The cooked leaves, what is known as a potherb, are well known in some parts of "western and southern Africa, Indo-China and India (notably the Santhal Tribe who include it in some saags, a leaf-based dish)." In Malawi, a country that I would love to visit, the cooked slimy leaves are apparently very well known. Analysis of the fresh and dried leaves has shown that they are high in protein, fiber, and potassium. This non-native plant may be found across Florida in the wild. The next time that I encounter it, I will definitely harvest some of the leaves and cook them up as a potherb to see how they taste - well after some research! One note of caution - one African website lists an "aqueous solution of the leaves" as an insecticide and some other species of Melochia are toxic, so we must all research it further before consuming it in any quantity. I'll look into it and get back to you. Avoid consuming the roots as a study out of India published in the International Research Journal of Pharmacy stated that "the root extract was reported to be tumorigenic." The leaves, sap, seeds, and roots all have been used medicinally, including in Siddha medicine of ancient India, and I go into some detail of these uses in the profile of this species on my website. It has been fed to cattle as fodder, the fibers have been crafted into bags in Australia and the stems have been used to tie bundles as well as in the construction of roofs in Africa. I bet that some of my basket-making friends would like to work with this plant. A related species, our native Melochia pyramidata, the Pyramidflower, grows in the southeastern part of Florida and contains melochinine, a toxic alkaloid.
CAUTION: One African website lists "an aqueous solution of the leaves" as an insecticide while the website Useful Tropical Plants claims that it has no known hazards. Some other species of Melochia are toxic. This means that we should research the edibility of the leaves further to make sure that it is a safe edible cooked green. Avoid consuming the roots. A study out of Inida published in the International Research Journal of Pharmacy stated that "the root extract was reported to be tumorigenic."
EDIBLE LEAVES: "The leaves are consumed as a potherb in West Africa and southern Africa. The cooked leaves present a popular, slimy side-dish in Malawi. Such utilization of the leaves are also quite common in Indo-China and India." (1, 4 via 3,6). "Melochia corchorifolia will remain locally of some importance as a collected vegetable (in parts of Africa)." (12). "Santhal tribes of Jharkhand (India) consume the leaves as a vegetable (as saag)." (6). [ANDY'S NOTE: "saag" is a leaf-based dish in India].
Searching "melochia" on Green Deane's eattheweeds website, I find no results. I'll have to chat about this wild weed with him the next time that I run into him.
NUTRITIONAL CONTENT (PHYTOCHEMISTRY) - DRIED LEAVES: "The dried leaves have been shown to have high crude amount of protein, as well as small amounts of lipids. It also contains critical dietary minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium." (7). "The proximate analysis of the dried powdered leaves showed the following composition (dry weight content %). High crude protein content (23.31 %), crude lipid value (13.3 %), low available carbohydrate value (30.03 %), high dietary fiber content (23.33 %) and high ash content (10.00 %). " (6).
NUTRITIONAL CONTENT (PHYTOCHEMISTRY) - FRESH LEAVES: "The fresh leaves have high moisture content (620.16 % wet weight) with low energy value (275.66 kcal/100 g). Mineral analysis showed the leaves contain a high level of potassium (7.25 mg/100 g DW), followed by calcium (750.37 mg/100 g DW) and then phosphorus (101.89 mg/100 g DW). Sodium content (94.00 mg/100 g DW) is the lowest among the macro elements determined. Other mineral composition in mg/100 g DW are: Cu (33.50), Fe (19.91), Mn (9.68) and Zn (6.73)16." (6).
MEDICINAL USES: It has been used in homeopathic remedies. (1). It has long been used in Siddha medicine in India. (13). "
MEDICINAL LEAVES: The leaves have been "used to reduce ulcers, abdominal swelling, and headache and chest pain." (7). "A leaf decoction is prescribed in a compound mixture of herbs against urinary disorders." (5,6). "Leaves are used for unspecified stomach disorders in Coastal East Africa." (6). "Tribals of Uttar Pradesh, India use the decoction of leaves to treat dysentery" (6) " and a decoction of the leaves to stop vomiting." (6).
MEDICINAL ROOTS AND LEAVES: "Its roots and leaves can help with snakebites, sores ." (7) "Stem and leaves decoction with oil (boiled in oil - 6) are useful for preventing bad consequences from snake bites." (6). "A decoction of the leaves and roots is used internally to treat dysentery (5,6), and a decoction of the leaves to stop vomiting." (5).
MEDICINAL ROOTS (WITH A CAUTIONARY NOTE): The roots "have been used in Curaçao to relieve throat inflammation. However, the root extract was reported to be tumorigenic." (6).
MEDICINAL SEEDS: "In Benin the seed is used to treat stomach ache." (6).
MEDICINAL FRUIT POWDER: "Fruit powder is used for ear problems, anthelmintic, dysentery, abdominal swellings and snake bites." (6).
MEDICINAL PLANT: "The plant is also used to relieve gastralgia and headache." (6).
ANDY'S NOTE: For further details as to studies concerning this plant's antioxidant, anthelmintic, hepatoprotective and antimicrobial activities go to reference 6 at the bottom of this page.
EXTERNAL MEDICINAL USES:
LEAVES: "In Malaysia the leaves are used for poulticing sores and swellings of the abdomen." (5?,6,7?).
SAP: And the sap is applied as an antidote to wounds caused by arrows poisoned with Antiaris toxicaria." (5?, 6, 7?). [ANDY'S NOTE: Antiaris toxicaria is a large tree that yirlds a very poisonous bark and sap."].
LEAVES AND ROOTS: "Leaves and roots are used for poulticing in cases of smallpox." (5, 6).
PLANT: "A decoction of the plant is applied in folk medicine in India as a cure for abdominal swelling, dysentery and snake bites." (5).
FIBER AND STEMS: This plant has been "used as a source of fibre for making dillybags and other objects in the north-central Arnhem Land region (Northern Territories, Australia). It was noted as a source of very strong fibre." (1). "A beautifully silvery-white, fine and strong fibre, but obtained in too small a quantity to be important." (5). In Africa, "the stems are used for tying bundles and are used in the construction of (conical) roofs of houses." (4 via 1, 4 via 3).
CAUTION: "Although some research has been done on the phytochemistry, very little is known about the pharmacological properties and activity of Melochia corchorifolia and its compounds. The fact that tumorigenic and toxic activity has been reported from some other Melochia spp. should lead to caution in using Melochia corchorifolia in phytotherapy as so little is known about its biological activity." (6).
INSECTICIDAL USES: "An aqueous solution of leaves has insecticidal properties." (4 via 3, 6). "Pulses stored in gunny bags treated with the solution have shown a reduction in the number of eggs laid and in damage done by the storage pest Callosobruchus (maculatus)." (4 via 3, 6). For this reason, I added a caution above.
LIVESTOCK: "Melochia corchorifolia is used as fodder for cattle." (6).
WILDLIFE: "The flowers are probably pollinated by small insects." (6).
CLASSIFICATION: The USDA, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, and other botanical organizations still place this species within Sterculiaceae (the Chocolate / Cacao or Star Chestnut family). (2). It is now more properly placed within the Mallow Family, Malvaceae.
WORLDWIDE: "Eastern and southern Africa through Eastern and southern Asia to Australia and the Solomon Islands." (3).
INVASIVESNESS: It is invasive in many other parts of the world. "It is a common and important weed, notably in rice (both upland and lowland), soybean, cotton and cassava." (4 via 3). "Although it is adapted to xerophytic conditions, Melochia corchorifolia has retained its ability to grow in mesophytic and hydrophytic habitats." (6). "In the Philippines, it is reported as one of the dominant weeds." (6).
CONTINENTAL US: It is found in some states from New York to Texas and Florida. (2). It "is common in the Southeastern regions of the United States." (1). "This plant also grows typically as weed in cotton, soybean and rice plants." (2 via 1).
FLORIDA: Not native to Florida but founs in many scattered counties here across the state.
HABITAT: "Sunny or dimly shaded humid regions of riversides, lakesides are its familiar natural habitats." (1).
DESCRIPTION (MORPHOLOGY): An "erect to spreading" (3) branching (6) herbaceous annual or perennial. (1). In Florida, when winters are warm, it may survive as a short-lived perennial and become a small shrub.
HEIGHT: 1 to 6' tall.
STEM: Has a "line of stellate hairs." (1).
LEAVES: Variable in shape, simple, ovate, "ovate-lanceolate, oblong-ovate or sub orbicular, rarely obscurely 3- lobed." (6). "Glabrous above, thinly stellate-hairy below;." (6). 1 to 3 inches long. Petioles "generally 5 cm. (or smaller) long with linear stipules 6 mm. long." (1). "Normally arranged spirally with the margins very intensely serrated." (1). p
FLOWERS: Bisexual. "The inflorescence of comprises crowded cymes with linear bracts." (1). This "species has flowers of five green sepals." (1). Whte to very light purple to purple. Most often white petals with a "yellow base inside." (1). Also "pale to deep pink." (6). 5 petals (5-7 mm. long). (1).
FLOWERING SEASON: July to October. (1). August to October (8).
FRUIT: "A 5-valved capsule." (1). To 5 mm. in diameter. (1). It holds approximately one seed only per locule. (1).
FRUITING SEASON: "Fruits usually develop from September to December." (1).
VARIETIES: "A highly polymorphic species, several varieties have been described." (5).
CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: "Phytochemical analysis of the leaves has revealed the presence of triterpenes (friedelin, friedelinol and β-amyrin), flavonol glycosides (hibifolin, triflin and melocorin), aliphatic compounds, flavonoids (vitexin and robunin), β-D-sitosterol and its stearate, β-D-glucoside and alkaloids. A pyridine alkaloid, 6-methoxy-3-propenyl-2-pyridine carboxylic acid, may be important as related pyridine derivatives are physiologically active." (4 via 3).
PROPAGATION: By seed. Some recommend scarification. (1).
FUNGAL RELATIONSHIPS: This species has been "observed to be a host of fungal diseases, such as Rhizoctonia solani." (1).
RELATED TOXIC SPECIES: Three southeastern counties in Florida are home to our native pink-flowered Pyramidflower, Melochia pyramidata, which contains the alkaloid melochinine. This compound has been shown to produce paralysis, bradypnea, bradycardia and hypotension in laboratory animals, and ingestion of plant material by cattle may cause paralysis." (6). Pyramidflower, by the way, is listed as "critically imperiled" in soith Florida by the Institute of Regional Conservation, another reason to leave it alone. (9).
Edges of forests
(1) - Wikipedia
(2) - USDA
(3) - Useful Tropical Plants
(4) - Protabase - Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
(5) - Plant Resources of Southeast Asia
(6) - Ethnobotany, Phytochemistry and Pharmacology of Melochia corchorifolia, Department of Botany, Sri Krishnadevaraya University, Anantapur, A.P. India - International Research Journal of Pharmacy, 2014 (an article on researchgate)
(7) - globinmed.com article
(8) - wildflower.org
(9) - Regional Conservation
(10) - Flora of China
(11) - Flowers of India (.net)
(12) - prota4u.org
(13) - India Biodiversity Portal