Ceratotheca sesamoides (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

General importance Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Geographic coverage Africa Fairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgFairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svg
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distribution in Africa (wild and planted)
1, flowering branch; 2, fruit; 3, seeds. Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin

Ceratotheca sesamoides Endl.

Protologue: Linnaea 7: 5, t. 1–2 (1832).
Family: Pedaliaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 32


  • Ceratotheca melanosperma Hochst. ex Bernh. (1842),
  • Sesamum heudelotii Stapf (1906).

Vernacular names

  • False sesame (En).
  • Faux sésame (Fr).
  • Lalo-caminho (Po).
  • Mlenda, mlenda wa sege (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Ceratotheca sesamoides is indigenous in Africa and occurs wild in most countries south of the Sahara. It is locally cultivated.


The leaves and flowers of false sesame are consumed as a vegetable. The leaves are finely chopped and used in sauces. They are also pounded and mixed with groundnut flour, salt and a little hot water and cooked for a few minutes. The mixture is eaten as a sauce with porridge; warm milk may be used instead of water. Ash may be added to soften the leaves and to reduce bitterness. Onions and tomatoes may also be added. The seeds are crushed to form a paste that is eaten with beans or cassava. They are also crushed for their oil, which is especially suited as salad oil.

Adding leaf sap of false sesame to the boiling seed pulp of Vitellaria paradoxa C.F.Gaertn. while making shea butter aids the separation of fat. A decoction of the plant is used against diarrhoea. Leaves are steeped in water and the slimy liquid is dropped into the eye to treat conjunctivitis. The mucilage is occasionally used as an emollient and lubricant. A leaf maceration facilitates delivery in humans and animals. Leaves are warmed, ground, mixed with ash and rubbed on inflamed cervical lymph nodes. Leaves ground with the rhizome of Anchomanes difformis (Blume) Engl. are applied topically in cases of leprosy. False sesamum is also reported to be used as an aphrodisiac, against jaundice, snakebites and skin diseases. The plants are eaten by camels, cattle, goats and sheep.


The nutritional composition of fresh leaves of false sesame per 100 g is: water 81 g, energy 226 kJ (54 kcal), protein 4.2 g, fat 0.5 g, carbohydrate 11.0 g, Ca 300 mg, P 86 mg, Fe 3.2 mg, ascorbic acid 28 mg. The nutritional composition of the seed is: water 7.0 g, energy 2303 kJ (550 kcal), protein 14.2 g, fat 46.5 g, carbohydrate 27.5 g, Ca 887 mg, Fe 38 mg, thiamin 0.75 mg, riboflavin 0.3 mg, niacin 4.4 mg (Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968). The seed oil is similar in composition to sesame oil. It contains the phenylpropanoid lignan sesamin. This compound showed antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, cytotoxic (including antitumour) and insecticidal activities.

Adulterations and substitutes

Wild species of Sesamum often replace Ceratotheca sesamoides as a vegetable.


  • Annual herb up to 100(–120) cm tall, sometimes with woody rootstock, with prostrate, ascending or erect, pubescent stems.
  • Leaves opposite or nearly opposite, simple; stipules absent; petiole up to 6 cm long in lower leaves, very short in upper leaves; blade lanceolate-deltate to ovate-triangular or narrowly ovate, 1.5–8 cm × 0.5–4.5 cm, truncate, broadly cuneate or slightly hastate at base, acute at apex, usually coarsely toothed at least toward base, pubescent and densely glandular below, sparsely so above, palmately veined at base.
  • Flowers solitary in leaf axils, bisexual, zygomorphic, 5-merous; pedicel 3–8 mm long; calyx with narrowly triangular lobes up to 7 mm long, connate at base; corolla funnel-shaped, 1.5–4 cm long, sparsely pubescent, pink, lilac, mauve or purple, throat and lower lobe often cream with dark lines, lower lobe broadly ovate and longer than other lobes; stamens 4, inserted near base of corolla tube and included; ovary superior, 2-celled but each cell almost to apex divided by a false septum, style long and slender, with 2-lobed stigma.
  • Fruit an oblong-quadrangular capsule 1–2 cm long, compressed laterally, with slender lateral horns up to 3.5 mm long, loculicidally dehiscent, many-seeded.
  • Seeds broadly obovate in outline, compressed laterally, 2.5–4 mm × 2–2.5 mm, testa smooth but radially rugose at margin, usually black when ripe.
  • Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl 1.5–4.5 cm long; cotyledons broadly elliptical, up to 1 cm long, entire, leafy.

Other botanical information

Ceratotheca comprises 5 species, all native to Africa. It is related to Sesamum, but Sesamum fruits lack lateral horns.

Ceratotheca sesamoides and other Pedaliaceae are covered with mucilage glands. The mature secreting glandular hair consists of a head of 4 cap cells, which are attached to a stalk of 1–3 cells. The glands may enable the plant to withstand severe desiccation without tissue death. After contact with water, the outer cell walls of the head cells dissolve, producing an enormous amount of mucilage.

Ceratotheca triloba

Ceratotheca triloba (Bernh.) Hook.f. occurs in southern Africa. It is used medicinally and grown as an ornamental, and occasionally, e.g. in Zimbabwe, it is used as a leafy vegetable in times of shortage when tastier vegetables are not available.

Growth and development

The stems of false sesame are usually prostrate; each plant produces 10 or more creeping stems. The regular removal of young shoots permits sustained vegetative growth and flowering, prolonging the productive period. Ceratotheca sesamoides is primarily self-pollinated; the flowers open at dawn, after pollination has occurred. It takes about 6 weeks from anthesis to fruit maturity.


Ceratotheca sesamoides shows a wide range of adaptability and environmental flexibility. It occurs as a weed and in formerly cultivated fields, particularly on well-drained sandy soils and in localities well exposed to the sun. It tolerates heat and drought well. Under more natural conditions it occurs in open grassland and tree savanna on sandy soils, rarely in rocky localities.

Propagation and planting

False sesame is mainly a protected weed, but locally, e.g. in northern Uganda, it is sown in fields and intercropped with okra, eggplant, cowpea, amaranth, sorghum, sweet potato and sesame. Seed is broadcast at the onset of rains. It does not show dormancy.


Apart from some weeding little care is given to false sesame.

Diseases and pests

In Burkina Faso false sesame is recorded as one of the vegetables most tolerant to diseases and pests.


For vegetable use, young tender stems are picked. Flowers are also included, but fruits are avoided.

Handling after harvest

The smaller leaves at the stem apex are selected for cooking. Leaves may be preserved by drying.

Genetic resources

It seems unlikely that false sesame is threatened by genetic erosion, since it is weedy and becoming domesticated in parts of Africa. A collection from western Sudan was deposited at the Agricultural Research Corporation, Wad Medani, Sudan.


There seems to be a resurgence of interest in using Ceratotheca sesamoides, which is reflected in its domestication in parts of Africa.

Major references

  • Abels, J., 1975. The genera Ceratotheca Endl. and Dicerocaryum Boj. Monographs of the African Pedaliaceae 3, 4. Memórias da Sociedade Broteriana 25, Coimbra, Portugal. 358 pp.
  • Bedigian, D., 2004. Slimy leaves and oily seeds: distribution and use of wild relatives of sesame in Africa. Economic Botany 58 (Suppl. S): S3-S33
  • Bruce, E.A., 1953. Pedaliaceae. In: Turrill, W.B. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 23 pp.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
  • Busson, F., 1965. Plantes alimentaires de l’ouest Africain: étude botanique, biologique et chimique. Leconte, Marseille, France. 568 pp.
  • Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Seignobos, C., 1982. Matières grasses, parcs et civilisations agraires (Tchad & Nord-Cameroun). Cahiers d'Outre Mer 35: 229–267.
  • Smith, G.C., Clegg, M.S., Keen, C.L. & Grivetti, L.E., 1996. Mineral values of selected plant foods common to southern Burkina Faso and to Niamey, Niger, West Africa. International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition 47(1): 41–53.
  • Stevels, J.M.C., 1990. Légumes traditionnels du Cameroun: une étude agrobotanique. Wageningen Agricultural University Papers 90–1. Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands. 262 pp.

Other references

  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Akpagana, K., Chibon, P., El-Adji, A., Eymé, J., Garba, M., Gassita, J.N., Gbeassor, M., Goudote, E., Guinko, S., Hodouto, K.K., Houngnon P., Keita, A., Keoula, Y., Hodouto, W.P., Issa Lo, Siamevi, K.M. & Taffame, K.K., 1986. Contributions aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques au Togo. Médecine Traditionelle et Pharmacopée. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 671 pp.
  • Bedigian, D., 2003. Sesame in Africa: origin and dispersals. In: Neumann, K., Butler, A. and Kahlheber, S. (Editors). Food, fuel and fields: Progress in African archaeobotany. Africa Praehis-torica. Heinrich-Barth-Institute, Köln, Germany. pp. 17–36.
  • Bedigian, D., Seigler, D.S., & Harlan, J.R., 1985. Sesamin, sesamolin and the origin of sesame. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 13: 133–139.
  • Bedigian, D. & van der Maesen, J., 2003. Slimy leaves and oily seeds: distribution and use of Sesamum spp. and Ceratotheca sesamoides (Pedaliaceae) in Africa. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Omino, E.A. (Editors). Proceedings of the first PROTA international workshop 23–25 September 2002, Nairobi, Kenya. Plant Resources of Tropical Africa (PROTA) Foundation, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 271–274.
  • Delisle, H., Bakari, S., Gevry, G., Picard, C. & Ferland, G., 1997. Provitamin A content of traditional green leaves from Niger. Cahiers Agricultures 6: 553–560.
  • Dokosi, O.B., 1998. Herbs of Ghana. Ghana Universities Press, Accra, Ghana. 746 pp.
  • Glegg, C.G., 1945. Native Foodstuffs in Tanganyika. Tropical Agriculture 22: 32–38.
  • Hakki, M.I., 1984. Pedaliaceae. In: Brunel, J.F., Hiepko, P. & Scholz, H. (Editors). Flore Analytique du Togo. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, Eschborn, Germany. p. 383.
  • Ihlenfeldt, H.-D., 1988. Pedaliaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 8, part 3. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 86–113.
  • Irvine, F.R., 1969. West African agriculture, 3rd Edition. Volume 2: West African Crops. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom. 272 pp.
  • Katende, A.B., Ssegawa, P. & Birnie, A., 1999. Wild food plants and mushrooms of Uganda. Technical Handbook No 19. Regional Land Management Unit/SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 490 pp.
  • Manning, S.D., 1991. The genera of Pedaliaceae in the southeastern United States. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum Supplementary Series I: 313–347.
  • Mertz, O., Lykke, A.M. & Reenberg, A., 2001. Importance and seasonality of vegetable consumption and marketing in Burkina Faso. Economic Botany 55: 276–289.
  • Ogle, B.A., Malombo, L., Mingochi, D.S., Nkomesh, A. & Malasha, I., 1990. Traditional vegetables in Zambia, a study of procurement, marketing and consumption of traditional vegetables of selected urban and rural areas of Zambia. Rural Development Studies No 28. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden. 77 pp.
  • Tindall, H.D., 1965. Fruits and vegetables in West Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 259 pp.
  • Verboom, W.C., 1973. Common weeds of arable land. Ministry of Rural Development, Land Use Services Division, Lusaka, Zambia. p. 63.
  • Williamson, J., 1955. Useful plants of Nyasaland. The Government Printer, Zomba, Nyasaland. 168 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Stevels, J.M.C., 1990. Légumes traditionnels du Cameroun: une étude agrobotanique. Wageningen Agricultural University Papers 90–1. Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands. 262 pp.


  • D. Bedigian, Missouri Botanical Garden and Washington University, St. Louis, MO, United States
  • O.A. Adetula, National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), P.M.B. 5432, Idi-Ishin, Jericho, Ibadan, Nigeria

Correct citation of this article

Bedigian, D. & Adetula, O.A., 2004. Ceratotheca sesamoides Endl. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands.

Accessed 12 November 2020.