Guizotia abyssinica (PROTA)

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Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass.

Protologue: Dict. Sci. Nat. 59: 237, 248 (1829).
Family: Asteraceae (Compositae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 30


Vernacular names

Niger seed, niger, ramtil (En). Noug, niger, Guizotia oléifère (Fr). Níger, verbesina da India (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Niger seed originated in Ethiopia, and its wild ancestor is presumably Guizotia schimperi Sch.Bip. It was probably domesticated before 3000 BC in the highlands of Ethiopia, where it is still cultivated as an oilseed crop. From there, traders brought it to India before the Christian era and probably during the same period it spread to other countries in East Africa. Niger seed is now grown extensively in Ethiopia, India and Nepal and on a smaller scale in parts of montane, eastern and southern Africa, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Pakistan and the West Indies. In the 19th century it was also grown in Europe where it still occurs as a casual and it is currently grown on a small scale in the United States.


Niger seed (name refers to both the fruit and the whole plant) is a valued source of edible oil in Ethiopia, where it is called ‘noug’. In Ethiopia it is the prime supplier of edible oil in most regions, accounting for about half of the total production of vegetable oil. In India it is mainly a substitute for or extender of sesame oil and contributes only 2% in the national edible oil production. Niger seed is prepared into chutneys, condiments and porridge, mixed with pulses to make snack foods and ground to produce flour and beverages. In Ethiopia slightly roasted seeds are ground with salt and mixed with roasted cereals to prepare snacks, locally called ‘litlit’ and ‘chibito’, which are presented during coffee ceremonies. In Western countries niger seed is an important component of birdseed mixtures. Apart from cooking, the oil is utilized in illumination, medicine and cosmetics, in making paint and soap and to a limited extent in lubrication. In traditional medicine the oil is used in birth control and to treat syphilis. A medical test for the identification of the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans, which causes a serious brain disease, is carried out on a niger seed-based agar medium. Niger seed sprouts mixed with garlic and honey are taken to treat cough. The whole plant is grown as a fodder for sheep. Cattle refuse to eat the green plant, but accept it as silage. In Ethiopia the straw is used as fuel for cooking. Niger seed is grown as a green manure. The seed cake, having about 70% in-vitro digestibility, is the most widely used protein supplement in animal feed in Ethiopia.

Production and international trade

Statistical data on the production of niger seed vary greatly. The production is concentrated in Ethiopia and India, which had a combined annual production of about 350,000 t in the 1990s. In recent years there have been wide variations in the annual production of niger seed in Ethiopia, which was estimated to be 84,000 t in 2002, 85,000 t in 2003 and 114,000 t in 2004. This fluctuation also accounts for the fluctuating exports (from nil to 20,000 t per year) to Europe (especially Italy) and Japan. Niger seed production in India is declining; in 1990 it was estimated at 200,000 t, in 2000 at 120,000 t.


The composition of niger seed per 100 g (portion for oil extraction) is: water 4.1–7.8 g, energy 2033 kJ (483 kcal), protein 17.0–17.7 g, fat 31.9–36.2 g, carbohydrates 34–40 g, fibre 13.4–13.6 g, Ca 400–540 mg, P 690–910 mg, β-carotene 0 mg, thiamin 0.0–0.94 mg, riboflavin 0.3–0.9 mg, niacin 0.5–6.4 mg (Leung, Busson & Jardin, 1968). The oil content varies between 25% and 45% of seed weight for unimproved types and between 50% and 60% for selected strains. In Ethiopia the average oil content of niger seed is 45%.

The major fatty acids in Ethiopian niger seed oil are palmitic acid 7.6–8.7%, stearic acid 5.6–7.5%, oleic acid 4.8–8.3% and linoleic acid 74.8–79.1%. Palmitoleic acid, linolenic acid, arachidic acid, eicosenoic acid, behenic acid, erucic acid and lignoceric acid make up the remaining 2–3% of the oil. The oil has a solidification point between –9°C and –15°C. While Ethiopian niger seed oil contains over 70% linoleic acid, Indian oil contains only 45–70% linoleic acid and 15–40% oleic acid. Niger seed oil is slow drying, clear, pale yellow, odourless or with a faint sweet fragrance and has a nutty taste.

Niger seed cake contains per 100 g: water 8.8 g, energy 1475 kJ (352 kcal), protein 21.7–23.2 g, fat 4.9–6.9 g, fibre 24.6–28.9 g, Ca 123–681 mg, P 680–2353 mg (Leung, Busson & Jardin, 1968). Seed cake from India tends to have a higher protein and lower fibre content than that from Ethiopia. The amino acid composition of the protein is fairly balanced although different tests show different amino acids to be deficient. Niger seed roots contain a water-soluble compound that has an allelopathic effect on monocotyledons, thereby reducing weed incidence in the subsequent crops.


Stout, erect annual herb up to 2 m tall, smooth to slightly scabrid; root system well developed, with taproot and many lateral roots, particularly in upper 5 cm; stem terete, hollow, up to 2 cm in diameter, branched, pale green, often purplish stained or dotted, becoming yellow with age, hairy with multicellular white hairs. Leaves opposite, uppermost ones sometimes alternate, simple, sessile and clasping half the stem; stipules absent; blade lanceolate to narrowly ovate or obovate, 3–23 cm × 1–6 cm, base truncate to cordate, apex tapering, margin entire to toothed, ciliate, softly hairy on both surfaces, usually dark green but lower leaves with distinct yellow tinge. Inflorescence an axillary or terminal, cup-shaped head 1–3 cm in diameter, arranged in cymes, surrounded by leafy involucral bracts up to 3 cm long, arranged in various rows, inner ones merging into paleas between the florets; peduncle up to 14 cm long, densely hairy near the head. Ray florets 6–15, female, ligule obovate to rectangular, 14–21 mm × 5–6 mm, with 3 teeth, bright yellow, becoming more golden yellow with age, ovary inferior, 4–4.5 mm long, with 4 longitudinal ribs, style up to 7 mm long, stigma with 2 branches c. 2 mm long; disk florets 40–60, bisexual, tube up to 5 mm long, 5-lobed, yellow to orange; stamens 5, anthers orange, cohering, with apical appendage. Fruit an obovoid to obconical achene 3–6 mm × 1.5 mm, 4-angled, without pappus, glossy black but sometimes mottled. Seedling with epigeal germination.

Other botanical information

Guizotia comprises 6 or 7 species, all native to tropical Africa. Guizotia abyssinica is the only species of economic importance. Guizotia abyssinica is closely related to Guizotia schimperi, which is considered by some as the progenitor of Guizotia abyssinica, but by others as a subspecies of Guizotia scabra (Vis.) Chiov.

The Ethiopian and Indian gene pools of Guizotia abyssinica differ as a result of long-term geographical isolation, the former being more variable. Indian niger seed flowers and matures earlier and has higher seed weight. Types grown in Ethiopia mature later, are taller and higher yielding. In Ethiopia niger seed is classified into three types according to the length of the maturity period: ‘abat noug’, which is a late-maturing type grown in the highlands during the main rainy season (June to December); ‘mesno noug’, which is a short-season type planted late in the season (September) on waterlogged soils and harvested in January; and ‘bunegne noug’, which is a lowland type planted in July and harvested in October.

Growth and development

Seeds germinate in a few days and the young plant grows immediately to an erect habit. The first side-shoots are formed when plants have 6–8 leaves and are about 30 cm tall. Most types of niger seed are short-day plants with only few day-length-insensitive individual plants. The critical day length is about 12 hours. Under short days, flowering starts about 60 days after germination. Photoperiod sensitivity is stronger in Ethiopian than in Indian cultivars, while in Indian plants induction of flowering probably takes place at an earlier stage of development. Short days 1 month after sowing gave full induction in Indian material but no induction in Ethiopian plants. In the latter, induction took place 55–75 days after sowing. In Ethiopian cultivars high temperatures delay flowering; this has not been found in Indian cultivars. Flowers are pollinated by insects, mostly by bees. Although the style of the disk florets is covered with pollen when emerging, self-fertilization is rare as the pollen does not cover the receptive part of the stigma and because plants are self-incompatible. In Ethiopia a single head flowers for about 8 days; a field takes about 6 weeks to complete flowering. From flowering to maturity takes 45–55 days. Niger seed matures in 120–180 days after emergence in Ethiopia and in 75–120 days in India, depending on the cultivar or landrace.


Niger seed is a short-day plant adapted to the cool tropical environment of the mid-altitude and highland regions of eastern Africa, but it has adapted to the tropical and subtropical lowlands in India and to temperate conditions in Europe. It is grown at altitudes from 500 m to well above 2500 m. In Ethiopia the major areas where niger seed is produced are situated at 1600–2300 m altitude, where average daily maxima and minima are 23°C and 13°C, respectively, during the rainy season. The optimum mean daily temperature for niger seed production is 16–20°C. Above 30°C, the rates of growing and flowering are adversely affected and maturity is hastened. Night temperatures should not fall below 2°C. In India best yields are obtained below 1000 m altitude, with temperatures of 18–23°C. Rainfall of 1000–1300 mm is optimum and 500 mm may be sufficient depending on distribution and cultivar. Niger seed is not grown in high-rainfall areas where a too vigorous plant growth would negatively affect seed and oil production; more than 2000 mm rainfall may result in depressed yield.

Niger seed is adapted to a wide range of soils but grows best in clay loams or sandy loams with a pH of 5.2–7.3. It is often cultivated on poor sandy soils, but also on heavy, black cotton soils. In Ethiopia it is grown on the dark brown clays of Gonder, the reddish brown clay loams of Gojam and Welega and the more loamy clays in Shoa. During vegetative growth, niger seed may withstand waterlogging. It is extremely resistant to poor oxygen supply in the soil, explained by the development of aerenchyma and the ability to form respiratory roots. Some niger seed selections are moderately salt tolerant, but flowering may be delayed by increased soil salinity.

Propagation and planting

Niger seed is propagated by seed. Well-dried seed can be stored dry without special requirements for at least 4 years without losing its viability. The weight of 1000 seeds (achenes) is 2–5 g. In Ethiopia the main planting season is May–July, whereas in India niger seed is planted in June–August as a rainy season crop or in September–mid-November as a winter crop. A level seedbed, obtained after 2 to 3 cultivations, is essential to ensure an even depth of planting of the small seeds and subsequently a good and uniform emergence. Land preparation in Ethiopia is generally not adequately done and is similar to that applied when planting other small-seeded crops. Seed rates vary from 5–15 kg/ha in Ethiopia and from 5–8 kg/ha in India. In Ethiopia seed is traditionally broadcast at a rate of 10–15 kg/ha and covered 1–3 cm deep. For sowing, seeds are sometimes mixed with sand for even distribution. Seed drills and mechanical planters are occasionally used. The land is then harrowed to cover the seed. In sole cropping, row widths vary from 30–50 cm depending on soil conditions. In intercropping, sowing rate depends on the area allocated to niger seed, which is usually 20–25%. It is commonly intercropped with pulses, millet, sorghum, castor, sunflower and sesame. It is also planted around fields, as cattle do not eat it.

For micropropagation hypocotyls, cotyledons and leaves are cultured in vitro and survival rates of regenerated plantlets range from 70–98%.


Niger seed is mostly indifferent to the crop that it follows in a rotation, except for another niger seed crop and maize, which have an unfavourable influence. It is grown both as an intercrop (commonly with sorghum, maize, millet, cowpea, soya bean and sweet potato) and in pure stand. Niger seed grows very rapidly once seedlings are established. Hand weeding is generally required twice, the first one when the crop is 10 cm tall and the second not later than the beginning of budding, or when planted in rows, before the foliage covers the space between the rows. Its dense growth and specific root exudates allow niger seed to compete well with weeds.

Traditionally, niger seed is not directly fertilized, but is grown on residual soil fertility. In Ethiopia the response of niger seed to fertilization is low; the application of N and P fertilizers (23 kg/ha N and 10 kg/ha P) appears profitable in delayed plantings only. In India application of 10–20 kg N and 10–20 kg P per ha at sowing is recommended, followed by a N top dressing of 10–20 kg/ha 30–35 days after sowing. Yield increases of 60% and 40% have been obtained for niger seed after application of N and P, respectively, both at a rate of 40 kg/ha. Potassium has not shown significant effects. Manure (4–5 t/ha) is also used, sometimes combined with 10–20 kg N/ha. Incorporation of cowpea biomass gave positive results on niger seed in India.

Diseases and pests

Niger seed is in general not seriously affected by diseases or pests. Leaf spots are caused by Cercospora guizoticola and Alternaria spp.; the latter is also associated with stem infection. Root rot due to Macrophomina phaseolina has been recorded. Minor infections of bacterial blight (Pseudomonas sp.) occur sporadically. In India Phytophthora root rot sometimes affects seedlings.

Leaf-eating caterpillars such as Spodoptera spp. attack niger seed occasionally in Ethiopia and East Africa. Bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) can damage heads and developing seeds. Aphids (Macrosiphum sp.) are common, and thrips (Frankliniella schultzei) infest niger seed flowers. Other pests of niger seed are niger flies (Eutretosoma sp. and Dioxyna sorercula), black pollen beetle (Meligethes sp.), an apionid weevil (Piezotrachelus sp.) and a leaf miner (Sphaeroderma guizotiae). Niger fly lays eggs in the disk florets and later the larvae destroy the flowers. Black pollen beetle eats pollen grains and adversely affects pollination. In India control measures of caterpillars and other insect pests have been developed. Birds may also damage niger seed during the ripening stage.

The parasitic weed dodder (Cuscuta campestris Yunck.) causes serious losses in Ethiopia and India. Hand-weeding and the application of herbicides (e.g. chloropropham, propyzamide) provide effective control.


Because the heads of niger seed mature over a period of time and shattering can reduce the yield by as much as 25%, time of harvesting has to be established carefully. The best time for harvesting is just before the crop matures, about 3 weeks after 50% floret drop. At this stage, when the top leaves start turning from green to yellow, the fruits are yellow-brown and their moisture content is about 45%. In India the practice is to harvest when leaves are dry and heads turn black. Plants are cut by sickle close to the ground, bundled and stacked in the field to dry for a few days. Threshing is done in the field or on a traditional threshing ground. Threshing is mostly done by hand in India. In Ethiopia oxen are used to either tread on the harvested plants or to pull a small threshing sledge. To keep seeds clean, tarpaulin or plastic sheets are used. Small pedal-operated threshers for rice may be adjusted to suit niger seed. Before storage the threshed seed is winnowed.


In Ethiopia seed yields vary from 200–500 kg/ha but yields of 1000 kg/ha have also been obtained. Improved cultivars in combination with improved agronomic practices can attain yields of 1000 kg/ha. In India seed yields of 250–400 kg/ha are common, but they increase to 500–600 kg/ha when niger seed is grown in moderately fertile soils.

Handling after harvest

Seed is stored in sacks and other containers. It should be protected from storage pests and transported to bulk storage facilities as soon as possible. The moisture content of stored seed must be less than 8% to prevent damage by storage pests, especially moulds. In Ethiopia home processing of oil is done by grinding the dry seeds into fine powder, adding hot water to it, stirring it until the oil floats to the surface and then scooping the oil off. However, most oil is now processed in small, mechanized expeller mills. In India the oil is traditionally extracted by bullock-drawn ‘ghanis’, in small rotary mills or in hydraulic or screw presses. Usually, locally-extracted oil has a poor storage life, but heating and storing in airtight containers can prolong it.

Genetic resources

The most important niger seed germplasm collections are held at the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation (formerly the Plant Genetic Resources Center), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (about 1000 accessions), the All India Coordinated Research Project on Oilseeds, Jabalpur (560 accessions) and the India National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, Akola (200 accessions). In Ethiopia several hundreds of landraces have been characterized and registered. The adoption of improved cultivars at the expense of landraces is not widespread in Ethiopia. In India the niger seed base collection is held at –20°C for long-term storage and at 4°C for medium-term storage. In-vitro and in-situ conservation of the working collections is not done in India; instead, the collections are maintained and regenerated by sibbing (during multiplication, plants of an accession are bagged as a group to avoid crossing with other accessions) to produce viable seed stocks.


Niger seed populations in Ethiopia and India are very heterogeneous, indicating the great potential for yield increases through breeding, and breeding programmes exist in both countries. Large variation and high heritability were found for plant height and days to flowering; both variation and heritability were lower for number of branches, number of flower heads, 1000-seed weight and yield per plant. Breeding objectives for niger seed are to increase seed yield and oil content and reduce shattering. Following developments in sunflower and safflower, it has been postulated that single-headed dwarf types with uniform maturity must be developed to achieve the first objective. An increase in oil content appears feasible because of existing genetic variability, which can be used in breeding research. As niger seed is self-incompatible, breeders in India and Ethiopia have adopted population improvement programmes such as mass selection and sibbing. Recently a protocol for Agrobacterium tumefaciens mediated genetic modification was developed.

Niger seed production in Ethiopia is mainly based on local landrace populations. Five improved cultivars have been released by the Ethiopian Research Organization (formerly Institute of Agricultural Research): ‘Sendafa’ (now obsolete); ‘Esete-1’ (1988): medium to late maturing, high seed yield and high oil content; ‘Fogera-1’ (1988): similar to ‘Esete-1’ in many aspects, but slightly lower in seed yield; ‘Kuyu’ (1994): early to medium maturing, high seed yield and a good degree of resistance to many common diseases and pests; and ‘Shambu-1’ (2002): early maturing, second best in seed yield (after ‘Kuyu’), higher oil content than ‘Kuyu’, and with a good degree of resistance to many common diseases and pests.

Well-known improved cultivars in India are: ‘Ootacamund’, ‘Deomali’, ‘Paiyur-1’, ‘IPG-76’ and ‘JNC-6’; in the United States ‘EarlyBird’ was developed for the northern prairie states.


Although niger seed is mainly produced in South Asia, Ethiopia and other African countries, it can potentially be grown in all cooler places in the tropics and in temperate regions. Niger seed is a good precursor for many crops because crops following niger seed have less weed infestation and profit from the large amount of organic matter left in the ground. It can be mechanically planted and harvested using typical agronomic equipment. Both Ethiopia and India are excellent sources of germplasm for development. Niger seed provides an exciting opportunity due to its well-established market, which is of significant size and offers an attractive price.

Major references

  • Adefris Teklewold & Adugna Wakjira, 2004. Seed filling and oil accumulation in noug (Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass). SINET: Ethiopian Journal of Science 27: 25–32.
  • Adefris Teklewold & Bulcha Weyessa, 2001. Noug: the dominant oil crop in the highlands of Ethiopia. In: Paulos Dubale, Asgelil Dibabe, Asfaw Zeleke, Gezahegn Ayele & Abebe Kirub (Editors). Proceedings of the International Symposium on Vertisol Management, 28 November to 1 December 2000, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. pp. 159–169.
  • Baagøe, J., 1974. The genus Guizotia (Compositae). A taxonomic revision. Botanisk Tidsskrift 69(1): 1–39.
  • Bulcha Weyessa, Adugna Wakjira & Agajie Tesfaye, 2002. On-farm variety evaluation of noug and linseed varieties at Meta-Robi Woreda West Shewa Zone. In: Gemechu Keneni, Yohannes Gojjam, Kifilu Bedane, Chilot Yirga & Asgelil Dibabe (Editors). Proceedings of Client-Oriented Research Evaluation Workshop, 16–18 October 2001, Holetta Agricultural Research Center, Holetta, Ethiopia. pp. 220–229.
  • Dagne, K., 2001. Cytogenetics of new Guizotia Cass. (Compositae) interspecific hybrids pertaining to genomic and phylogenetic affinities. Plant Systematics and Evolution 230: 1–11.
  • Dagne, K. & Jonsson, A., 1997. Oil content and fatty acid composition of seeds of Guizotia Cass. (Compositae). Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 73: 274–278.
  • Getinet, A. & Sharma, S.M., 1996. Niger: Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 5. Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Gatersleben, Germany & Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy. 50 pp.
  • Seegeler, C.J.P., 1983. Oil plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Agricultural Research Reports 921. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. 368 pp.
  • Umali, B.E. & Yantasath, K., 2001. Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass. In: van der Vossen, H.A.M. & Umali, B.E. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 14. Vegetable oils and fats. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 97–101.
  • Weiss, E.A., 2000. Oilseed crops. 2nd Edition. Blackwell Science, London, United Kingdom. 364 pp.

Other references

  • Central Statistical Authority, 2001–2003. Estimates of area, production and yield of temporary crops for private peasants holdings for main seasons, 2001–2003. CSA, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • Geleta, M., Asfaw, Z., Bekele, E. & Teshome, A., 2002. Edible oil crops and their integration with major cereals in North Shewa and South Welo, Central Highlands of Ethiopia: an ethnobotanical perspective. Hereditas 137: 29–40.
  • Getinet Alemaw & Adefris Teklewold, 1992. Noug breeding in Ethiopia. In: Oilseeds Research and development in Ethiopia. Proceedings of the First National Workshop, 3–5 December, 1991, IAR, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. pp. 41–50.
  • Kandel, H.J. & Porter, P.M. (Editors), 2002. Niger (Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass.) production in Northwest Minnesota. Extension Service, University of Minnesota, St. Paul MN, United States. 28 pp.
  • Kandel, H.J., Porter, P.M., Johnson, B.L., Henson, R.A., Hanson, B.K., Weisberg, S. & LeGare, D.G., 2004. Plant population influences niger seed yield in the northern Great Plains. Crop Science 44: 190–197.
  • Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.
  • Marini, F., Magrì, A., Marini, D. & Balestrieri, F., 2003. Characterization of the lipid fraction of niger seeds (Guizotia abyssinica Cass.) from different regions of Ethiopia and India and chemometric authentication of their geographical origin. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology 105: 697–704.
  • Murthy, H.N., Jeong, J.H., Choi, Y.E. & Paek, K.Y., 2003. Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of niger (Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass.) using seedling explants. Genetic Transformation and Hybridization 21: 1183–1187.
  • Riley, K.W. & Belayne, H., 1989. Niger. In: Röbbelen, G., Downey, R.K. & Ashri, A. (Editors). Oil crops of the world, their breeding and utilization. McGraw-Hill, New York, United States. pp. 394–403.
  • Tsige Genet & Ketema Belete, 2000. Phenotypic diversity in the Ethiopian noug germplasm. African Crop Science Journal 8: 137–143.

Sources of illustration

  • Umali, B.E. & Yantasath, K., 2001. Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass. In: van der Vossen, H.A.M. & Umali, B.E. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 14. Vegetable oils and fats. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 97–101.


  • W. Bulcha

Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, Holetta Research Center, P.O. Box 2003, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Correct citation of this article

Bulcha, W., 2007. Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. van der Vossen, H.A.M. & Mkamilo, G.S. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>.

Accessed 20 December 2016.