Sida rhombifolia, note long flower stalk and leaves only half toothed

Sida is barely edible. A member of the Mallow mob it’s an object de interest because it is also a significant herbal medication, of which I am totally unqualified to write about: So here goes…

There are at least five Sida regionally. It’s called wireweed because if you’ve ever tried to pull one out of the ground it’s a strong as any left over fence and why it is also used for cordage. Two Sida should be mentioned: Sida acuta and Sida rhombifolia. Dr. Daniel Austin, author of Florida Ethnobotany, says on page 53 of S. acute: “Branches are made into brooms; smoked as a stimulant and adulterant for marijuana, leaves contain ephedrine.”  For S. rhombifolia (Indian Hemp, Indian Tea, Cuban Jute, Queensland Hemp) he writes: Same use as S. acuta.

Cornucopia II fortunately comes to the forager’s rescue. On page 148 in reference to S. rhombifolia it says: “The leaves are used as a tea substitute in some parts of the Canary Island and Mexico. As a leafy vegetable they contain about 7.4% protein.” There is no mention of S. acuta in Cornucopia II. I know someone who ate 10 Sida leaves raw and didn’t experience anything. Then again he’s a young man who drinks a lot of coffee so the effect of the ephedrine might get lost.

It is because of the ephedrine that the species come with many warnings. Ephedrine is used to dilate asthmatic lungs, and can drive up your heart rate and blood pressure. In Florida, for example, ephedrine is a prescription drug. However over the counter preparations for medicinal uses can be sold if they have no more than 5 milligrams per dose.

Sida acuta's blossom is on a short stalk and leaves are almost entirely toothed.

While ephedrine can be used by asthmatics it can have side effects. Preparations say don’t use if: You have high blood pressure, heart disease, an irregular heartbeat, thyroid disease, diabetes, or difficulty in urination due to enlargement of the prostate gland or other severe heart problems. It should also be avoided if you are taking a MAO inhibitor. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are closely related drugs and similar to the hormone epinephrine. When I did a lot of diving and snorkeling I used to take a half a dose of Sudafed to keep my sinuses clear underwater. While such preparations in low-doses are not prescription they are controlled and have to be handed over from the pharmacist personally. The chemical is used to make illegal stimulants so tabs are kept on how much is purchased.

The Sida genus is fairly easy to identify, having yellow/salmon pinwheel blossoms that open around solar noon. Individual species is a bit more challenging. The two telling elements between the two here is this: S. rhombifolia has long stems on the flowers and the half of the leaf (closer to the main stem) do not have teeth. S. acuta blossoms have very short stems and the leaf margin is nearly all teeth.

Sida cordifolia

S. rhombifolia is erect to sprawling, branched, growing 20 inches to four feet (50 to 120 centimeters) tall, lower sections woody,  dark green, diamond-shaped leaves arranged alternately along the stem, 2 to 4 inches long (4 to 8 centimeters) with petioles less than a third of the length of the leaves. Leaves pale underneath, with short, grayish hairs, outer half of leaf toothed, inner half not toothed. Petioles have small spiny stipules. Flowers on long stalks, five yellow/salmon petals, overlap to create a pinwheel effect. Blooms throughout the year, usually around noon. Found in waste ground, along roadsides and in pastures as livestock don’t like it but deer do. Found in the southern half of the United States and is pan-tropical.

Sida elliottii, note very thin leaves

Sida acuta erect to three feet, stems woody, branching several times, well-developed tap root. Leaves lance- to diamond-shaped with serrated margins. Small yellow flowers on short stems. Ranges from South Carolina throughout Florida and west into Mississippi, late spring until frost. Grows in dense stands along highways, agricultural land, edges of woods.

Sida (SEE-duh) was a Greek word used for a particular water lily. Now it is used for this genus. Rhombifolia (rom-bif-OH-lee-uh) means diamond shaped. Acuta (a-KEW-ta) means sharpened to a point, in reference to the tip of the leaves.

Method of preparation is as Cornucopia II said above: “The leaves are used as a tea substitute in some parts of the Canary Island and Mexico. As a leafy vegetable they contain about 7.4% protein.”

Medicinal or other uses are beyond my experience to comment on as ephedrine and I are no longer compatible.

Sida Key by Wunderlin

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeannie March 12, 2012 at 00:41

Wonderful! I came here first when someone tried to guess what this was from a picture I posted. Great info, thanks! I’m going to go make a donation. You’ve been helping me out for over a year, and I’m just now able. Priceless work you do, Mr. Deane!

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2 Sarah March 27, 2012 at 21:52

Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge through this site! It’s become one of my favorite references. With regards to sida, I spent months trying to identify this plant (it used to dominate half our yard, and our pasture is full of it. Luckily the cattle like the new growth…but I digress), and finally narrowed it down to southern sida, which I think is the same as s. rhombifolia. My main objective is to rid our gardens and yard of any trace of the blasted plant, which has a totally unreasonable tap root and spreads ridiculous amounts of seed. But then I also found a little bit of info that sida might have been used for rheumatism in eastern medicine, which interests me since I have arthritis. Do you know anything about this?

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3 Green Deane March 28, 2012 at 05:46

Arthritis? No, but the Indians have been at it for a long time. It is used for asthma most definitely.

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4 Kathleen Flick April 9, 2012 at 16:57

I’d been trying to find out for a LONG time if this plant was edible, as there is a lot of it growing on my property. It may not be very palatable, but here in the South, we boil the heck out of greens with some salt pork, and it comes out pretty good, whatever it is ;-).

From Duke’s database, it appears that it is the *root* that contains the ephedrine, not the leaf.

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5 Green Deane April 9, 2012 at 17:41

The first two references cite the leaves as having ephedrine:

Martinez, M, 1979,, Las Plantas Medicinales de Mexico, Ediciones Botas, Mexico City, and, Schultz, R.E., and Hofmann A, 1979, Plants of the Gods, McGaw-Hill, New York.

This February 2012 study used sida leaves:

ISBN-13:
978-3-8465-8863-5
ISBN-10:
3846588636
EAN:
9783846588635
Book language:
English
Blurb/Shorttext:
Plants are living factories which synthesize a large number of compounds as secondary metabolites, which are of immense economic value.The genus Sida belonging to the family Malvaceae is a group of angiosperm plants so far used for extraction of ephedrine, which is used in the treatments of rheumatism, heart diseases, troubles in urinary bladder and urethra and malaria. In vitro production of ephedrine from Sida calluses and methods to enhance the ephedrine content by inducing polyploidy was attempted in the present study. Callus was induced from Sida rhombifolia and Sida acuta using leaf explants in half MS medium supplemented with lmgl -1 NAA and 1mgl -1 2,4-D. For ephedrine production the calluses were grown in full MS medium supplemented with 2mgl -1 kinetin, 1mgl -1 NAA and 100mgl -1 L-phenylalanine.The ephedrine content in calluses of both diploid and colchiploid plants was analyzed using HPLC method. Ephedrine yields of colchiploids were 140 times higher than diploid control callus in Sida rhombifolia, while it was only 18 times higher in Sida acuta. This work is a way for furthering our understanding of the effects of ploidy on enhanced ephedrine production.
By (author) :
Marykutty Abraham
P.R.Unnikrishna Pillai

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6 Fred Okotie April 2, 2013 at 15:51

When I was young back in Nigeria we used Sida to treat skin disease like eczema. You squeeze out the juice from the leaves and apply. I must caution that it is so stong that sometimes it can peel off the skin.

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7 Robert May 14, 2013 at 21:50

FYI. When “dry” Heartleaf Sida (Sida cordifolia) has the lowest ignition temperature of any wood I have come across including Yucca. I use it with the firebow and it works on itself or with a Pine Barren Goldenrod spindle (Solidago fistulosa). Its excellent friction fire properties are not surprising since it is one the Mallow family. Hibiscus is also excellent.

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8 Robert May 14, 2013 at 21:57

Its bark makes fairly good cordage also.

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9 dylan June 5, 2013 at 13:33

Great article, anyone know where i could get seed from? I’m in Massachusetts

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10 Titov Tov Whiediana June 11, 2013 at 17:00

Good article…
I have so many time use the leave for tea flavouring with food grade essential oil and shared to my friend. it’s amazing, the leaf contains a protein and fiber which was helped my friend for diet program. it works…

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11 Brett Stebbins January 7, 2014 at 10:51

Is there any information on the flower and its edibility?

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12 Green Deane January 7, 2014 at 12:24

I doubt the blossom is any more dangerous than the rest of the plant. I’ll have to try one.

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13 Dick Estes January 7, 2014 at 14:40

Check the new taxonomy- Sida acuta is now named Sida ulmifolia

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14 Green Deane January 7, 2014 at 17:10

Thanks. I usually wait a few years to make sure they don’t change the name again.

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15 Evan February 8, 2014 at 13:40

I’d really like to find a bulk herb source for Sida acuta / ulmifolia (preferably wildcrafted), any tips or suggestions would be much appreciated! I’m on the west coast and it doesn’t grow out here.

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16 Green Deane February 11, 2014 at 16:25

You can ask Andy Firk. He wild crafts. You can find him on you tube.

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17 Doug July 21, 2014 at 23:52

I found some at southernhabitats .com for deer forage,if you haven’t found it already.

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