Cleome brachycarpa (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Cleome brachycarpa Vahl ex DC.

distribution in Africa (wild)
Protologue: DC., Prodr. 1: 240 (1824).
Family: Capparaceae (APG: Cleomaceae)
Chromosome number: 20

Origin and geographic distribution

Cleome brachycarpa occurs from Cape Verde and Mauritania east to Eritrea and from there south to Kenya. It is also widespread in northern Africa, peninsular Arabia and further east to Pakistan and India.


In Mali a macerate of the dried powdered plant mixed with Arabic gum, is drunk as a cure for stomach-ache. Elsewhere in West Africa it is also used to treat pain in the lower abdomen. In Niger leaf powder is boiled with water and drunk as a cure for rash and a macerate of the whole plant is given to drink to infants to bring down fever.

In India the leaves are crushed and after heating are applied to itching or swollen body-parts. In Pakistan the powdered plant is used to treat abdominal pain, scabies, rheumatism and inflammation. An infusion is valued for its anthelmintic and antimicrobial properties.

In Cape Verde the crushed seeds are used like mustard. In Saudi Arabia the plant is taken as an appetizer and for its carminative properties. In West Africa the plant is used as a fodder for sheep and goats. The Rendille people of northern Kenya state that the plant is appreciated by livestock, although it causes stomach swelling. In Pakistan the plant is appreciated as a camel forage but has moderate palatability. It is quite common but only available as a feed during several months into the rainy season.

Production and international trade

Cleome brachycarpa is only traded in local markets.


The triterpenoids brachycarpone, deacetoxybrachycarpone and cleocarpone have been isolated from the aerial parts as well as ursolic acid, cabralealactone and several methoxyflavones.


Erect annual or perennial herb up to 30 cm tall, much-branched, glandular throughout with subsessile and/or shortly stalked glands. Leaves alternate, palmately compound with 3–5 leaflets; stipules absent; petiole 2–20 mm long, glandular; leaflets almost sessile, obovate to linear-lanceolate, c. 9 mm × 1–4 mm, distinctly glandular. Inflorescence a terminal raceme with 3-foliate bracts. Flowers bisexual; pedicel 7–8 mm long; sepals 4, free, broadly lanceolate, up to 2 mm long; petals 4, oblanceolate to elliptical, pale yellow, veined purple, up to 7 mm long, base cuneate or attenuate in a short broad claw; gynophore absent or up to 0.5 mm long in fruit; stamens 6, fertile, uniform, c. 4 mm long; ovary superior, 1-locular. Fruit a narrow, cylindrical capsule up to c. 14 mm × c. 3 mm, usually smaller, dehiscing from below with 2 valves, many-seeded. Seeds rounded to kidney-shaped, 0.5–0.8 mm in diameter, dark maroon, wrinkled. Seedling with tiny oblong cotyledons; first leaves simple.

Other botanical information

Cleome comprises 150–200 species, about 50 of them occurring in Africa. It is classified in the subfamily Cleomoideae, sometimes considered as a separate family Cleomaceae.

There is some confusion about the name Cleome brachycarpa, as the name was used both for a plant from tropical America as well as for a specimen from Yemen. For the tropical American species the correct name is now Prodandrogyne brachycarpa (DC.) Woodson, and Cleome brachycarpa Vahl ex DC. remains the correct name for the African and Asian species. Several other Cleome species are medicinally used.

Cleome scaposa

Cleome scaposa DC. has more or less the same distribution as Cleome brachycarpa and in Niger the leaf powder is mixed with milk and drunk to cure diarrhoea. A decoction of the young leafy branches is drunk to cure dysentery and the wet leaf powder is used as a compress on the eyelids to cure boils. In Somalia it provides good grazing for sheep and camels during years when there is above average rainfall.

Cleome usambarica

Cleome usambarica Pax occurs in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. A cold water infusion of the roots, together with the roots of Macaranga capensis (Baill.) Benth., is taken in Kenya before a meal twice a day as an aphrodisiac.

Growth and development

Cleome brachycarpa flowers in August and September.


Cleome brachycarpa is abundant in deciduous bushland, woodland and semi-desert areas and in open scrub, from sea-level up to 1700 m altitude.


Plants are only collected from the wild.

Handling after harvest

In Pakistan plants are dried under shade and are ground to make a powder. The pure powder (or powder mixed with an equal amount of sugar) is used with water as needed.

For fodder it can be harvested during a large part of the year. Plants are cut and fed fresh or dried.

Genetic resources

Cleome brachycarpa has a wide distribution in sandy regions of Africa and Asia and there are few indications that point to genetic erosion. However, in Gujarat (India) Cleome brachycarpa is one of several medicinal plant species that is nowadays becoming rare and only small populations with a restricted distribution remain.


Cleome brachycarpa is a fairly important medicinal plant in the dry parts of tropical Africa, in North Africa and in Asia. The chemical properties as reported in the literature are from the northern African plants. In those parts, this plant is considered neglected. In other parts of the world where this plant grows, emphasis of research has been on ethnobotanical studies. Further research to evaluate the pharmacological properties is needed, especially into the effect on inflammation and rheumatism.

Major references

  • Adam, J.G., Echard, N. & Lescot, M., 1972. Plantes médicinales Hausa de l’Ader. Journal d’Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 19(8–9): 259–399.
  • Diallo, D., Hveem, B., Mahmoud, M.A., Berge, G., Paulsen, B.S. & Maiga, A., 1999. An ethnobotanical survey of herbal drugs of Gourma District, Mali. Pharmaceutical Biology 37(1): 80–91.
  • Kers, L.E., 2000. Capparidaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 74–120.
  • Ozenda, P., 1977. Flore du Sahara. Deuxième édition. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France. 622 pp.
  • Sharaf, M., Mansour, R.M.A. & Saleh, N.A.M., 1992. Exudate flavonoids from aerial parts of four Cleome species. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 20(5): 443–448.

Other references

  • Ahmad, V.U. & Alvi, K.A., 1987. Deacetoxybrachycarpone: a trinortriterpenoid from Cleome brachycarpa. Phytochemistry 26(1): 315–316.
  • Ahmad, V.U., Qazi, S., Zia, N.B., Xu, C. & Clardy, J., 1990. Cleocarpone, a triterpenoid from Cleome brachycarpa. Phytochemistry 29(2): 670–672.
  • Atiqur Rahman, M., Mossa, J.S., Al-Said, M.S. & Al-Yahya, M.A., 2004. Medicinal plant diversity in the flora of Saudi Arabia 1: a report on seven plant families. Fitoterapia 75: 149–161.
  • Hall, J.C., Sytsma, K.J. & Iltis, H.H., 2002. Phylogeny of Capparaceae and Brassicaceae based on chloroplast squence data. Systematic Botany 29: 1826–1842.
  • Hameed, M., Ashraf, M., Al-Quriany, F., Nawaz, T., Ahmad, M.S.A., Younis, A. & Naz, N., 2011. Medicinal flora of the Cholistan desert: a review. Pakistan Journal of Botany 43: 39–50.
  • Heine, B. & Heine, I., 1988. Plant concepts and plant use; an ethnobotanical survey of the semi-arid and arid lands of East Africa. Part 3. Rendille plants (Kenya). Cologne Development Studies 8. Breitenbach, Saarbrücken, Germany. 120 pp.
  • Ishnava, K., Ramarao, V., Mohan, J.S.S. & Kothari, L., 2011. Ecologically important and life supporting plants of little Rann of Kachchh, Gujarat. Journal of Ecology and the Natural Environment 3(2): 33–38.
  • Marwat, S.K., Khan, M.A., Ahmad, M., Zafar, M. & Rehman, F., 2008. Ethnophytomedicines for treatment of various diseases in D.I. Khan District. Sarhad Journal of Agriculture 24(2). 12 pp.
  • Varshney, K. & Singh, A.K., 2008. Inventory of some ethno-medicinal plant species used by rural people of Etah District, U.P., India. Plant Archives 8(2): 757–759.
  • Woodson, R.E., 1948. Gynandropsis, Cleome and Podandrogyne. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 35(2): 139–147.

Afriref references


  • P. Nana, School of Wood, Water and Natural Resources, Faculty of Agriculture and Agricultural Sciences, University of Dschang, Ebolowa Campus, P.O. Box 786, Ebolowa, Cameroon
  • H.S. Foyet, Department of Agriculture, Livestock and By-products, The Higher institute of the Sahel, University of Maroua, P.O. Box 46, Maroua, Cameroon

Correct citation of this article

Nana, P. & Foyet, H.S., 2013. Cleome brachycarpa Vahl ex DC. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 10 June 2023.