with “stellate trichomes” which are star-shaped plant hairs, which is probably why cattle, which have only lower teeth, won’t eat it.  The cocklebur seeds cling to their hair, however, so they help spread it around. The nutritional value of 100 grams of raw leaves is:  81.8 percent moisture, 54 cal, 3.2 g of protein, 0.1 g fat, 12.8 g carbohydrates, 1.8 g fiber, and 2.1 g ash, 558 mg calcium, and 67 mg of phosphorous per 100 g. When one cooks the leaves the resulting roan-colored water is tossed away. If you were an herbalist you might want to investigate that water. In some places that water is used as a tea for colds.

The Caesar Weed has bast fiber. The fiber strands are cream colored and lustrous. It’s grown mainly in the Congo area although some is raised in Brazil, India and the Phillipines.  It has the same uses as  jute and sometimes is used to make tea bags (you could have had some Caesar Weed and not known it.)  The fiber is obtained by retting, which is letting the plant partially rot in water.

Urena (you-RE-nah) is the Malaysian word for the plant and lobata (low-BAH-tuh) refers to the lobed leaves, after ear lobes. It is also sometimes called U. sinuata (there is a bit of disagreement if sinuata is a subspecies, a different species, or just another name for lobata.) Sinuata means bending or curving. In English we say “sinuous.”

Incidentally, even U. lobata’s common name refers obliquely to a plant characteristic and is something of a joke. “Caesar” mean’s “head of hair” and the plant is very hairy, something the bald Julius Caesar would have envied. Indeed, the Caesars were well-know for being very bald while their family name meant just the opposit.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION:

Shrub to 13 feet. Hairy stemmed, burdock-like seeds pods, small, five segments. The small pink five-petal blossoms usually  grow with a right twist or a left twist. Leaves 3 to 6 inches, oval with shallow lobes.

TIME OF YEAR:

Flowers nearly year round

ENVIRONMENT:

Moist soil, watered waste grounds, dry land with good rain, found in subtropic to tropic areas.

METHOD OF PREPARATION:

Young leaves, flowers, calyces, seeds, cooked, also flowers raw. Seeds used to thicken soup, porridge, A famine food, or an addition to the herb pot when foraging is scarce. It can make some queezy. Better used as a medicinal herb.

HERB BLURB

Broad antibacterial activity against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial isolates, anti-fungal, contains antioxidants, has aspirin like uses. Roots used for stomach aches and are diuretic. Leaves are pasted and applied to skin problems.

It is used to make tea for colds and flowers as an expectorant for “dry and inveterate coughs”.  In South America it provides a sedative and in Brazil a root and stem decoction is a treatment for colic.  Also used in Chinese medicine to treat kidney failure.

Success story this for renal failure.

Crushed flowers, with salt, are applied to boils. Decoction of roots are taken by children with fevers. A decoction of roots, with those of Sida rhombifolia, is taken for stomachache and coughs. Leaves are used in aromatic steam bath for fevers and decoction of leaves is applied to skin rashes. The root is also used as a poultice to reduce swellings.

Decoction of the leaf is taken twice daily to reduce blood pressure; and also is taken before sleep to relieve rheumatic pain and body ache. The leaves are used as tea against sore throats and oral erosion, while leaves are good to treat urinary troubles and dysentery.

 

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

cjuan August 31, 2016 at 10:10

Hmm, I believe you forgot to insert the name that’s used in Malaysia – it is pulut-pulut, aka kelulut.

Now, recent research has shown that a water extract of the leaves can serve as a DPP-IV inhibitor and therefore a boon to diabetics who have to fork out lots of $$$ for the pharma analogue. I think the leaves can be combined with mango leaves for greater impact as the latter also inhibit DPP-IV. So, pulut-pulut is no humble weed after all.

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Kyla October 16, 2015 at 07:45

Hi — trying to ID a volunteer in my garden, ran across this. Looks like a match but not sure yet.

Great newsletter!

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Green Deane October 16, 2015 at 15:57

Yes, it is Caesar weed.

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Kyla October 16, 2015 at 21:22

Thanks!

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Eli August 25, 2014 at 00:43

What is ceasearweed / urena lobata used for in medicine and what is the decoction to
Prepare this and where I can get these from I live in australia

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krishna October 3, 2013 at 21:52

i spotted urena lobata near my home lakhimpur kheri india…beautiful flowers….see the article about caesarweed at dudhwalive.com

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Mike Bauer May 12, 2012 at 13:52

I need a small amount of dried Caesar weed leaves for medicinal purposes. I can’t find any Herb companies who sell it and I don’t know anyone in Floroda. I live in Los Angeles, California. Do you have any idea how I can find someone who will help me get some Caesarweed?

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Green Deane May 13, 2012 at 21:41

Send me an email. I might know of one.

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sarah September 15, 2013 at 00:16

i could totally help you, there’s tons where I live.

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Karen Wassmer September 20, 2016 at 14:42

I have plenty of this growing wild in swampy area of my farm.

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bob dagit February 11, 2012 at 21:46

was last night at a lebanese restaurant and ate mouloukhiyah, which is young jute leaves. first time ever. it appeared and tasted just like canned turnip greens. is this the real way a jute potherb appears?

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Robert M. November 7, 2011 at 11:15

What I have been thinking was Velvetleaf here must be Caesar Weed. I looked at the USDA site and it says we have Caesar Weed but not Velvetleaf. I was able to recognize that it was a Mallow family member by its characteristics and thought the USDA was wrong. Even the folks at the County Extension office told me that it was not Velvetleaf. But since they did not give me a name (in fairness I did not have them research it at the time but should have), I was still led to believe that it was because I knew it was a Mallow. Thanks for solving this enigma of mine about the name.

It has great cordage characteristics in the bark but is a little on the brittle side so I find a thicker cord or rope is better.

The wood like all Mallows (including Hibiscus) is excellent friction wood. This wood works on itself (both spindle and board) and I have also used Solidago fistulosa or Pine Barren Goldenrod stem spindle on it (board) with equally good results. The green stalk/stem wood does have a bad tendency to split or check so it is advisable to seal (paint or pine resin) the ends and air dry in a shady area. Dead and dry wood standing stalks should have little or no splitting or checking. This problem seems to be just with the green wood.

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Robert M. November 7, 2011 at 11:41

A similar “velvety” plant is the Cocklebur but is darker in color and really stands out differently from the “Caesar Weed” especially with the little bur stickers. According to accounts it is toxic but its redeeming quality is that the bark is also good cordage at least for the variety here in Florida. Both like to live in the same places, not always but usually from what I have seen.

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