Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ruby Saltbush - Enchylaena tomentosa

Enchylaena tomentosa

This inconspicuous little succulent is a halophyte that can be found in any state of Australia, and has edible leaves and berries. The berries are small (~5mm) and though usually red can be yellow, although I believe that the yellow fruit are immature stages of the red fruit, as they occur on the same plant. The plant is quite variable, from prostrate to upright, with grey to green leaves. There are two varieties in South-east QLD, E. tomentosa var. tomentosa and E. tomentosa var. glabra, having either tomentose or glabrous stems and leaves respectively.

Genus species
Ruby Saltbush

Shrub up to 1.5m (rarely this tall), often procumbent.
Terete (cylindrical) leaves tomentose, giving greyish appearance.
Fruiting perianths red or yellow, depressed-globose, succulent
Found throughout most of Australia, both coastally and inland, also a common plant of salt marshes.
Flowers  year round
Fruits  year round
Tomentose – covered with short dense matted hairs
Raw- fruit and leaves
Prevents scurvy

Red and yellow fruit on the same shrub
The leaves have been eaten by early white people in Australia to prevent and/or cure scurvy. There is no other medical information available on this plant. There are records of the fruit being eaten by the Alyawara people of central Australia.

Cylindrical cross section of succulent leaf

Leaf arrangement around stem

The fruit taste sweet and salty

The large seed inside each fruit

Exerpt from Stanley & Ross



O’Connell, J & Barnett, P. 1983.  Traditional and Modern Plant Use among the Alyawara of Central Australia. Economic Botany 37(1) : 80-109
Stanley, T & Ross, E. Flora of South-eastern Queensland V1. 1983. Department of Primary Industries (QLD)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Banana- Musa species

Musa sp

The banana. What an amazing plant. It’s up there with coconuts and bamboo as being one of the plants with the most varied uses in the world. It provides nutritious food, natural packaging, plates, umberellas, medicine,mulch and so much more. What more could you ask from a plant?

Musa species
Banana, Pisang, Plantain, Saba

Herbaceous perennial often grown as an annual. This plant can grow up to 7m.
Leaves spirally arranged around pseudostem, pinnate venation.
Widely cultivated throughout the world, this plant prefers warm climates, full sun and abundant moisture.
Flowers  My plants are fruiting atm (July)
Fruits   My plants have fruit atm
Sap permanently stains clothing
Fruit raw or cooked
Leaf used to cook food in
Medicinal Uses
Headaches, Alopecia, Burns, Bites, Cancer, Diabetes, Epilepsy, Diarrhoea, Fever, Dyssentry, Fractures, Gangrene, Migraine, Nausea and more

The banana plant has been in cultivation for many years, and the cultivated variety is sterile, producing no seed. The wild bananas that still grow in tropical-subtropical countries produce numerous seed.
Fruit is edible cooked in its green immature stage, or either raw or cooked in its yellow mature stage. The colour of the skin varies with the type of banana, with ‘Blue Java/Ash Plantain’ having a distinct blue tinge to the immature fruit (although ripe fruit is still yellow), and ‘Red Dacca’ having a permanent deep red/maroon skin (although the inside flesh is deep yellow to orange).
'Saba' variety

'Saba' Left; 'Ladyfinger' Middle; 'Cavendish' Right

'Ladyfinger' Left; 'Saba' Right

One of my favourite bananas for flavour and texture is what I think is called ‘Saba’, although I am not sure. It can be eaten raw when ripe, or cooked when green. Simply peel the green bananas, boil, mash, mix with grated ginger, garlic and eschallot/onion, form into cakes and pan fry. Delicious. Cooked green banana tastes somewhat like cooked potato.
Flesh of the Saba banana is a rich warm yellow colour

Peel and chop

Add to pan of hot water

Boil until softish

Add grated garlic, ginger, onion then mash

Shape into cakes, fry


Musa has medicinal qualities also, with the whole plant being used in some way. The root has been as anthelmintic (to kill intestinal worms) and for reducing bronchocele. The fruit is eaten to prevent and cure stomach ulcers, in combination with pineapple, blueberries, cloves, ginger and cinnamon. The peel and pulp of ripe banana have both antifungal and antibiotic activity, and the unripe banana fruit has antimicrobial/antibiotic activity  (Fagbemi et al, 2009).
A stem maceration is given orally for the treatment of diabetes in Cuba, also a decoction of the root is given orally for the treatment of unspecified venereal diseases. The same paper reports an unusual method of treating earache, that of frying the leaves and applying topically (Cano & Volpato, 2004).
Musa paradisiacal has been used to treat alopecia (female), headache, burns, bites (snake, dog, spider), cancer (nose), diarrhoea, dysentry, epilepsy, fever, fractures, gangrene, migraines, nausea, smallpox and numerous other diseases. Finding details of how the remedies were prepared for each specific ailment is extremely time consuming, as it involves trawling through vast numbers of journal articles, but as I find records of use, I will add them here. If you have a particular query, just leave a comment and I will see what I can find.

Young plant grown from tissue culture

Young plants


Cano, J. & Volpato, G. Herbal mixtures in the traditional medicine of Eastern Cuba. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 90:293-316
Fagbemi, J., Ugoji, E., Tayo, A. & Adelowotan, O. 2009. Evaluation of the antimicrobial properties of unripe banana (Musa sapientum L.), lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus S.) and turmeric (Curcuma longac L.) on pathogens. African Journal of Biotechnology  8 (7): 1176-1182

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ageratum - Blue Billy Goat Weed

Ageratum conyzoides

 A. conyzoides has long been used medicinally around the globe, in addition to possessing insecticidal and nematodicidal activity.
Ageratum conyzoides
Blue Billy Goat Weed

Erect herbaceous annual, 30-80cm.
 Composite flowers of pale blue/lilac
Entire plant covered in fine white hairs.
Broad ovate leaves, tapering point, serrated margins, soft to touch. Leaves are variable in size and shape, but similar.
Leaves are strongly scented
Fruit is an achene
Weed, don’t cultivate!
This weed prefers open spaces, paddocks etc, and moisture, but will tolerate dry areas.
Ageratum has a natural range from North America to Central America and the Caribbean.
Flowers  Year round
Fruits   X
a geras” (Greek) – non-aging, referring to the longevity of the flowers and plant
conyzoides” (Greek) – from “k√≥nyz” the greek name for Inula helenium , which it resembles
Due to conflicting reports on the edibility of this plant I cannot recommend its use as an edible plant.
Caution recommended
Antibacterial – Leaf – wound healing
Insecticidal – (leaf oil) against weevils

Ageratum Flowers

Whilst A. conyzoides has traditionally been eaten as a vegetable, contemporary researchers have discovered in it potential hepatotoxic compounds, which is why I cannot recommend its use as a vegetable today. However, being young, strong and healthy with no liver complaints, I would eat it myself if I were hungry and lacking other food sources. Other studies have found the essential elements K, Na, Ca, Fe, Mg, Mn and Zn and the non-essential elements Al, Ba, Sr and Rb to be present in significant concentrations. Other elements present at trace levels include Co, Cr, Sc and V. The researchers conducting these studies appear to believe that the presence of the elements calcium, potassium and sodium may be responsible for disease prevention in traditional usage, and that Iron Manganese and Zinc presence which are present in hormone, insulin, protein and immune reactions may also contribute to its healing properties in traditional medicine which include the treatment of diabetes, diarrhoea and infertility. These same researchers, however, warn against indiscriminate use (ingestion) of A. conyzoides due to the presence of Barium, which has the potential to accumulate in the body through repeated use and is a known toxin (Dim et al, 2004).

Ageratum -leaf detail
Ageratum - opposite leaves. Note hairs
covering plant.

In studies conducted by Borthakur and Baruah (1987) the essential oil of  A. conyzoides has been shown to contain compounds that act as antijuvenile hormones in insects, effectively rendering them sterile, which would explain its use as an insecticide.

Blue Billy Goat Weed has been used to treat  wounds, bites, burns, typhoid fever, ‘body swelling’, tumours and as a ‘hair lotion’. Unfortunately, although several papers have listed which ailments Ageratum has been used to treat, they rarely go into any detail as to which part of the plant was used or how it was prepared. In Africa it has been used to treat pneumonia, although specifics on how to use the plant are not given. Its most common use appears to have been as a fresh leaf poultice for wounds, cuts bites or skin complaints, and this is most likely due to its antibacterial properties. This plant has also shown anti-inflammatory activity and increased wound healing in clinical trials on rats. In South America, A. Conyzoides twigs have been used as a vegetable. Following is a list of its medicinal uses;
Wounds, Bites, Burns –  the leaves are made into a paste and applied directly.
Colic, Colds, Fevers, Diarrhoea, Rheumatism, muscle spasms and as a tonic – aqueous extract (which I assume means a decoction or infusion), although wether for internal or external use is not specified.
Headache – poultice of boiled leaf paste
Bacteriocide, Antidysentric, Fever, Colic – no details given
Ageratum - overall habit
Overall I would suggest only using this plant externally.

Dim, L., Funtua, I., Oyewale, A., Grass, F., Umar, I., Gwozdz, R. & Gwarzo, U. 2004. Determination of some elements in Ageratum conyziodes, a tropical medicinal plant, using instrumental neutron activation analysis. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry 261 (1) 225-228

Gbolade, A. , Onayade, O. &  Ayinde, B. 1999.  Insecticidal Activity of Ageratum conyzoides L. Volatile Oil against Callosobruchus maculatus F. in Seed Treatment and Fumigation Laboratory Tests. International Journal of Tropical Insect Science  19 : 237-240

Ming, L.C. 1999.  Ageratum conyzoides, A tropical source of medicinal and agricultural products. In: Janick, J. (ed.) Perspectives on New Crops and New Uses.

Saikia , B.,  Rethy,  P.  Gajurel, P.  & Doley, B. 2012. Exotic wild edible plants of Sonitpur District, Assam. Journal Of Biosciences Research 3(1):71-75

Saklani, S. &  Jain, S. 1989. Ethnobotanical Observations on Plants Used in Northeastern India.  1989, Vol. 27, No. 2 , Pages 65-73