Corchorus aestuans (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Corchorus aestuans L.

Protologue: Syst. nat. ed. 10, 2: 1079 (1759).
Family: Tiliaceae (APG: Malvaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 14.


  • Corchorus acutangulus Lam. (1786).

Vernacular names

  • West African mallow, East Indian mallow, jute (En).
  • Gombo par terre, gombo rampant, gombo sauvage (Fr).
  • Msafa (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Corchorus aestuans is a pantropical species, thought by some to originate from the New World tropics in Latin America, by others from the Old World tropics in Africa and South and South-East Asia. It is distributed throughout tropical Africa from Senegal eastward to Somalia and southward to South Africa, and it is locally cultivated.


The stem yields a bast fibre, which can be made into thread and string, but the product is coarser and less durable than that made from Corchorus capsularis L. (white jute). The leaves are widely eaten as a vegetable. In northern Benin, for instance, it is consumed as leafy vegetable in a mucilaginous sauce, and its cultivation in the rainy season for household consumption has been recorded in south-western Benin. However, the consumption of Corchorus aestuans is lower than that of the cultivated Corchorus olitorius L. and Corchorus tridens L. In some tribes in Africa there are taboos with regard to Corchorus aestuans; its consumption is for instance forbidden in Ouatchi communities in Togo. In north-eastern India the root is cooked as a vegetable. The foliage is browsed by all livestock.

In traditional African medicine an extract of the roots or leaves is taken for the treatment of gonorrhoea, and an extract of the whole plant, including the roots, is used for making injections for the treatment of urethral discharges. In DR Congo the leaves are squeezed and the sap is sniffed for the treatment of headache. In India the seeds are used for the treatment of stomach-ache and pneumonia. The medicinal uses in the Philippines are similar to those of Corchorus capsularis: the leaves serve against headache, and the seeds, in the form of powder or in decoction, as a tonic, carminative and febrifuge.

Production and international trade

The young shoots and leaves, either from cultivated or wild plants, are locally sold. Seedlings are also traded.


The fibre is good, but its strength is lower than that of Corchorus capsularis and Corchorus olitorius.

On cooking the leaves exude a large quantity of mucilage, making them very slimy. The seeds contain 22.6% protein and 8.3–12.8% oil. Amino acids in the seed include valine, lysine, serine, aspartic acid, threonine and phenylalanine. The oil contains β-sitosterol and the fatty acids palmitic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid and linolenic acid. The seed also contains corchorine, a glycoside of the strophanthidine group, and quercetine, a flavonoid.

An ethanolic extract of the entire plant was found to have anti-cancer activity against epidermal carcinoma of nasopharynx in tissue culture. Corchorusin D, one of various triterpenoid glycosides isolated from the aerial parts of the plant, has shown anti-leukaemic activity in U937 and HL-60 cell lines.

Adulterations and substitutes

In tropical Africa the wild and cultivated species Corchorus olitorius and Corchorus tridens and the wild species Corchorus asplenifolius Burch., Corchorus fascicularis Lam. and Corchorus trilocularis L. are used in the same way as Corchorus aestuans. In tropical Asia Corchorus olitorius and Corchorus capsularis are the main species used for industrial jute fibre production, and Corchorus aestuans is only of secondary importance. Other fibre yielding species such as the cultivated roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.), and the wild species Hibiscus asper Hook.f. are good substitutes of Corchorus aestuans as a source of fibre for households in rural Africa. For vegetable use, all the enumerated Corchorus species and okra (Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench. and Abelmoschus caillei (A.Chev.) Stevels) are substitutes of Corchorus aestuans.


Prostrate to ascending, annual or perennial herb up to 50(–100) cm tall; stems much branched, pilose, red-brown. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules sharply pointed, up to 1 cm long, pilose; petiole 0.5–3(–5.5) cm long, hairy; blade narrowly to broadly ovate or elliptical, 1.5–9 cm × 1–4.5 cm, base rounded, usually with 2 basal bristles up to 5 mm long, apex acute to rounded, margin toothed, with scattered pubescence mainly on veins, with 4–7 basal veins. Inflorescence an axillary fascicle, 1–3-flowered; peduncle up to 2 mm long; bracts up to 3 mm long, sharply pointed. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel up to 3 mm long, sepals free, linear, 3–4 mm long, acuminate; petals free, narrowly obovate or oblanceolate, 3–4 mm long, golden yellow, with a basal claw 0.5 mm long; stamens c. 10, c. 3 mm long; ovary superior, style c. 1 mm long. Fruit a cylindrical capsule 1–4 cm × c. 0.5 cm, solitary or 2–3 together, straight or slightly curved, with wings up to 2 mm wide and 3–5 spreading beaks 1.5–3 mm long at the apex, glabrous, splitting into 3–5 valves, many-seeded. Seeds rhomboid-cylindrical, somewhat angular, 0.5–1 mm long, pitted, brown to black.

Other botanical information

The genus Corchorus comprises an uncertain number of species, with estimates ranging from 40–100. Evaluation of the genetic diversity in jute species using STMS, ISSR and RAPD markers has shown that wild Corchurus aestuans clustered with cultivated Corchorus olitorius. This close relationship was confirmed in studies of seed proteins and karyotypes in nine Corchorus species. This indicates that Corchorus aestuans may be a progenitor of Corchorus olitorius cultivars, but it is also possible that both species evolved from a common ancestor. The bark of Corchorus kirkii N.E.Br., a shrub up to 2.5 m tall distributed in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa, is recorded to be used for making baskets in Zimbabwe.


Corchorus aestuans occurs from sea-level up to 1350 m altitude in grassland, coastal plains, riverbanks, sandy riverbeds, alluvial depressions and disturbed locations, such as waste places, fallow land and roadsides. It also occurs as a weed in cultivated land.

Propagation and planting

Natural reproduction is by seed. The 1000-seed weight is 0.4–0.8 g. Pretreatment of the seed with concentrated sulphuric acid was shown to enhance germination. Seeds have shown orthodox storage behaviour.

Diseases and pests

In experiments in India 14 out of 18 Corchorus aestuans accessions showed resistance to stem rot caused by the fungus Macrophomina phaseolina, the principal pathogen in both Corchorus capsularis and Corchorus olitorius. These accessions may therefore be useful in interspecific hybridization programmes for the improvement of jute production. The fungus Alternaria alternata is reported to cause leaf spot in Corchorus aestuans in India.


For fibre extraction, uprooting of the plants is common and the stem bark is manually stripped by cracking the lower part of the stem. The fibre is usually used fresh, with no additional processing. Industrial fibre extraction could use the same processes as those used for the commercially produced jute species. For vegetable consumption, fresh shoots are cut, which favours the development of lateral shoots when harvested at regular intervals.


In experiments in India Corchorus aestuans accessions from India, China and Tanzania had fibre yields of 1.1–2.3 g per plant, whereas Corchorus capsularis and Corchorus olitorius had yields of 2.8–15.2 g per plant. This was related to Corchorus aestuans plants flowering earlier and remaining smaller.

Genetic resources

Because of its wide distribution and its weedy and invasive behaviour, Corchorus aestuans is not in danger of genetic erosion. There is rather a need to develop strategies to control its invasive behaviour. Corchorus aestuans is among the Corchorus species conserved at the National Gene Bank of Kenya in Kikuyu.


In experiments in the early 1960s interspecific crosses between Corchorus aestuans and Corchorus olitorius, Corchorus capsularis and Corchorus trilocularis were not successful. Later, however, hybrids of Corchorus aestuans and Corchorus olitorius were obtained at the Central Research Institute for Jute and Allied Fibres in Barrackpore (India), and these were superior to Corchorus olitorius cv. O-4 with respect to the length of the ultimate fibre cells.


Corchorus aestuans is locally useful as a cheaply available fibre plant and vegetable. As the fibre yield and quality are lower than those of other Corchorus species, Corchorus aestuans has uncertain prospects for commercial fibre extraction. It could be useful in jute breeding programmes to increase disease resistance and fibre quality in Corchorus capsularis and Corchorus olitorius.

Major references

  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.
  • Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
  • Keay, R.W.J., 1958. Tiliaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 300–310.
  • Mallick, S., Ghosh, P., Samanta, S.K., Kinra, S., Pal, B.C., Gomes, A. & Vedasiromoni, J.R., 2010. Corchorusin-D, a saikosaponin-like compound isolated from Corchorus acutangulus Lam., targets mitochondrial apoptotic pathways in leukemic cell lines (HL-60 and U937). Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology 66(4): 709–719.
  • Palve, S.M. & Sinha, M.K., 2005. Genetic variation and interrelationships among fibre yield attributes in secondary gene pool of Corchorus spp. SABRAO Journal of Breeding and Genetics 37(1): 55–64.
  • Palve, S.M., Sinha, M.K. & Mandal, R.K., 2004. Sources of stem rot [Macrophomina phaseolina (Tassi) Goid.] resistance in wild species of jute. Tropical Agriculture 81(1): 23–27.
  • Roy, A., Bandyopadhyay, A., Mahapatra, A.K., Ghosh, S.K., Singh, N.K., Bansal, K.C., Koundal, K.R. & Mohapatra, T., 2006. Evaluation of genetic diversity in jute (Corchorus species) using STMS, ISSR and RAPD markers. Plant Breeding, 125: 292–297.
  • Sebsebe Demissew, 1999. Tiliaceae. In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 2. Angiospermae (Tiliaceae-Apiaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 5–21.
  • Sinha, M.K., Mandal, R.K. & Palve, S.M., 2003. Preliminary evaluation of wild species of jute (Corchorus species). Plant Genetic Resources Newsletter 134: 10–12.
  • Whitehouse, C., Cheek, M., Andrews, S. & Verdcourt, B., 2001. Tiliaceae & Muntingiaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 120 pp.

Other references

  • Achigan-Dako, E.G., Pasquini, M.W., Assogba-Komlan, F., N’danikou, S., Yédomonhan, H., Dansi, A. & Ambrose-Oji, B., 2010. Traditional vegetables in Benin: diversity, distribution, ecology, agronomy, and utilisation. Institut National des Recherches Agricoles du Bénin, Benin. 252 pp.
  • Ayensu, E.S., 1978. Medicinal plants of West Africa. Reference Publication, Michigan. 330 pp.
  • Barclay, A.S. & Earle, F.R., 1974. Chemical analyses of seeds III: oil and protein content of 1253 species. Economic Botany 28(2): 178–236.
  • Batawila, K., Akpavi, S., Wala, K., Kanda, M., Vodouhe, R. & Akpagana, K., 2007. Diversité et gestion des legumes de cueillette au Togo. [Internet] African Journal of Food Agriculture Nutrition and Development 7(3). pdf?nd07025. June 2009.
  • Capuron, R., 1963. Révision des Tiliacées de Madagascar et des Comores (première partie). Adansonia, séries 2, 3: 91–127.
  • Chaudhuri, S.D. & Jabbar Mia, A., 1962. Species crosses in the genus Corchorus (jute plants). Euphytica 11(1): 61–64.
  • Chawan, D.D. & Sen, D.N., 1973. Diversity in germination behaviour and chemical scarification for hard seed coat dormancy in Corchorus aestuans Linn. Brotéria, Série de Ciências Naturais 42 (1–2): 19–24.
  • Dixit, B.S., Srivastava, S.N. & Sharma, V.N., 1974. Chemical examination of the seeds of Corchorus aestuans Linn. Indian Journal of Chemistry 12(7): 780.
  • Gueye, M. & Diouf, M., 2007. Traditional leafy vegetables in Senegal: diversity and medicinal uses. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines 4(4): 469–475.
  • Irvine, F.R., 1961. Woody plants of Ghana, with special reference to their uses. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom. 868 pp.
  • Islam, A.S., Haque, M. & Haque, M.S., 1980. Fibre-bearing potentiality of two jute hybrids. Indian Journal of Genetics and Plant Breeding 40(3): 578–580.
  • Kayang, H., 2007. Tribal knowledge on wild edible plants of Meghalaya, Northeast India. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge 6(1): 177–181.
  • Kemei, J.K., Wataaru, R.K. & Seme, E.N., 1997. The role of the National Genebank of Kenya in the collecting, characterization and conservation of traditional vegetables. In: Guarino, L. (Editor). Traditional African vegetables. Proceedings of the IPGRI international workshop on genetic resources of traditional vegetables in Africa: conservation and use, 29–31 August 1995, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 16. pp. 78–85.
  • Mahapatra, A.K. & Saha, A., 2008. Genetic resources of jute and allied fibre crops. In: Hazra, S.K. and Karmakar, P.G. (Editors). Jute and allied fibre updates: production and technology. Central Research Institute for Jute and Allied Fibres, Barrackpore, India. pp. 18–37.
  • Maity, S. & Datta, A.K., 2009. Karyomorphology in nine species of Jute (Corchorus L., Tiliaceae). Cytologia 74(3): 273–279.
  • Maity, S., Datta, A.K. & Chattopadhyay, A., 2009. Seed protein polymorphism in nine species of Jute (Corchorus, Family: Tiliaceae). Indian Journal of Science and Technology 2(1): 34–36.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Saxena, A.K., Jain, S.K. & Saksena, S.B., 1981. A note on new diseases caused by Alternaria alternata. National Academy Science Letters 4(7): 267.
  • Vollesen, K. & Demissew Sebsebe, 1995. Tiliaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 2. Canellaceae to Euphorbiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 145–164.
  • Wild, H., 1963. Tiliaceae. In: Exell, A.W., Fernandes, A. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 2, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 33–91.

Sources of illustration

  • Capuron, R., 1963. Révision des Tiliacées de Madagascar et des Comores (première partie). Adansonia, séries 2, 3: 91–127.


  • S. N’danikou, Plant Sciences Laboratory, Faculty of Agronomic Sciences, University of Abomey Calavi, 04 BP 0174, Cotonou, Benin
  • E.G. Achigan Dako, PROTA Network Office Africa, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi, Kenya

Correct citation of this article

N’danikou, S. & Achigan-Dako, E.G., 2011. Corchorus aestuans L. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>.

Accessed 15 November 2020.